Why can’t we adapt?

YOU would think by now, corporate Malaysia would know that adapting to achieve sustainable profit and growth is somewhat a given in this day and age. And yet, it seems the message was missed out in three examples last week.

The first was petrol stations threatening to close down due to unstable prices affecting their revenue streams.

Let us start by saying the obvious, a weekly adjustment in prices benefits the consumer, the earlier practice benefited the government and oil companies – a little less the petrol stations.

When times were good, there wasn't a peep and they seem to have hired some 14,000 employees as a whole. Now that times are tough, they feel the need to close down. My question is: how on earth did petrol stations operating as self-service outlets end up hiring 14,000 people?

I guess it is time for the layoffs. And to that end, Malaysians should be asked, haven't we been primed to fill up petrol ourselves and clean our own windscreens?

The second would be the cabotage issue and how the local shipping industry says it will also suffer. Yet again, when times were good, not a peep. In fact, not even growth – why didn't the local shipping firms grow to service regions rather than rely on the cabotage policy for decades?

Now that this policy is almost gone, we see that the cabotage issue left the shipping companies comfortable enough to just eke out a living without growing and challenging the market. At the same time, for them to say that bigger companies can survive due to government intervention and the ability to lower rates is flawed.

This is because the cabotage policy would have guaranteed our local players income to offset cheaper regional shipping had they chosen to do so. They made no such choice. Plus, one only needs to look at Hanjin Shipping going bankrupt to know that even the biggest players are not immortal.

Finally, there is the issue of two highway concessionaires about to go bust as announced by Works Minister Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof. Another operator is restructuring to cope with the same cash flow problem.

Why is this one important? Well, with less cash to manage highways, things can go awry; no more toll attendants and without any capital to automate the lanes means slower traffic. At the same time, it would mean the ability to maintain the road, rest areas and even lighting, could be lax.

That puts the consumer, in this case the motorist, in danger. Yet at the same time you have to wonder, with the studies done before building these highways, surely these concessionaires had proper projections of how many people would use their highways and make a profit.

Unless, of course, such a study was padded with inflated figures and approved underhandedly, or something changed in the midst of building the highway that made it no longer profitable. That would leave highway concessionaires such as these in a lurch.

The above examples show that when government insists on protecting sectors and establishing companies and projects without considering the future impact of liberalising and removing policies, it will cause a backlash.

But more to the point, it also shows that Malaysian companies are failing to cope with change – the failure to adapt so to speak.

So, where does it end?

This is the dilemma. To let the business adapt would mean only the strongest survive – akin to natural selection – would be to let tens of thousands of Malaysians out of work. The same dilemma we had with Proton, MAS and whichever flunked mega project you can mention.

With youth unemployment at an all time high, the petrol sector looking at another dive, another round of cuts mentioned by the Malaysian Employers Federation, and many still reeling from job cuts since 2015, there is an increasing need to create more employment.

To such an end, the government believes in the people creating their own jobs or becoming self-employed to adapt. But can Malaysians adapt?

We often read about complaints of foreigners opening shops in Kuala Lumpur, but that is a form of adaptability on their part and a failure on ours.

Just ask yourselves – who rented the shops to them? Who got their permits for them? And who collects the rent, and maybe even part of the profit?

In other words, there are opportunistic Malaysians who are happily rent-seeking on the hard work of others. They wash their hands when these hard working foreigners get into trouble. It is the same for the shopkeeper as it is for large Malaysian corporations.

To that end, that needs to be stopped too. Or otherwise, let them be Malaysians as well.

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com