THIS is a critical time for our beloved country Malaysia. Rarely have we faced three major crisis at the same time. They are the political, economic and health threats to our national sustainability and future prospects.
The recent political turmoil and the world economic and our own consequent slowdown have been aggravated by the health threat that seem to be worsening.
It is sad to see that many of our political leaders had to get involved in so much unproductive politicking that has led to a change in government so soon after the last general election held in May 2018.
Although the public generally feel that the new government has come into power through the back door, with all the political changes, during this leap year, the government has been actually constitutionally installed.
Nevertheless many voters rightly feel badly let down by many political leaders who should have shown higher democratic values and displayed better standards of good governance.
However, despite the feelings of depression and even some sense of hopelessness at this time, the people should be prepared to listen to new Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin’s appeal: “Come on give us a chance!”
He also pledged “we have promised and we will deliver”.
Malaysians are generally forgiving and pragmatic, so we will wait and see and respond and react accordingly at the polls.
But the new government has to boldly face the critical political, economic and health challenges we are all facing as a nation.
The question in most minds is whether the government will meet these challenges boldly and expeditiously?
The Cabinet has already indicated the following measures which are most welcome:
1. It is laudable that the Cabinet decided at its first meeting on Wednesday to form the Economic Action Council. It is good that it will meet every Monday so that the Cabinet can decide on its recommendations when it meets the following Wednesday. Many of its proposals for quick action are already available from past experiences in facing similar challenges. So any delays in action will hopefully be monitored by citizens who will give constructive feedback.
2. It is good that the Bottom 40% of income groups (B40) will be given priority in the new policy counter-measures in the economic field. But please do not neglect the Middle 40% (M40). The middle and especially lower middle income groups should not be forgotten. They will watch the government closely too.
3. The stimulus package introduced recently should be revised upward. The RM20 billion allocated previously may not be adequate as I had written earlier. We have to recalibrate the budget, even if the budget deficit and borrowing have to be raised further.
After all we are in crisis mode and the World Bank, the IMF and international rating agencies will understand our predicament. No country should be forced to save when its survival is threatened. We can allow our budget deficit to rise to about 5% of our national income from the present figure of around 3.5%.
4. The establishment of the Covid-19 Fund to help the poor affected by the coronavirus is a great idea that should be strongly supported by the public.
This is the time when the shared prosperity vision should be supported by all Malaysians and friends. It does not matter that it was initiated by the PH government. The Perikatan Nasional (PN) government should not reject the many sound policies of the previous government, merely because PH is now in the Opposition.
The people come first and politics should come second and not the other way around. Corporates should also rally round the new PN government’s efforts to help the poor victims of the coronavirus.
5. By all means, cut the salaries of the top political leaders by about 20% to signal that they also care for the poor. After all the ministers in particular enjoy many attractive privileges.
6. But most importantly, the new government should also show that it means business and is serious about its promise to deliver and to deliver soon. All the previously promised reforms in the field of security, safety, human rights, environment and a whole range of other outstanding reforms, relating to improving race and religious relations and national unity have to be addressed with greater urgency.
7. If we don’t seize this opportunity to undertake socio-economic structural changes, we will lose out to other rising economies. Hence some old and outdated principles and practices of the 50-year-old New Economic Policy have to be seriously reviewed as a matter of priority. As a result, Malaysians at the B40 and M40 levels should not feel alienated.
8. The health challenge has to be tackled with more intensive education and awareness programmes that will optimise the unity of purpose of the united Malaysian people to collectively cooperate more closely, to fight this health threat, like they are doing in China and some other countries.
9. The Civil Service has carried out its duties with great dedication competence and perseverance, despite the huge odds of destructive politicking and the health challenge. The new government should show much more appreciation to the whole public service that has commendably kept the government machinery going at high performance, despite the lack of political leadership.
10. Finally, the government should emphasise the promotion of national unity and religious and racial understanding in the longer term.
But for now we must seek more boldly to fight harder against wasteful politicking, the economic slowdown and the health challenge.
May God help us overcome all our challenges and come through successfully with flying colours.
Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam is chairman of the Asli Centre for Public Policy Studies. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org