Governing in the post-Covid-19 era

  • Economy
  • Monday, 27 Apr 2020

Army Forces personnels patrolling at the entrance to Taman Sri Murni during the movement control order (MCO) on Tuesday .AZMAN GHANI / The Star

BARELY a day after being sworn in as the new Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin faced his first crisis. Anyone assuming the mantel of leadership knows that crises go with the job, but this crisis would turn out to be unprecedented on a global scale.

The Covid-19 epidemic escalated so quickly that it would be just shy of a week after Malaysia’s new cabinet was sworn in, that a movement control order (MCO) was implemented, effectively shutting down the Malaysian economy and closing Malaysia off to the world to contain the spread of the virus.

So far, Malaysia has demonstrated the resolve and political will needed to deal with this pandemic. It has enforced compliance of the MCO to stem the threat and announced a RM250bil fiscal stimulus plan to help both the rakyat and businesses to survive this lockdown.

While the priority for public officials the world over is focused on containing the pandemic, it is also the time to start planning for what comes next.

The scale of this pandemic has already fundamentally changed the structure of the global economy. Many sectors of the global economy will be forever transformed.

Travel and tourism, for example, will never be the same again as the current landscape is decimated by almost zero revenue for airlines, hotels, and other operators.

The events industry faces an existentialist threat. Malls that were already struggling to cope with the impact of e-commerce could now see further erosion from the impact of this pandemic of the restaurant business.

Cinemas and other public halls will surely be affected. Suffice to say, this cascade of shocks will reverberate through the economy and the effects will be felt for years.

Public officials are undoubtedly already thinking about Malaysia’s economic future.

What should be central to any strategy to rebalance, transform and reform the economy is a stronger emphasis on private-public collaboration.

One thing that has become clear during this MCO is the extent that the digital economy has enabled the economy and the rakyat to better cope with the disruption.

Digital-powered logistics services like Grab and Lalamove have enabled food delivery services, grocery fulfilment, and parcel deliveries. Digital communications tools like Zoom, Slack, and many others have allowed millions of Malaysians to work and learn from home.

Digital content providers like iflix, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and online game companies have kept citizens entertained while forced to stay at home.

Policymakers need to seize this opportunity to further propel digital adoption across the economy. Given that the backbone of the digital economy is fast, stable and pervasive Internet connectivity, the role of telcos become more crucial than ever.

By working more closely with telcos, the government will be able to enhance the efficacy of the private sector to deliver the crucial infrastructure needed to power the economy of a post-Covid era.

For example, the government can affect real impact via their role as the regulator, and the ability to finance crucial investments like a national 5G infrastructure network.

Also, telcos have at their disposal a huge trove of data on 30 million Malaysians that could yield incredible insights that can not only help with better delivery of government services but also with managing crises events like the one we are having now.

Singapore and South Korea are two examples of companies who have great success working with telcos to manage this epidemic.

From a public health perspective, there needs to be improved data sharing between government ministries and agencies, and the private sector. This can facilitate better detection and containment measures, timely decision making, tighter epidemic management, and improved allocation of public healthcare resources.

Other examples of private-public collaboration to spur digital adoption include working with Malaysian organisations such as Axiata, TNB, Maybank, and KPJ to better understand the needs of the rakyat, in a way that many SMEs have to do as a business imperative.

To augment digital adoption and strengthen regulatory capability, government bodies can work with global tech companies like Google, Apple and Amazon to leverage their tech, reach and knowledge.

SMEs and startups face an uncertain future. To navigate this, they need to adapt and innovate their business. Entrepreneurs need to focus closely on the customer to understand their new needs.

More than ever, the speed of execution is key. And we already live in a world powered by collaborations and strategic win-win partnerships. The same exhortation to SMEs and startups applies to leadership in government also.

The world will be forever and fundamentally transformed because of this COVID-19 pandemic. The turbulent rebalancing and transformation to the next economic normal can be mitigated by an acceleration of digital adoption.

Government leaders can drive this agenda faster and more effectively via private-public collaborations. Beyond driving a more digital future, there are other ways that private-public partnerships can help shape a new economic future.

Surina Shukri is the CEO of Malaysia Digital Economy Corp. The views expressed here are the writer’s own.

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