Fixing to restore confidence

Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s speeches at the Prime Minister’s Office monthly gathering and Hari Raya Open House on Aug 3 were very welcomed for at least two good reasons.

Firstly, he raised the vital question as to the need to restore the people’s confidence in the Government and secondly, in the true spirit of Hari Raya, he humbly apologised for any mistakes and misjudgements that he and his Deputy Minister of Finance Datuk Seri Ahmad Husni Hanadzlah may have committed.

How do we restore the people’s confidence in the Government?

On the first point, the Prime Minister makes the commendable admission that there is indeed a “confidence deficit” which has to be addressed with a strong political will.

With the new Cabinet, our people expect a new style, a new direction and a renewed determination to remove this confidence deficit.

The Government could decide that the new tough-talking Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, could give more space for Malaysians to exercise their basic freedom of assembly and speech, and encourage legitimate criticism.

Malaysians should not be led to believe that they cannot provide constructive comments on the formulation and implementation of Government policies.

The ringgit continues to fall. This has an adverse impact on our cost of living, largely due to imported inflation.

The rakyat will suffer from paying higher prices for their daily needs.

The slide of the ringgit is a reflection of low public confidence in our overall quality of governance and economic and financial management.

Hence, I urge the Government to present a White Paper to Parliament or even outline an economic plan on how the Government proposes to meet these critical current challenges.

We should not intervene to break the fall in the ringgit as our reserves will soon decline below the US$100bil (RM389bil) threshold. The present satisfactory levels can diminish fast and must be conserved.

Since the ringgit’s decline is also probably due to structural weaknesses in the economy, we have to consider and adopt more meaningful economic transformation measures to restore longer-term confidence in our economy.

This economic transformation would mean a greater commitment to the full implementation of the New Economic Model and a faster phasing out of the New Economic Policy or the strong protective elements that it still contains. We need to be more competitive and meritocratic to face the rising global challenges.

Most of the confidence deficit and its consequences are felt by the bottom 40% of our income groups. Hence projects in the 11th Malaysia Plan to help the poor and low income groups have to be speeded up, with concrete measures that can really benefit the poor at the grassroots level.

This would cover especially the poorest areas like Sabah, Sarawak, Kelantan and Terengganu.

The Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Ministry has to give a stronger push to alleviate urban poverty, which can be often more severe and punishing than rural poverty.

The relative poor quality of education in schools and even our universities is a source of much concern to parents and children. Our international academic scores are comparatively low.

Over 100,000 university graduates remain unemployed. But ironically, there is a crying demand for good critical thinking, English-educated graduates and graduates with technical skills. Thus there is a serious “mismatch” which has to be urgently addressed.

Our political leaders from all quarters need to spend more time seeking to improve the welfare of all Malaysians, regardless of race and religion, rather than indulging in unproductive politicking.

The Government has to stoutly oppose extremism, instead of sometimes pandering to some extremist views. Confidence in Government will decline due to selective action and justice. Lack of firm action against the bad extremists and poor protection of the good and peaceful moderates causes much uncertainty and low confidence in our beloved country.

The Government has, as our new DPM rightly said, to be firm and fair. But this worthy maxim should be proven in action and not words alone.

On the second point of our Prime Minister’s speech, it is essential that while in the spirit of Hari Raya and our religious values, we must all learn to forgive and forget, we also must remember to rectify our mistakes and resolve not to repeat them. Hopefully, the 1MDB problems that are a major cause of the confidence deficit, will be resolved sooner rather than later.

Transparency and integrity are basic prerequisites of good governance, which strengthens and sustains public confidence in Government. Hence, they must be upheld at all costs all the time, to strengthen our very foundations as a progressive and successful nation and not one that could be failing.

Article published in The Star.

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