For most industries, frustration marks first year of Pakatan rule

A year on from GE14, industries still do not know what to expect from a government elected on the back of public anger and a highly populist economic plan. — Reuters pic
A year on from GE14, industries still do not know what to expect from a government elected on the back of public anger and a highly populist economic plan. — Reuters pic

KUALA LUMPUR, May 7 — It has been a long and frustrating year for industry executives.

Businesses say they are still reeling 12 months after Pakatan Harapan took power, and are unable to inject confidence despite the new government’s repeated assurance that the private sector can continue to rely on state support.

May 2018 was year zero as far as businesses were concerned.

Industries did not know what to expect then, from the power shift that ended six decades of Barisan Nasional rule, more so from a government elected on the back of public anger over scandals, living cost pressure, and a highly populist economic plan.

But a year since GE14, industries say the current situation is no less murkier than before.

Manufacturers and small and medium enterprises, two of the country’s biggest private employers, claim the PH administration often ignore their grouses to bulldoze through a slew of new regulations that stifle growth.

Business confidence hit a record low for the first half of this year, the RAM Business Confidence Index (BCI) showed. The index polled some 3,500 firms on their sentiment in the first six months of 2019. Corporate and SME indices fell to 55.1 and 51 respectively, the lowest points since the index started in 2017.

Other sectors have also expressed reservations about PH’s performance so far. Retailers, for one, feel that jobs have not been forthcoming under the new government.

The construction sector, buoyed by the coalition’s decision to keep the East Coast Rail Link after a successful bilateral negotiation with Beijing saw the project’s cost slashed by RM21.5 billion to RM44 billion, was the only industry that rated the new government highly.

The sentiment reflects a summary of views shared by heads of associations representing some of the country’s key industries Malay Mail polled ahead of PH’s first anniversary. We share some of the feedback here:

Datuk Soh Thian Lai, Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers

Tun Mahathir has done his best and he selected a Cabinet lineup mostly made up of new members, they don’t have that much experience (but) there is room for further improvement so they can meet the expectations of the people and industries.

I think they need to listen to feedback with an open heart, to listen to industries and the business sector. Because of the uncertain and volatile current domestic conditions, the current Cabinet lineup needs to be more attentive. While consultation is there, it could be better. They need to listen and go down to the ground more.

What the sector needs is the government to think of ways to increase confidence, how to ease and reduce costs of doing business. They need to lift regulatory burden. There are too many new taxes. We can have new taxes but those able to enhance the industry so to do this they must have impact analysis before they introduce new measures.

We strongly support the prime minister’s effort to enhance domestic consumption, but to be more effective they have to listen to industries. A year has passed so the honeymoon period is over — more efficiency is needed.

Datuk Garry Chua, Malaysia Retail Chain Association

I think the (relevant) ministers, like the domestic trade minister, are working hard but there are issues that need to be resolved. Tourism is so important and the sector needs more budget and focus. Everywhere else in the world, tourist traffic is up by six per cent but here in the last few years it has declined.

We need to focus on aggressive marketing and spend more. We have everything here. With the ringgit dropping, tourists get value for money and more tourists can get us more foreign direct investments. But the sector is getting peanuts. If you look at (tourism) workers, a lot of them drive for Grab part time just to make ends meet.

The government is doing its best to control cost of living but just that alone is not enough. They also need to create more opportunities (and tourism can help achieve this). I understand they need time but as you can see people are getting impatient. If you’re not creating opportunities or enough jobs people will get angry.

But I believe this government can do it. They have capable people like Tun Daim Zainuddin advising. They just need the political will to see things through.

Datuk Michael Kang, SME Association of Malaysia

I rate their performance at 49. No communication with the industry on policies. Most of the policies are flat-footed and unable to command confidence.

What they need to do is hold dialogue with the industry and the private sector before any new policy announcement. Engage the private sector more or appoint industry experts for the relevant agencies instead of making political appointments. Create a more business-friendly environment and not treat businesses as anti-government. We fully support Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s idea for Malaysia Inc.  

We appeal to the Malaysian government to put into practise the Malaysia Incorporated policy of being business-friendly. As you know, the business community is working hard to support the government of the day but like Tun mentioned, a lot of ministers still work or act like the Opposition. But to change 61 years of mindset can't take overnight. It takes time.

Foo Chek Lee, Master Builders Associations Malaysia

The continuing of the mega project will definitely benefit our contractors and builders especially on the east peninsular of Malaysia and help increase their expertise and enhance their capabilities besides generating employment and boosting the overall construction economy and value chain.

We are very appreciative that the government made the announcement at a critical time for the construction industry when many contractors are pushing for projects as we begin the second quarter of 2019. The announcement is definitely an added confidence booster for the construction industry especially when we take into account the announcement on March 31,

2019, that a total of 121 infrastructure projects nationwide at over RM13.9 billion will go on following cost renegotiations by the Pakatan Harapan government.

MBAM is confident that by continuing to work closely with the government, we can further develop the Malaysian building and construction industry despite a challenging environment.

We believe that through continued dialogue with MBAM and the construction industry before the implementation of new and sudden policies, things can be improved for the betterment of our nation.

* A previous version of this story contained an error which has since been corrected.