AS we had just celebrated the nation’s 62nd birthday two weeks ago and the 56th Malaysia Day is upon us in just two days, it is nice to have a birthday wish or wishes for the nation, be it for the economy, stock market or just for all Malaysians going into our 63rd year since Merdeka and 57th year as Malaysia.
Other than ensuring and wishing that we have political stability, continuity and smooth transition of power to the next Prime Minister, here are my five wishes for the nation:> It’s the economy and government policies that dictate investors’ confidence and sentiment.
We cannot deny that the economy takes precedence over everything else as that determines whether we are on the right path towards achieving our shared prosperity target as well as ensuring that we have enough jobs for all Malaysians. It is wished that the government formulates right strategies to make Malaysia an attractive choice of investment destinations and policies must be competitive to attract the right multi-nationals to set-up shop in Malaysia. We must also ensure that our policies attract not only these multi-nationals but also the right talents, be it Malaysians or foreigners. These policies can range from attractive tax incentives, fast track approval processes, no restriction to foreign ownership as well as right re-location packages for expatriates, via the Malaysia My Second Home programme.
For the local boys and entrepreneurs, give them the space and incentives too if they were to reinvest into their business via expansion plans or provide higher tax benefits for hiring Malaysians for certain pay scales (this is to encourage the B40 to get better-paying jobs) or even attractive funding options if these Malaysian companies are in need of it for expansion purposes. We also urgently need economic policies that embrace technology as well as higher value-added to ensure our economic growth momentum continues beyond 2020. These policies should be targeted towards harnessing Malaysia’s strength in certain sectors, especially in the tourism, E&E, oil and gas, energy, plantation industries and the downstream manufacturing sector that uses Malaysian produced raw materials. An economic blue print with targeted sectors that will take Malaysia into 2030 and beyond is greatly needed.
> Let’s formulate strategies to raise our education level
Ever since the Pakatan Harapan government was formed, one of the key ministries that has been the target of ridicule is the Education Ministry. Rightly or wrongly, all Malaysians take educational issues seriously and not just cosmetic changes as to how our children go to school in what uniform colour or whether they are taking their breakfast or otherwise. Education is the foundation of the nation and it is the duty of the government to formulate the right educational path with school programmes that develop the minds and thinking skills of our children. They are not guinea pigs that need to be tested every time we have a new Minister but they are Malaysians who need to be nurtured to be responsible, knowledgeable and well-mannered adults to serve the country in the future. The government needs to re-look why our educational system, which was the pride of the nation two or three decades ago and why it is not so now? Why are the international, private and vernacular school systems thriving while the formal school system has been seeing a declining trend? Is it due to the syllabus that is taught, the teaching methods, the language that is used or is it that the general public has lost confidence in sending their school children to the public education system? Of course, this percentage is very small, but given time, if our educational system deteriorates further, the numbers will continue to strive, leaving mediocre performance from our public schools.
> Wages and cost of living matter, not race and religion issues
In a recent trip to Kota Kinabalu and driving to the Tip of Borneo as well as to the foothill of Mount Kota Kinabalu at Kundasang, one cannot help but notice the religious tolerance that our East Malaysian counterparts observed compared with us in the peninsula. At every corner of any junction that leads to a village, signboards of holy places, especially churches, line up the street. We would not see this at all in the peninsula as in Sabah, it doesn’t matter what race or religion you are. But here in peninsula, due to our political parties, with most based on race and religion, we cannot help but keep using this rhetoric to gain public support as though elections are going to be held tomorrow. Why worry about elections when they are not due for another good three and half years down the road. Why can’t our politicians focus on the bread and butter issues? They should be addressing the cost of living issues and stop living in a wonderland with the thought that Malaysia’s poverty line is at RM980 per month.
If the Pakatan government can focus on delivering results on the economic front, race and religion issues will take a back seat and the nation can move forward as one. Why should our political parties be based on race and religion? Haven’t we learned enough from the past that this is the single most important divisive factor that is keeping us apart? It is time, either we ban political parties based on race and religion or introduce Race Relations Act to curb hate speech and criminalise these actions that are deemed to be detrimental to the nation. In addition, we seriously need to re-look at wages in this country. A salary of RM1,100 as minimum wage is indeed an insult to any paid employee when our Ministers are walking away with huge salaries and allowances that are like five times of the minimum wage.
We need to raise the bar to have minimum wage at least RM1,500 by next year as it was the promise of this Pakatan government in its manifesto. Malaysians do not want to wait for GE15 to have better wages, they want it now. Also, we have to ensure that our graduates are adequately paid and not salary levels that new graduates earned two decades ago. Fresh graduates must be paid at least RM3,500 for them to have a comfortable start to the working life and living on their own two feet.
> Transparency is key to Pakatan’s survival beyond GE15
One of the reasons why we had kicked out the previous administration was due to the excesses and lack of transparent process when awarding large infrastructure projects. Today, we are seeing the same modus operandi in action as we are not given the justification for some of these projects that can benefit the nation. At least, these proposals must be scrutinised by Parliament so the people have a better understanding in terms of how much these projects actually cost, how is it funded and whether the economic benefit justifies the cost.The Pakatan government needs to be more transparent and not just rubber-stamp projects that it wants to carry out. The parliamentary process is there to be used for the sake of transparency and accountability.
> Time for Bursa Malaysia to buck up and be a regional champion.
Bursa Malaysia’s KLCI index is one of the worse performing indices in Asia this year. The 30-stock index, which is heavily weighted with banking stocks, has been under pressure due to poor earnings performance, lack of bite from regulators on corporate governance issues (for example the recent injection of Empire Resort stake by its major shareholders into Genting Malaysia) as well as a market that is shrinking in size, mainly due to M&A as well as privatisation exercises.
Bursa Malaysia needs to look beyond Malaysian shores to woo regional corporate big-wigs to be listed on Bursa Malaysia, either in local or foreign currency. This will provide more breadth and depth to the market and to start with, Bursa Malaysia should encourage these companies, which could be listed in their home country, to be listed on Bursa Malaysia.
From Thailand, Bursa Malaysia should court companies like PTT, Siam Commercial. Siam Cement, CP Foods, AIS or Thai Beverage to list here. From Indonesia, PT Astra International, PT Gudang Garam, PT Telekomunikasi Indonesia are good candidates while from Philippines and Vietnam, the names like SM Investment, JG Summit, Ayala Corporation, Vietnam Dairy Products, PetroVietnam Gas and Vinhomes come to mind. Even across the causeway, Bursa should look at some of the largest Singapore companies to list here as well and this could include some of the larger REITs players as well as companies like Wilmar or even Olam or Sembcorp Industries.
These names will add to the nation’s market capitalisation as a whole and also transform how the FBM KLCI is track and not succumb under pressure just because certain sectors are not the thematic play among investors.
Overall, the exchange can be a champion for Asean by bringing together large Asean corporates into a single exchange.
The five birthday wishes are not exhaustive and in fact there are many more wishes that Malaysians have. But if the Pakatan government can deliver on these five promises, they are good enough for now.
Hopefully by the time we celebrate Malaysia’s next birthday, we will be living in a different Malaysia – A Real New Malaysia.
The views expressed are the writer’s own.