Government must boldly face multiple crises

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Image by CDC/Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAM - This media comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Public Health Image Library (PHIL), with identification number #23312 - Wikimedia Commons

We must seek more boldly to fight harder against the wasteful politicking, the economic slowdown and the vicious coronavirus, writes Ramon Navaratnam.

This is a critical time for our beloved country Malaysia.

Rarely have we faced three major crises at the same time: the political, economic and health threats to our national sustainability and prospects.

The recent political turmoil, the global economic slowdown and our own own consequent slowdown have been aggravated by the worsening coronavirus outbreak.

Sadly, many of our political leaders had to get involved in so much unproductive politicking that led to a change in government so soon after the may 2018 general election.

Although the public generally feel that the new government has come into power through the back door, with all the political betrayals and the parliamentary defections, the government actually has been constitutionally installed.

But many voters rightly feel badly let down by many political leaders who should have shown higher democratic values and displayed higher standards of good governance.

Despite the depressed feelings and even some sense of hopelessness now, the people could be prepared to listen to the new Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s appeal: “Come on, give us a chance!” He also pledged, “We have promised and we will deliver.”

Malaysians are generally forgiving and pragmatic, so we will wait and see and respond and react accordingly at the next polls.

But the new government has to boldly face the critical political, economic and health challenges we are all facing as a nation.

New measures

The question in most minds is whether the government will meet these challenges boldly and expeditiously.

The cabinet has already indicated the following measures which are most welcome.

It is laudable that the Cabinet decided at its first meeting to form the Economic Action Council. It is good that it will meet every Monday so that the cabinet can decide on its recommendations when it meets every following Wednesday. Many of its proposals for quick action are already available from our previous experiences in facing similar challenges. So hopefully, the people will monitor any delays in action and criticise constructively.

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It is good that the bottom 40% of households will be prioritised in the introduction of new economic policy counter measures. But please do not neglect the middle 40% of the population. The middle and especially lower-middle-income groups should not be forgotten as usual. They will watch the government closely too.

The stimulus package introduced recently should now be revised upwards. The RM20bn allocated previously may not be adequate as I had written earlier.

We have to recalibrate the Budget, even if the budget deficit and borrowings have to be raised further. After all, we are in crisis mode and the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and international rating agencies will understand our predicament.

No country should be forced to save when its survival is threatened. We can allow our budget deficit to rise to about 5% of our national income from the present level of around 3.5%.

The establishment of the Covid-19 Fund to help the poor who are affected by the coronavirus is a great idea that should be strongly supported by the public. This is the time when the “shared prosperity” vision should be supported by all Malaysians and friends.

It does not matter whether it was initiated by the Pakatan Harapan (PH) Government. The new Perikatan Nasional (PN) government should not reject the many sound policies of the previous government, merely because PH is now in the opposition. The people come first and politics should come second and not the other way around, please.

Corporates should also rally round the new PN government’s efforts to help the poor victims of the vicious coronavirus.

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By all means cut the salaries of top political leaders by about 20% to signal that they also care for the poor and are not associated too much with their money politics. After all ministers in particular enjoy many attractive privileges.

Most importantly, the new government should also show that it means business and is serious about its promise to deliver and to deliver soon. All previously promised reforms in security, safety, human rights, the environment and a whole range of other outstanding reforms relating to improving race and religious relations and national unity have to be tackled with greater urgency.

If we don’t seize this opportunity to undertake socioeconomic structural changes in our country, we will lose out to other rising economies. Hence some old and outdated principles and practices of the 50-year-old New Economic Policy (NEP) have to be seriously reviewed as a matter of priority. As a result, Malaysians in the bottom 40% and middle 40% groups should not feel alienated.

The coronavirus challenge has to be tackled with more intensive education and awareness programmes that will optimise the unity of purpose of the united Malaysian people to cooperate more closely to fight this scourge, like they do in China and some other countries.

The civil service has carried out its duties with great dedication competence and perseverance, despite the huge odds of destructive politicking and the other virus attacks.

The new government should show much more appreciation to the whole public service that has commendably kept the government machinery going at high performance, despite the lack of political leadership.

Finally, the PN government should emphasise the promotion of national unity and religious and racial understanding in the longer term.

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