I do not need to quote falling growth rates to tell you all that sustaining our gross domestic product and living standards has become more challenging. In fact the Asian growth rate in 2013 was the slowest in four years. Complacency after the perceived recovery from the Asian meltdown of 1997 is the reason for this malaise. Many Asian countries failed to use growth in their economy after 1997 to strengthen their economies towards domestic-demand-led growth. Nor has the financial system been strengthened, business environments made transparent or corruption and cronyism—that most vexing of Asian problems—been eliminated.
But more worrying than all this is the lack of visionary leadership in Asian countries at a time when this is critical for meeting the economic challenges that will come as growth in advanced countries continues to slow down and chaotic market conditions abound, driving a change in the economic cycle that will surely make growth in the Asian region more challenging to achieve.
All of the above and that inevitable coming of the next perfect financial storm due to perhaps a default in the US or a meltdown of the Japanese financial system give us much to worry about as the possibility of the global financial market entering a horrifying death spiral worse than the financial crisis of 2008 seems not too distant.
And what of Malaysia?
Hopes that Prime Minister Najib Razak would scrap 42-year-old race-based policies that favor ethnic Malays and irk foreign investors were all for naught. Instead, Najib is doubling down on economic apartheid, expanding perks at the expense of Chinese and Indian minorities. Rating companies are calling Malaysia out for its rising debt, generous subsidies and a lack of budgetary reform. It’s not clear Najib can stop a public backlash from derailing Malaysia’s entry into a Trans-Pacific partnership, which would make the economy more vibrant. —Bloomberg
Does Najib have the vision to make the bold decisions necessary to take our nation out of the current economic malaise and, more critical, ensure that our nation will be able to weather any future financial crisis? How goes the S.S. Najib as it sails into an impending financial storm?
Throughout his tenure as Prime Minister, Najib has shown that what he lacks in credibility he can more than makes up in naivety, which is perplexing given his political pedigree. He makes fundamental promises that he does not keep and yet over-delivers on BR1M and other financial carrots that certainly please the populace but burden the treasury unnecessarily.
In 2010, Najib said: “The government is very concerned with the rising transport cost borne by the rakyat. To alleviate the burden of highway users, I am pleased to inform that the toll rates in four highways owned by PLUS Expressway Berhad will not be raised for the next five years, effective immediately.”
Petrol prices were raised in 2013 and toll rates will be hiked in 2014.
Najib said that he would honor a pledge to abolish the Internal Security Act (ISA). Yes he did abolish the ISA only to replace it with the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act , which allows detention for up to two years without trial if the authorities determine that it is in the interests of “public order, public security, or prevention of crime” – terms not defined – and a three-person “Prevention of Crime Board” finds that the person has committed two or more serious offenses “whether or not he is convicted thereof.”
People can also be detained without trial for having been found to have failed to comply with a supervisory order. The act would allow a detention order to be renewed indefinitely in increments not exceeding two years.
Certainly a rehash of the ISA under a different guise!
On corruption: Speaking to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, Najib painted a vision of Malaysia’s future as one without corruption—even if this meant changing organisational and business cultures. He said he would “deliver what we have promised to the people (in this instance, a concerted fight against corruption) and deliver consistently over time.”
As always Najib is concise and precise in putting across his vision on fighting corruption but lacks the political will to make it a reality.
On equality and 1Malaysia, he said: “So, we must ensure that development brings economic opportunities for all, not riches for a few; that it expands not just nominal GDP figures, but also critical social infrastructure.” All this from a Prime Minister who announced at the recent Umno election that by 2020 it would be 1Melayu all the way!
Just before the 13th general election, Najib pledged in his manifesto to gradually raise an annual handout for millions of poor households from RM$500 ringgit to RM$1,200 ringgit, build 1 million low-cost homes and lower car prices by up to 30% over the next five years. Among the other pledges are more affordable housing and improved health care and transportation, including a high-speed rail link between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. So far, he has delivered on BR1M, but everything else is up in the air.
He promised to bolster the police force to fight crime, set up more specialist graft courts and improve transparency. All cakap bukan serupa bikin ma!
He won the recent party elections uncontested and yet he lost the high ground to Mahathir when Mukhriz won 91 out of 191 Umno districts, just nine votes short of Najib cousin Hishamuddin’s score.
At the party election, Najib fell back for support on Shahrizat and Khairy Jamaluddin, both seen as having tainted pasts, Shahrizat by the NFC debacle and KJ by alleged excesses during the time of his father-in-law’s premiership. That he was prepared to do so only showed that Najib was bankrupt of ideas to renew/refresh Umno’s leaders to better reflect the transparency and good governance he has been promising us.
Now Najib has Mahathir in the opposing corner. And in Mahathir’s corner perhaps Muhyiddin? Mahathir by himself is already a formidable opponent. Even if limited physically by his age, Mahathir is still a force to be reckoned with within Umno, as Pak Lah can testify.
In all, Najib has a dismal track record of his time in office as Prime Minister, a record darkened moreover by alleged excesses whilst serving as Minister of Defence.
Najib has as much credibility as occupation-era Japanese money, referred to contemptuously by Malaysians as duit pisang—money that was printed whenever required, resulting in high inflation and severe depreciation in value of that duit pisang!
By whatever criteria you care to use, Najib has failed and failed miserably. The pity of it all is that he has failed at great cost to the future of our nation because for just the 13thgeneral election, he spent more than RM50 billion. He has spent all the political capital that he inherited from his late father and wasted all of Umno’s political reserves pooled over a half century of government and utterly failed to build up any political deposit of his own.
He is now running on empty. Given that Mahathir is now on the opposite side of Umno divide, I do not hold out for much hope for Najib to hold on to what is already a tarnished political legacy from his days as Menteri Besar Pahang, his time in Mindef and now what many hope are his remaining days in Seri Perdana.
CT Ali is a reformist who believes in Pakatan Rakyat’s ideologies. He is a FMT columnist.