Reforms are not easy but they cannot be avoided


  • Letters
  • Saturday, 05 Sep 2020

OUR Prime Minister recently announced the 10-point programme of his Perikatan Nasional government, stating that it represents a strong agenda to address the needs of the rakyat, particularly the poor and disadvantaged who need help.

He explained that the programme is not an election manifesto like what Pakatan Harapan had because his government was born out of the political crisis in the previous government and not through an election. Nevertheless, the PM pledged to do his duty as a Muslim and as the country’s leader to serve the people to the best of his ability.

He stated that he would leave it to the people to judge how well he has performed in delivering on the 10 pledges.

The PM has rightly put the economy on top of the list of priorities because with all the best intentions to help the poor and the needy, now and post-pandemic, there must be GDP growth to generate resources for both the public and private sector to sustain their investments within the context of fiscal and financial stability.

There must be plans to strengthen the revenue base and cut wastage and leakages on expenditure to support the much larger government spending programme and maintain market confidence on the country’s economic fundamentals. Stable macro-economic conditions are absolutely essential for sustaining the growth process to facilitate equitable distribution for a fair and just society.

Malaysia is an open economy highly dependent on exports and private investment in the commercial, industrial and service sectors. As the private sector is the main source of employment and income creation, it is often described as the engine of growth.

To keep the growth engine dynamic, government policies must provide a conducive climate to motivate corporations and business leaders to increase their investment in the country.

Apart from maintaining macro-economic stability, another important requirement for business to expand is a stable administrative system that remains professional and independent, whatever the political changes. It is encouraging to hear that the new government will continue to maintain the tradition of keeping the civil service and institutions of law and order free from political interference.

Being a multiracial country, tolerance of our diversity in race and religion is fundamental for peace and stability. Although no prime minister can control what comes out from the loud mouth of politicians and religious officials, his silence on their thoughtless statements may be interpreted as endorsement.

We should learn from what is happening in the United States today. The silence from President Donald Trump on the systemic racism against blacks, Muslims and other minorities is creating fear among liberal Americans that he approves the ideology of white supremacy.

Malaysia cannot afford to allow such ideology to create tension among our multiracial society.

The PM’s 10-point pledges include the bumiputra agenda. Analysts will be watching closely whether this will mean a further expansion of the public sector in the commercial and business activities by creating new agencies, resulting in crowding out the genuine private entrepreneurs.

The various chambers of commerce have been complaining since the introduction of the New Economic Policy (NEP) 50 years ago that public sector agencies have expanded so much in the commercial space that there is less room for private investments to expand in the domestic economy.

A lot of funds are flowing out of the country, accompanied by the brain drain to seek opportunities outside. The new government should avoid the overzealous implementation of the NEP because of its negative effects on efficiency and competitiveness in the economy.

An intrusive public sector is also bad for the emerging bumiputra business community. Over the last several decades of expansion in education and training opportunities, many Malays and other bumiputra are graduating with high qualifications. It is encouraging to see the growing managerial and entrepreneurial capacity among them, such as those working in the high performing GLCs and banking and financial institutions.

There is also an emerging trend of young Malays preferring to venture out on their own rather than working in comfortable office jobs for salaries. They are taking business risks going into new technology industries and competing in the marketplace with their local and foreign peers. These genuine entrepreneurs should be left to compete on their own merits so that the fittest among them will survive to rise to the top.

It is commendable of the PM to highlight the importance of transparency and integrity in his administration. He said he would not protect anyone involved in corruption and wants the anti-corruption drive to proceed uninterrupted.

While his statement gives hope for clean government, the public and business people will be more convinced if he substantiates his promise by strengthening the role of Parliament and public institutions in overseeing the functions of ministers and government agencies.

In view of the growing tendency at politicising GLCs, it would be better for the economy if there is a review of their role with a plan to downsize them, especially those that are a burden on government funding.

There are hundreds of GLCs at federal and state level which compete unfairly in the commercial sector, relying on their easy access to government support. As such GLCs are creating more harm than good for the economy, they should be closed down.

There are also good GLCs, which are an asset to the country as they are self-financing. These are the publicly-listed companies which have matured to become profit earners for their shareholders and are expanding to add value to their business. Others are new ventures with foreign partners with potential to grow into regional businesses in the future.

As these good GLCs are regulated by market discipline and monitored by financial analysts, they are driven by self-interest to adopt the high international standards of corporate governance, especially in the appointment of board chairpersons and directors and their top executives. Such well-run GLCs should be retained in view of their strategic contributions to growth and modernisation.

The 10-point agenda will be better received if the PM makes a pledge that his government’s reforms will include reviewing the country's draconian laws to allow for civil liberties, in particular freedom of speech. These reforms are essential to enable the media, academia, NGOs and individual activists to play their part in nation-building by speaking out against bad policies, corrupt practices and racist conduct. With the rising middle class, the urbanization of society and exposure of our educated population to developments around the world, the people expect more than economic prosperity.

There is growing concern among Malaysians that we are falling behind compared to the progressive countries in this region on matters relating to individual freedoms, human rights and the rights of women and children. We need to improve on these aspects of social progress so that there is balanced development between the economy and enjoyment of life.

We hope that in implementing the 10-point agenda, the PM will continue with the reform initiatives taken by the previous government in which he was involved. It is true that reforms are not easy, but it is more true that they cannot be avoided if the country is to achieve success in becoming a fully developed country in the true sense of the word.

TAN SRI MOHD SHERIFF MOHD KASSIM

Kuala Lumpur

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