THE country desperately needs a period of political stability until the next scheduled general election after July 2023 not only to address and to get out of the Covid19 crisis, but also to implement policies for the future: sustainable and equitable development with application of digital enablement.
However, we are not going to get it with the political leaders that we have. We have government by inducement and opposition committed “to propose nothing, oppose everything and to turn out the government”.
We have discredited political leaders offering themselves to save our country! Where and who is the future? For business leaders, all this is distressing. They see the damage to the economy caused by Covid-19.
Businesses run down and revenues depleted. They see mounting public debt to address the situation, which will be storing huge fiscal challenge in the future which is not being responsibly planned because of political short termism of both the government and opposition.
They see a future that is being seized by countries which are better led and better prepared. They see investment flow in the region favouring Singapore, as always, but clearly now Vietnam, Thailand (despite its own political problems, it has shown an ability and a track record of riding them) and Indonesia, which has a professional and competent cabinet comprised of ministers focused on their job and not on politics.
Look out for Indonesia’s Omnibus Law, which is very foreign direct investment directed and artificial intelligence focused.
With the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and increasing Asean economic integration, these countries will seize market opportunities as Malaysia is gazing at its little political navel.
A general election now will be a public health disaster. Have we forgotten what happened in Sabah? Running for the declaration of a state of emergency would be a fig leaf to hide loss of parliamentary support. It takes us down the dangerous road to government by subterfuge.
Whatever the Umno Supreme Council decides, it must show a sense of responsibility about lives and the need for political stability until the next election.
Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin must rise to the occasion by offering a grand coalition instead of being closeted with his narrow range of supporters who are extracting a political and economic cost to the country, hanging like the “Sword of Damocles” over him.
With ministerial or government-linked company positions, the mediocrity of most is the only thing that is shining through, and the uncertainty for and bullying of professional managers will only result in a race to the bottom, as the capable ones leave or are kicked out.
As the economy suffers from unending political intrigue and instability, government revenues will suffer at the time of greatest need.
Building a new revenue base, including by reintroducing the Goods and Services Tax, for example, is going to be difficult if both production and consumption suffer from economic malaise.
I also worry about the impact on the private sector of course, including financial institutions. Growth numbers can be thrown out for this year, whether 3.5 to 5.5 per cent, or even 8 per cent, but don’t forget this is coming from a low negative growth base.
Singapore, for instance, has reported – 5.8 per cent for 2020, and our 2020 performance will be around there. Also, the composition of growth in 2021 is important. Will it skew towards manufacturing, such as of rubber gloves?
In other words, will 2021 growth be broad-based, by how much will the services sector revive and will consumer confidence rise sufficiently?
A lot depends on how we recover from Covid-19. Whatever, my concern about our financial institutions is the same as for the public sector fiscal position.
If companies do not recover and with the extended moratorium, there will come a moment of reckoning. With the banks, will asset quality deteriorate and provisions mount? I don’t think the politicians understand these dynamics as they mess about with selfish politics.
On getting and administering the Covid-19 vaccines, while being among the first to announce that doses are coming, we are falling behind Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand in confirming the vaccine rollout.
Indonesia is preferred by China despite our early announcement of getting Chinese vaccines preferentially. We are becoming like a second tier Asean country.
With continued political instability, a change of government and ministers tripping over each other to extract political kudos, the people will suffer — and die — from irresponsible politicians.
It is not just about the economy. It is to be regretted the proposal by the Asean Business Advisory Council in July last year for the region (650 million people) to make a collective purchase (as the European Union has done for its 470 million people) approved by Asean leaders has not seen the light of day.
The government is due to announce the vaccine programme today. It must be clear, comprehensive and transparent. Are we getting the Oxford-AstraZeneca and the Chinese vaccines as well?
Is the Pfizer vaccine the best choice, taking into account the biology, storage requirements and logistics? Openness please. People’s lives are at stake. Infections are rising.
Saving lives and livelihoods must not be politicised and subjected to opacity and leakages.
The writer, a former NST group editor, returns to write on local and international political issues