Validating vacations

Own goal: It was a big win for the KL City Football Club when it clinched the Malaysia Cup for the first time in 32 years. Unfortunately, not so for our leaders who granted the Federal Territories a public holiday for the victory.

FIRSTLY, let me extend my congratulations to the KL City Football Club for winning the Malaysia Cup for the first time in 32 years. It’s an outstanding achievement, no question about it.

A celebration is certainly in order! Well done! Congratulations! Bravo! Because we are the champions, we are the champions!

But that’s it. That’s all. By right, we should get back to work after the party. And surely an unscripted and sudden public holiday isn’t necessary. Most city folks, blighted by the economic downturn from the effects of the pandemic, are clearly not in the mood for another off day.

Many of us have stayed at home for long enough during the Movement Control Order and subsequent measures over the past two years. Businesses have crumbled, jobs have been lost and we’re slowly trying to get back on our feet. So, we don’t need this unplanned holiday.

The Federal Territories Minister Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim must have thought he made a popular decision. But instead of being praised, the Perlis veteran politician is getting hammered.

That’s simply because he is not reading the mood on the ground well. In fact, we wonder if our politicians know what the rakyat feels. We aren’t sure if he had thought this through properly or considered the economic disruption from this sudden shutdown because hundreds of millions would be affected.

KL may have reasons to celebrate because it involves KL Football FC. I’m not sure if the people in Labuan or Putrajaya have the same enthusiasm for the victory. Had Sabah won, there could have been greater joy in Labuan.

Shahidan has now said that his decision to declare the holiday was referred to the Prime Minister and the Chief Secretary to the Government. Now, we also wonder why the two gentlemen agreed to the holiday, or if they merely found it hard to say no to him.

Malaysia has one of the highest numbers of public holidays in the world, just behind Thailand, Indonesia, India and Hong Kong. Our public holidays are federally gazetted, and some are observed by the respective states.

As of 2020, each state and federal territory has designated four to six state public holidays, bringing the total number of (federal and state) public holidays to 20 days in Sabah and Terengganu, 19 days in Labuan, Penang and Sarawak, and 18 days throughout the rest of the country.

If that’s not enough, these holidays often take place near the weekends, resulting in at least 12 long weekends, which Malaysians have come to identify as extended holidays.

My foreigner friends have often asked me why there are still race issues after 60 years of independence, with politicians competing to prove how much more racist one is over the other. But to our credit, when it comes to off-days, we all agree that every race and religion deserves a public holiday to mark their festivals and auspicious occasions.

Even more incredible, as a news journalist, I’m often asked whether there’d be a public off day each time a VVIP dies. I’ve never asked whether they need a day to mourn the passing of a supposedly great person, or if there’s a need to “celebrate” silently.

But the most outrageous public holiday was the one Kelantan declared to boost attendance at the protest of the proposed implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Icerd) in Kuala Lumpur in 2018. Luckily, the PAS state government didn’t declare a holiday when the Taliban took control of Afghanistan this year.

So, the PAS state government initiated a new form of public holiday – cuti protes (leave to protest). We’ve heard of cuti sakit (medical leave), cuti kahwin (marriage leave), cuti bersalin (maternity leave) and compassionate leave, but now, there’s even cuti menang bola (leave for winning a football game).

Every time there’s a shut down, there’s cost involved, especially for manufacturing, with deadlines to be met. Malaysia is already a high-cost country for basic manufacturing because we are short on labour. If investors move to Indonesia, Vietnam and Cambodia, it’s not because they love these countries more than Malaysia, but purely for business reasons.

Indonesia has 300 million people, and their workers don’t whine or complain about working conditions. They are tough people who aren’t afraid of difficult work, so, it’s easy to hire them.

Vietnam and Cambodia aren’t the most democratic countries in Asean. Nor are they known for established legal institutions. Transparency isn’t high up in the rankings either, but they will beat Malaysia. Again, it’s all about cost – the basic rule for a manufacturer pumping money into a country.

It doesn’t help when our politicians, in trying to be populist, decide to declare holidays at their whim and fancy, without carefully deliberating the implications of their decisions.

It might come as a surprise to most Malaysians, but the United States is one of the few countries with only 10 days of public holidays, while Germany only has nine. China, which is known as the factory of the world for producing almost everything, has only seven declared holidays.

Just do a quick search on countries with the most holidays, especially in Europe, and see how they fare economically. One European country even had to be bailed out by international financial institutions.

In the case of FT, the holiday threw the medical specialist professional exams, clinics and operating schedules in disarray while banks decided to ignore the order and continued to operate.

So, if we win our first Olympics gold medal, it looks like we will have more than just one public holiday. We will need at least a month! That Malaysian gold medallist will need to be taken on street parades, with lengthy speeches by politicians, and then there will be the visits to 14 states and territories. Of course, the mandatory Datukship is necessary, too. No, one month isn’t enough, come to think of it. Now, you know why it will soon be called “Cuti Cuti Satu Malaysia.”

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Wong Chun Wai

Wong Chun Wai

Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist in Penang, and has served The Star for over 35 years in various capacities and roles. He is now group editorial and corporate affairs adviser to the group, after having served as group managing director/chief executive officer. On The Beat made its debut on Feb 23 1997 and Chun Wai has penned the column weekly without a break, except for the occasional press holiday when the paper was not published. In May 2011, a compilation of selected articles of On The Beat was published as a book and launched in conjunction with his 50th birthday. Chun Wai also comments on current issues in The Star.


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