The people’s basic needs have to be more adequately met in the recovery plan, Ramon Navaratnam writes.
Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz’s clear announcement on 31 May of his “six-R” economic recovery plan was most welcome, especially at this time of concern and anxiety.
The first four Rs – covering resolve, resilience, restart and recovery are presently on track and could be achieved with stronger political will to move faster.
These aspirations will raise our hopes and expectations for better economic growth, fairer income distribution and higher human welfare, for all Malaysians, regardless of race.
But to fully achieve all these six goals and especially the last two Rs – revitalise and reform – our present economic model must be transformed significantly.
We cannot do more of the same. We cannot carry on with business as usual. Some old norms must be radically reformed and new thinking adopted to be more successful.
The world economic recession, our own impending recession and the Covid-19 crisis have all caused a great deal of uncertainty over our future wellbeing. The political turmoil currently experienced in our country has further eroded our confidence and reduced our hopes for a brighter future.
Hence the finance minister’s six-R recovery plan is very welcome, as a light at the end of a dark tunnel.
However, the plan, together with the budget for next year and the now-postponed 12th Malaysia Plan cannot and should not be the repeat of old-norm policies.
Economies around the world, including in Malaysia, are facing a socioeconomic crisis due to some wrong policies in the past and bad implementation.
Some of these weak policies and mistakes have resulted in wide and worsening unsustainable income gaps between the rich and the poor. A new norm economic model should aim to narrow these unfair income gaps and large wealth disparities. This would mean taxing the very rich much more to raise the standard of living of the poor who are struggling to make ends meet.
The people’s basic needs have to be more adequately met in the recovery plan and especially in the new 12th Malaysia Plan.
The Covid-19 crisis has revealed more starkly the large numbers of poor, the hungry and the homeless among those of us who are embarrassingly better off. In fact, the cramped and dirty housing provided by wealthy contractors has largely caused Covid-19 to spread amongst us all. Surely we could do better to build more low-cost but healthy homes for the poor.
Budgets and five-year plans are not exclusively concerned only about economic growth and raising incomes. They are meant to improve the quality of life of all Malaysians.
Hence, our human rights, our many unfulfilled social reforms and our environment have to be promoted and protected and enhanced more effectively.
This can easily be achieved by adopting and seriously implementing the many UNs proposals that we have been somewhat neglecting in the past. This includes the 17 UN sustainable development goals that we should implement with a stronger political will.
Revitalise and reform?
The six Rs are great aspirations, but the question in most of our thinking minds is will the new government really be able to implement the last two most important Rs – to revitalise and reform?
Revitalisation and reforming the economy would or should mean:
- Restructuring our education system to make it more internationally competitive
- Reforming our labour policies especially with regard to employing such large numbers of foreign workers
- Reorganising the public service to make them much more multiracial and multi-religious to better reflect our national population composition
- Redefining the role and scope of the private sector. Should we depend so much on government-linked companies that squeeze out the business sector?
- Ensuring out national institutions are more professional and honest and fair in upholding a more efficient administration free from politicisation and corruption
A new model is badly needed
The government’s six-R strategy is encouraging and welcome and needs our full support
But unless the government’s new six-R socioeconomic strategy fully takes into account the above and many other public policy issues that can be discussed more openly and widely with NGOs, universities and business and community leaders, we will not progress much. Instead, we will stick to the old normal and play the old records and lose our momentum to move to the new normal and a new socioeconomic model that we all desperately need to move ahead faster for the benefit of all Malaysians and especially the poor in our society.