What’s next for Malaysia?

Malaysians have been through a lot in the past three years. In the last 18 months, we have been placed in a seven-month state of emergency and a lockdown since June, and Malaysia currently has one of the world’s highest infection rates. We have been isolated whilst witnessing the plight of the pandemic on pre-existing poverty. Combined with the rise in the nation’s number of unemployed graduates to 22.5%, it is clear as day that what the future holds is uncertain.

Malaysia was once a promising developing nation, and it has become stagnant after years of systematic inequality, lack of cohesive policies worsened by corruption. The large-scale corruption has cost Malaysia a near 2.0% GDP growth, catalysing a withdrawal of foreign investors which hold the key to developing the country. The worsening political landscape did not help. Our current Prime Minister, Dato’ Sri Ismail bin Yaakob has entered during a challenging time, and his first challenge is to control the pandemic.

Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob has stated his intent to invite opposition leaders to join the government’s special committees to control the Covid-19 crisis.Trade groups, such as the Malaysia-China Chamber of Commerce (MCCC) and Dewan Perdagangan Islam Malaysia (DPIM) welcomed the Prime Minister’s reconciliation efforts to strengthen the quality of policymaking and focus on implementation for the next 12–18 months.

The previous leadership had excluded input from Opposition parties,business groups and the rakyat in policy making. With the support of opposition groups consisting of a multi-ethnic coalition and mutual agreement to improve the country, this helps mitigate any fears of racial tensions escalating in Malaysia. Improved coordination in the government will also result in more efficient decision-making which benefits the institutions and people.

“I’d guess my hopes would be for them to lead Malaysia under a fair rule. Full transparency. Where everyone is treated equally and where everyone is looked after.My fears would be for things to escalate uncontrollably to the point where we ourselves have to take action because the government ain’t doing what it’s supposed to be doing” — Ariff, a young working professional.

Cross-partisan unity is the way forward, and helps to assuage investors’ fears about Malaysia’s political landscape.This is crucial, as 40% of Malaysia’s sovereign debt is held by foreigners. Simultaneously, foreign ownership of Malaysian equities also dropped to an all-time low of 20 percent of total capitalization. In addition, cross-partisan unity could present better long-term solutions instead of unsustainable stimulus. Initiatives such as Pemudah,Pemulih and I-sinar were insufficient, as households and businesses are still struggling to survive.

“I want to see less racial-based politics, fewer covid cases and more economic stimulus plans for the B40.So far the economic stimulus plans that have been rolled out to the youth but did not account for lower income groups, so people from T20 also qualified.” — Joyce, a university student.

Instead of millions of ringgits being allocated to profit-making listed companies, targeted fiscal stimulus should focus on the B40, which bore the brunt of the pandemic’s worst effects. The utility of a ringgit is higher to lower income households who need it for groceries, their childrens’ education and utilities, as opposed to businesses with millions of ringgits in their accounts. Businesses who are in need of financial aid should request the government for approval, and be subject to checks which prove eligibility for assistance.

Furthermore, transparency in government linked investment companies has been a long standing issue in Malaysia. The government’s announcement of Perkukuh Pelaburan Rakyat (PERKUKUH) to reform the roles of Malaysia’s government-linked investment companies (GLICs) in order to align them with the national agenda to support the country’s economic recovery plan was lacking details about key initiatives and objectives. IDEAS Malaysia voiced that despite the contributions of GLICs to the economic development of Malaysia, the performance and contributions have not been closely scrutinized to be improved upon. Financial scandals and mismanagement from political interference has led to the erosion of foreign investment over the years. Good governance and transparency is needed to nurture a competitive environment not hindered by corruption scandals and mismanagement of investors’ funds.

The next 12 months ahead are crucial for Malaysia’s future as a maturing democracy with a multi-party state. Prioritizing the rakyat, while ensuring implementation of detailed policies with follow-through is crucial to ensuring the nation’s progress. Setbacks are to be expected, but that’s a sign of a new dawn in Malaysia.

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Lynette Hew

Lynette Hew

B.A in Economics and Minor in Chinese Studies @unimelb. I write about art,economics and finance.