PETALING JAYA: Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s cabinet has received a neutral report card from the investing community amid fresh goals set out for the longer-term.
While some industry people acknowledged that the government has made some good progress in managing a pandemic-stricken economy, there are also views that more could have been done.
Certain ministers such as Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Abdul Aziz and Khairy Jamaluddin, who helm the finance and health portfolios respectively, were viewed as among those who performed relatively better.
Ismail was appointed as the ninth Prime Minister on Aug 21, replacing Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who holds the record of being Malaysia’s shortest-serving prime minister. Ismail announced his Cabinet on Aug 27.
Economist Manokaran Mottain told StarBiz that the government should be commended for its intervention policies that have helped to support the local economy.
He said further that the government has strengthened the rakyat’s socio-economic position via timely cash handouts such as Bantuan Keluarga Malaysia, while not neglecting businesses, especially the small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
“The Human Resources Ministry has also been supporting the labour market through wage subsidies and compensation for the retrenched.
“In addition to this, it is a welcome move that the government is reviving infrastructure projects such as the high-speed rail,” said Manokaran, who is also a director of Rising Success Consultancy.
Malaysia Semiconductor Industry Association (MSIA) president Datuk Seri Wong Siew Hai said the government has been reviewing regulations to make it more efficient for businesses to operate.
As the economy tries to regain strength, creating an enabling environment for businesses to recover is highly important.
Wong cited the E10 Express Construction Permit pilot project in Kulim, Kedah, as an example of how the government made it easier for businesses to operate.
Via E10, a company can build its factory and get the certificate of completion and compliance in just 10 months.
“Previously, it would take 18 to 20 months.
“The government is engaging with the electrical and electronics (E&E) sector and it is open to our feedback. This is a good development,” he said.
Meanwhile, KL and Selangor Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KLSICCI) honorary secretary-general Nivas Ragavan said it is “too premature” to assess the performance of the ruling government in the first 100 days.
However, he acknowledged that a lot of initiatives have been undertaken by the Finance Ministry, including in tabling Budget 2022.
“Key ministries like the Health Ministry performed very well in the vaccination drive and containing the Covid-19 spread as well as the Human Resources Ministry which tackled the high unemployment rate via upskilling, reskilling and employment drives via agencies like HRD Corp and Socso.
“Both the ministers are performing well and leading their respective ministries towards ensuring a healthy and economically stable nation,” he said.
“This can be improved further upon delivering Budget 2022 initiatives next year,” he added.
Malaysia University of Science and Technology professor Geoffrey Williams rated the first 100 days at five to six.
“So far the government has done very little, but this is a good thing.
“There has already been too much damage caused by the policies under Muhyiddin. So it is better if there is a pause to allow some healing,” he said.
Commenting on Budget 2022, which was the first budget of the Ismail Sabri administration, Williams said it was underwhelming overall, a missed opportunity but at least not willfully damaging.
“However, the government’s response to price hikes is correct by focusing on food price controls and addressing the supply issues.
“So the government should be supported in this. It could also reinstall the electricity subsidies for at least three months.
“This will cost very little but will have a big impact on people and on the overall inflation scenario,” he said.
Looking beyond the 100 days, Williams urged the government to focus on new, long-term approaches that are not driven by the “lame ideas” of international development agencies like the World Bank.
He called for a push toward market-driven economic development with an emphasis on promoting investment, as well as a reform of the social protection system and pensions.
“There should be reforms and privatisation of government linked companies within a responsible privatisation framework that I have proposed before.
“There must also be a focus on creating opportunities and investment in areas that resist technology and replacement of jobs by automation to provide higher value in lower tech personal and socially-oriented activities,” said Williams.
Meanwhile, KLSICCI’s Nivas urged the government to relook the plight of the SMEs.
Pointing out that SMEs have been collapsing over the past two years, he called for a supplementary budget to be tabled in order to boost and empower the SMEs.
“The government should also embark more on national unity programmes to forge a closer relationship among Malaysians to reflect on the Keluarga Malaysia concept unveiled by the prime minister.
“Otherwise, it will be a gimmick just like another 1Malaysia concept,” he said.
MSIA’s Wong, on the other hand, said the government must work fast to lift the freeze of foreign workers.
“The E&E sector, which contributed 6.8% of the gross domestic product in 2020, has been facing a shortage of workers. Lifting the freeze on foreign workers is the short-term solution.
“The lifting can be done gradually. For a start, focus on the sectors that have greater needs for foreign workers and that have greater contribution to the economy,” he said.
The Covid-19 pandemic has caused manpower shortage in various industries, and as businesses start to ramp up production post-reopening of the economy, the lack of workers has disrupted operations.
The pandemic has also disrupted the domestic supply chain, resulting in high prices of goods in the market.
Manokaran pointed out that the presence of cartels in distribution channels have also caused prices to soar.
“This has been unresolved by the government. Margins of the producers and retailers have not increased much, but the cost of goods have increased tremendously.
“So, there must be someone in between the supply chain that’s making the most profit at the expense of the consumers.
“Moving forward, the cartels in distribution channels must be addressed as soon as possible,” he said.