Critical areas for new government to tackle within 100 days


  • Letters
  • Saturday, 21 Aug 2021

IT is imperative for the incoming government to identify and prioritise key tasks within the first 100 days to rebuild and revitalise the country that is badly impacted by Covid-19.

Following are the five primary areas to focus on.

1. Economy: The government should raise the debt-to-GDP ratio ceiling so that it is able to borrow more in order to fund further medium- to long-term stimulus packages. Given that most of Malaysia remains under some form of movement control order, many are still unable to earn sufficient income to support themselves and their families. Stimulus packages should emphasise cash assistance for the most vulnerable in society, including the B40 and segments of the M40.

Funds must also be allocated for purchasing essential digital devices to facilitate online learning, especially since reopening of schools has been postponed multiple times.

A resilient and competitive digital infrastructure must also be developed to meet the needs of the country now and in the future.

To prevent widespread misunderstanding, the government should also provide a clear and consistent traffic-light based system to explain the reopening of the economy and society. The system should explain the health parameters necessary for the government to allow socioeconomic activities to resume in phases. By doing so, the government can ensure that all individuals and micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) are adequately prepared to resume business and conduct their daily lives in safe environments. This can also prevent unnecessary lockdowns, as individuals will be able to adjust their behaviour accordingly.

2. Health: The government should increase targeted mass Covid-19 tests in areas of high prevalence until the percentage of positive tests over total tests performed is less than 5%. This is especially important to detect asymptomatic individuals who would normally have no reason to get tested. This would enable more accurate data to be collected to understand the spread of the virus and then introduce more effective mitigation measures.

The government should increase its allocation of funds for mental health services and infrastructure. In the 2021 National Budget, only RM26mil was allocated for this. Malaysians have been forced to stay at home for nearly two years now, and this has resulted in a wide range of adverse mental health consequences to the people. Without sufficient access to mental health services, the upward trend of suicide rates, domestic abuse, and silent suffering will continue.

3. Education: The government should hire unemployed teaching assistants to assist teachers in the existing hybrid education programme to create a conducive learning environment that mixes home digital teaching with in-class instructions. This would be particularly useful for teachers who have problems using digital devices and materials due to lack of training. Assuming that schools reopen in October, hybrid learning is likely to be necessary as some parents may continue to feel uncomfortable sending their children to school.

Teaching assistants could be deployed nationwide to ensure that each student gets the attention and assistance he/she needs to learn well and catch up from almost 18 months of online learning.

To facilitate a safe return to school, the government should vaccinate all teachers and staff of educational institutions. At the end of July, over 70% of teachers and 65% of supporting staff had received their first dose. In early August, the Covid-19

Immunisation Task Force expanded the walk-in vaccination initiative to include those under the Education Ministry. Since the government has postponed the reopening of schools, there is an opportunity to ensure that 100% of teachers and staff are fully vaccinated by the time students return to school. This would ease the worries of Malaysian parents as well as reduce the chance of transmission among schoolchildren.

4. Governance: Parliament should be empowered to function at its fullest. Governance and integrity are fundamental pillars in ensuring a strong and effective Parliament. Collaboration and cooperation among political parties across the spectrum is essential in ensuring effective policy-making and implementation.

Parliament should propose an introspective Royal Commission of Inquiry into the manner in which the Covid-19 crisis was handled in order to learn from mistakes and better prepare ourselves for future pandemics. Regulatory frameworks must be fortified to ensure that the rakyat is not thrown into a frenzy and abruptly forced to adapt to and manage the socioeconomic fallout of a crisis without any clear roadmap or direction. Parliament should view the disruption caused by the pandemic as a

catalyst for regulatory transformation rather than a hindrance or obstacle.

Agile policy-making should encompass regulations, policies, systems, infrastructure, resources, and contingency plans to anticipate and enable quick responses to similar crises. It is imperative to develop inclusive policies and deploy responsive services to address and alleviate inequalities in order to build a more resilient Malaysia.

5. Environment: Consider the need to mitigate environmental risks as part of public health responses. Environmental disasters have only served to exacerbate the existing difficulties caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, whether impacting one’s health or economic security. For example, flooding increases the risk of Covid-19 transmission as sanitary conditions

deteriorate at an alarming rate, and individuals who have suffered a loss in income or lost their jobs altogether are forced to bear the additional risks and costs associated with flooding.

Parliament should revise the Environmental Quality Act 1974 to include climate change and sustainability as well as mandate greenhouse gases management and reporting. The government should instruct the Energy Commission to reduce reliance

on coal as a source of energy for power generation and create incentives to stimulate the renewable energy economy. Policies that revolve around recycling, energy efficiency and water management must be formulated. Acknowledging that industrial activities have contributed to high carbon emissions, policies to regulate their use of fossil fuels as energy-generating sources will go a long way in enabling a clean and sustainable environment.

The Way Forward

The pandemic has unveiled the cracks and fissures in our systems, and the new administration has an opportunity to right systemic wrongs. Malaysia needs decisive and inclusive leadership to strengthen economic, societal, and infrastructural resilience, effectiveness, and responsiveness.

We must strive to lead change for the region in cohesive policy-making that ensures effective and resilient public services armed with leading-edge technology, providing solutions to not only exit the pandemic but also recover and increase competitiveness.

SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC RESEARCH AND INITIATIVE (SERI)

(Seri is a non-partisan think-tank dedicated to the promotion of evidence-based policies that address issues of inequality.)

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