Lessons on ‘Big Four’ agenda from Asian tigers

The success of the “big four” plan will have a greater impact on the livelihoods of the majority poor. FILE PHOTO | NMG
The success of the “big four” plan will have a greater impact on the livelihoods of the majority poor. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Asian tigers are the highly developed economies of Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan.

The meteoric rise of these economies has led to overarching comparisons, contrasts and calls for African countries to learn from the Asian tigers’ experience to achieve meaningful and sustainable growth and development.

The choice of the “big four” areas of manufacturing, healthcare, housing and food security by the President as his legacy projects is viewed by many as a strategy to propel the nation to double digit growth envisaged in the Vision 2030.

The success of the “big four” plan will have a greater impact on the livelihoods of the majority poor help in solving the endemic problems of poverty, ignorance and disease.

The plan is expected to increase low-cost houses by over 500,000 units, offer affordable healthcare, ensure food security and expand the manufacturing sector.

It’s well documented that the rise of Asian tigers hinged greatly on programmes in manufacturing, health, agriculture, infrastructure, energy and housing sectors.

As we embark on implementing the “big four” plan, one would ask; what lessons can we learn from the Asian tigers? First, on manufacturing, Asian tigers formulated flexible laws on labour, taxation and environment whose major effect was to expand industrial operations and increase output from companies.

This led to an increase in goods for both local and foreign markets. Second, on housing, government intervention in Singapore achieved its objective of providing low-cost houses to the majority Singaporeans.

Government intervention took a two-pronged approach involving both construction and provision of finished units to suppliers of land.

On the contrary, in South Korea, the government intervened by providing subsidised mortgage loans to low income groups while in Taiwan, subsidised low-interest mortgage loans were provided through a centralized government-run housing fund which was loaded to the home purchasers at occupation. The Singaporean model was more successful and impactful.

Third, on food security, the success of agriculture which guarantees access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life was premised on land reforms, agricultural extension services, good infrastructure and heavy investments in rural areas.

South Korea and Taiwan invested heavily in land reforms.

Fourth, on healthcare, these economies offer useful lessons to developing countries since they were able to guarantee their citizens access to key promotive, preventive, curative and rehabilitative health care services at an affordable cost.

Even though there is a great cultural and environmental difference between Kenya and the Asian tigers which makes each region have unique preconditions for development, there is compelling evidence that we can achieve higher outcomes on the “big four” agenda based on the lessons learnt from these miraculous economies.

Benard Ayieko is economist and commentator on trade and investment.