Malaysia can still turn 2020 around — Sharifah Syed Amin

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NOVEMBER 2 — We have entered the month of November. There are only two months left to 2020 — the year where our vision to become a developed nation was supposed to be realised. Unfortunately, it was not meant to be. I wonder what happened to all the time capsules planted by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in the 1990s that was meant to be opened in 2020?

Covid-19 pretty much cancelled everything for everyone. Lives were upended, livelihoods under strain. Moreover, it has been 8 months since the Perikatan Nasional Government led by Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin took over.

This maybe a very unpopular opinion — but frankly Malaysia has not done badly in the management of Covid-19 during this time period.

As a Malaysian who had returned to KL in June from the UK where everything was out of control and chaotic, Malaysia to me at least was surprisingly in order and in control. It was not a failed state as depicted on Twitter and forwarded Whatsapp messages in my countless family and reunion groups.

The number of cases, recoveries and deaths seem to support the notion that the Malaysian Government was on top of things. Of course I have been following the SOP developments and debates with great interest before coming back.

Yes it has not been perfect, a lot of things could have been handled better by the government especially on the confusion surrounding SOP and the blatant double standard in enforcement, but all in all it was all well and good. On a personal level, I was very impressed until Sabah happened and the politics got the better of things.

On the economy side, maybe it is also a blessing in disguise that we have a government that was not voted in by the people. The government must have realised they need to spend to garner the people’s support- hence, the RM 305 billion stimulus package to date, which is one of the biggest in Asia.

That was by far, the right call. The interventions have been timely. In fact, many economists especially socialist leaning former Economic Advisor to the Prime Minister, Dr Muhammad Khalid and renowned development economist, Prof KS Jomo are taking the government to task for not spending more.

The government must be bold and take giant steps to safeguard our economy. This is why I think 2020 can still be saved. The prime minister, after his failed attempt to propose Emergency and give himself more powers — which is not that insane of an idea given the third wave spike in Covid-19 infection and the looming major recession — can still do a lot to save what is left of 2020 and put Malaysia on the right track in 2021.

Firstly, the PN government must propose a budget that is super rakyat friendly- one which focuses solely on getting the people and the country back on its feet. At the end of the day, as Bill Clinton once said- its the economy, stupid! The right incentives must be given to rally the nation to march forward and prop up the economy.

The stimulus packages have been handy to protect jobs- at least more than 2 million jobs were saved due to the wage subsidy scheme. Now, the government must now focus entirely on job creation. Jobs, jobs, jobs. Create temporary jobs and apprenticeship for entry level and open new industries and hire retrenched workers. Get Malaysians to work.

Secondly, the budget must be expansionary and focus on putting money in the pockets of ordinary people and induce more spending. The multiplier effect must be in the big multiples. Furthermore, government spending must be focused, balancing the current realities with smart investments for the future. Taxpayers must get bang from their buck.

For the time being, suspend normal times thinking and norms — go big or go home! Similarly, input from opposition must not just be sought but also included in. Make space. Budget 2021 must pass.

Negotiate, give and take, be objective and embrace the spirit of bipartisanship. However, at the same time everyone must manage expectations. Surely not all the demands can be fulfilled. Regardless, any MP who vote against the Budget must be named and shamed for jeapordising the nation’s economy!

Yes scrutinise, debate and tweak all you want but make sure the budget passes. Government shutdown and a General Election in the middle of Covid-19 spike must be avoided at all costs. Be responsible dear MPs. That’s the least you can do since many of you like to switch sides and create so much uncertainties in the market.

Thirdly, announce blanket extension of loan moratorium for at least another three months especially in hard hit areas like Sabah, Selangor, Klang Valley and Kedah. Meanwhile for the rest of the country — extend the targeted loan repayment moratorium.

Obviously the pressure on the banking system will be tremendous but this is where the Central Bank need to come in and work closely with the fiscal policy makers to make it work.

There are calls for the government to allow Employees Provident Fund (EPF) to allow its contributors to withdraw their Account 1 contributions — while it is understandable given the current economic situation, the government should not easily give in.

Have a stringent pre requisite for the withdrawal. While it is true that it is the contributors money and they are entitled to it- but if the are other means such as interest free personal loan by government to the people who would have opted for their Account 1, with their Account 1 balance as a collateral — why not give it a try?

Finally, no more double standards from now on. The prime minister must make sure that everyone plays by the rule and everyone is punished for violating these rules. No buts, no maybes.

If the PM and the PN Government do these things, I believe the slipping public support can be easily regained. Malaysia is not a failed state but then again we must always demand the best from our government.

More importantly, if the prime minister can do the things outlined- 2020 may have a better ending than we had anticipated. So far this government has shown that it cares for Malaysian lives and livelihood greatly and I am confident it still does.

It's time to prove your critics wrong again, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin! Do the right thing, and help turn our 2020 around.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer(s) or organisation(s) and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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