As national lockdowns are slowly lifted, fDi is reaching out to professionals on the FDI frontline as they grapple with the biggest global challenge in recent history.

Malaysia eased lockdown restrictions on May 4, with businesses able to reopen and operate on reduced capacity. 

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As a semblance of normality returns, Malaysia’s capital city Kuala Lumpur is focusing on protecting and retaining investments, says InvestKL CEO Muhammad Azmi Zulkifli

Q: What has life been like in Malaysia?

A: It was clearly a steep learning curve. Malaysia adopted a movement control order (MCO) from March 18 that was reviewed every two weeks. After the expiry of the first two-week order there was a lot of optimism, and people were curious about the next steps. When lockdown was lifted on May 4 it was a significant date as it allowed people to ease into their daily lives. Communication has been key, so the team understands what’s happening. There have been many announcements from the ministries [as the situation has developed].

Q: What is InvestKL’s strategy for the next few months?

A: We have been operating from the office for two weeks now, and are thinking how to address the next seven months. We are focusing on three key activities: protect, retain and attract. We are striving to protect current investments, and making sure that the ease of doing business reaches the level demanded by the market. This is key to demonstrate Malaysia as a whole is protecting investors, and concerned with their welfare and continuity of business. We want to retain these investments to allow for future reinvestments and job retention. 

Q: What support programmes are in place for companies?

A: There are varying degrees of the stimulus package, and a mix of targeting directly to companies, employers and employees to have more cash in hand.  Utilities are also being discounted for the next six months, which companies have found very helpful for their operations.

Q: How are you promoting tech start-ups during the crisis?

A: Our focus is to attract large foreign multinationals to use Kuala Lumpur as a regional hub, but clearly we need to play in the start-up ecosystem. We are not specialised in developing start-ups, but we see that as a key element when companies or MNCs explore setting up activities. The Malaysian Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation focuses on the start-up community, and have got different packages, such as soft loans targeting start-ups to help them survive the current pandemic situation. We are currently working on an initiative called KL Life Lab, where we plan to dedicate some space for companies to test and experiment certain solutions, such as autonomous driving and drones.

Q: What is your outlook for investment promotion in the medium term?

A: The landscape of investment promotion will be much more intense as we step out of the Covid-19 crisis. The competition for investments will be very intense. In that respect, it is simply about staying focused. We know the value proposition of Kuala Lumpur, what we can offer as a location and what industries can come into play in this particular area. We are in southeast Asia, with nine neighbours. Ultimately, Malaysia may be competing for the same type of investments. Malaysia has a population of 33 million, while our neighbours are much larger. We should not compete for more labour intensive manufacturing projects, but continue our focus on Industry 4.0, automation and robotics.

Muhammad Azmi Zulkifli is the CEO of InvestKL, the investment promotion agency of Malaysia’s capital city

You can find the full archive of the fDi’s Virus Diaries series at the following link. If you work in economic development or investment promotion and want to share your experience in dealing with the coronavirus, get in touch at fDi@ft.com.