Government leaders Thursday hailed Malaysia's improved ranking as the 24th most competitive economy in the world, giving credit to Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's new economic policies.
The Geneva-based World Economic Forum, in a report released Wednesday, said Malaysia moved up seven rungs in its annual survey-based ranking of 117 countries. It rated Finland as the most competitive economy followed by the United States.
The forum's "Global Competitive Report" attributed Malaysia's rise to a reasonably well managed economy, and policies that somewhat restored judicial independence and curbed long held perceptions that the government practiced favoritism in awarding lucrative contracts.
"It is good to see other people recognize our country as one that has strong economic resilience in an unstable world environment," Deputy Information Minister Zainuddin Maidin told The Associated Press.
He said Malaysia's rise in the ranking is largely due to Abdullah's policies in striving for greater transparency and accountability in the government, which were often seen as lacking during the 22-year rule of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who stepped down in October 2003.
Abdullah "has strengthened investors confidence in this country," Zainuddin said.
However, Zainuddin did not respond to the report's criticisms of Malaysia, saying he wanted to study the matter further before commenting.
The report said Malaysia continues to lag badly in reducing government red tape and should do more to address corruption, problems linked to tax and foreign currency regulations, access to financing and an inadequately educated work force that practiced poor work ethics.
Abdullah took over in October 2003 amid worries about his inexperience in handling the economy with the same vigor as Mahathir who transformed Malaysia from a rural backwater to one of Asia's wealthiest economies.
But he has won praise for declaring an all out war against corruption, jailing some of his own friends, and also urged judges to rule without fear of any government intervention.
The government-linked New Straits Times daily said the World Economic Forum report "come as heart warming recognition of the policy efforts and more importantly the political costs of getting Malaysia to be more performance and productivity oriented."