THE increasing cost of living, shrinking ringgit, falling palm oil prices and unfulfilled elections promises seem to be the talked about issues among Malaysians.
MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong, sitting in Parliament as the Opposition MP from Ayer Hitam, gives his take on the country one year after Pakatan Harapan took over Putrajaya.
> After a year of uncertainty faced by the people, what is your take on the country for next 12 months?This will be a very crucial period during which the Pakatan Harapan government must be able to pinpoint the direction for the nation for the rest of its term (until the next general election). Other-wise, the confidence of the people will continue to plunge.
There have been too many U-turns on policies and pledges in the past one year, triggering a crisis of confidence among investors and the public.
Just talk to the people on the street and they will tell you that business is not good, there is no direction, and that they are pessimistic about the future of the economy. They simply cannot see a clear direction under Pakatan.
> If full marks is 100 and 50 is a passing mark, how would you assess Pakatan?
Pakatan gets two marks below the passing grade for now.
For the first three months, or perhaps first six months (after GE14), many people were still patient with the coalition. Some said we should give it more time to fulfil its promises.
Unfortunately, the last six months has seen many people starting to doubt the government’s ability to lead the nation.
Apart from the many U-turns on policies and pledges made in GE14, Pakatan has also failed to match the standards they had been pushing for when they were in the Opposition.
They masqueraded as a champion for all issues, from education to toll charges, in the past.
Now they cite financial constraints when they fail to fulfil election promises made to the people. They claim the nation has to shoulder a heavy debt incurred by the previous government. Yet they have crazy ideas, like building a flying car.
The people are naturally disappointed and unhappy.
The government has lost the people’s trust and it is going to find it very hard to regain it.
In the absence of trust, people will be increasingly sceptical about policies and the intentions of the government.
> Do you think that some voters might feel they have been neglected by Pakatan?
The people naturally have very high expectations of Pakatan. They thought by supporting Pakatan to form the new government they would get something in return, like the promise of good governance, a million jobs waiting for them, a prosperous country, development in all sectors and also a RM1,500 minimum wage. (Pakatan) got the people so excited and happy, full of anticipation.
But what the people got in return is disappointment after disappointment for the last one year.
And people just got fed-up hearing their same excuse again and again. It means little or nothing to the people when you blame the previous government for what you fail to do.
You must be able to deliver or you should not have made promises to the people in exchange for their support.
> How do you think Pakatan is doing handling the economy?
Pakatan was the biggest critic of the GST (goods and services tax) prior to GE14. The people expected the abolishment of GST after Pakatan took over the government to bring down prices but that did not happen in the last eight months.
Instead, the cost of living continues to rise; the biggest challenge is faced especially by young Malay-sians who have just joined the job market and started a family.
It is the government’s responsibility to help the people. Prices of commodities like palm oil and rubber have gone down tremendously in the past eight months.
The 650,000 oil palm smallholders as well as their family members are badly hit. Malaysians are really feeling the heat and they are airing their grievances openly.
> What can the government do to ease the situation?
Create more employment and business opportunities. Keep a positive outlook on the economy to arrest the falling stock market and our weakening currency.
Pakatan’s move to cancel mega projects or even announce the possibility of cancellation shortly after taking over the government has had serious repercussions on the economy.
Unfortunately, the people are the ones to suffer the most.
The government must have a sustainable model in order to generate more business opportunities, like having FDI (foreign direct investments). The stock market must be good. The environment must be conducive for investment.
While Pakatan has done much damage in the past 11 months, I hope they have learned a lesson.
Their announcement of the national debt at RM1tril is the biggest mistake they made at the start. It simply triggered a crisis of confidence in the country’s economy, painting a gloomy future.
Rapid development has to continue to generate more income for the people.
When mega projects are postponed or cancelled, most of the 350 construction-related industries will suffer. These are the issues the government really has to study and address.
> What do you think will happen if the government cannot improve in the next one year?
The government has to buck up. Time is not on its side. The people have no spending power. I visited a few hawker centres recently and was told that business has drop-ped by 40% to 50%. You can feel it.
These places were so packed before that you could not even get a seat.
People who used to spend a few ringgit for coffee and teh tarik are now staying at home to cut costs. Many are also under tremendous pressure as they try to pay for basic necessities and their children’s education.
> How do you think Pakatan has handled bilateral ties?
Pray hard that the government will stop quarrelling with neighbouring countries. We need more FDI or our economy will go down further.
Resuming the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) last month is a step in the right direction. The package deal also includes an increase of about 20% in palm oil purchases by China a year for the next five years.
On Jan 29, I wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Tun Dr Maha-thir Mohamad and the Cabinet ministers, earnestly hoping the Cabinet would explore the effects of axing the ECRL project.
I pointed out that putting a stop to the ECRL project will harm diplomatic ties between Malaysia and China. China has been Malaysia’s largest trading partner since 2009, with bilateral trade figures reaching US$100bil (RM414.3bil) a year.
Commodity prices in Malaysia have been on the decline. A nightmare looms should China take any retaliatory action, such as reducing or even stopping the import of our commodities, palm oil in particular.
It is the duty of the government of the day to honour what the country had signed (previously) and continue with the obligation. It is OK to renegotiate to get a better deal for a win-win solution.
(A memorandum of understanding was signed last month between China and Malaysia on the RM44bil ECRL project; there has been a reduction in the scale of the original 688km link under the deal.)> Do you see more politicking in Pakatan’s future when Tun Mahathir Mohamad is supposed to hand over the reins to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in a year’s time? This is the problem when you have a coalition without a common goal.
Pakatan is a marriage of convenience, each (member party) having its own thinking, own way of doing things, and they cannot stand up to a real test.
I have not seen a succession plan for this year. There is also no signal that the Prime Minister is going to pass the baton to anyone. It is important to make clear the succession plan to avoid speculation which could give rise to uncertainty, especially among investors.