The video above of Singapore getting all prepped up to welcome the Year of the Ox should prompt soul-searching debate here.
Let us not be defensive or unfairly critical. We must ask some serious questions. Why are we not able to get our economy going? Why are we not able to be ahead in curbing the pandemic?
We are a far richer nation. We even sell our produce and water to Singapore, for which the island nation is so dependent.
We came close to winning the battle against Covid-19 earlier and relished the praises showered upon us.
Yet as the Lunar New Year approaches, we Malaysians will not be able to celebrate with much revelry. Instead, we have exhausted frontline health workers, tired police personnel, a yoyo-ing between MCO, CMCO and EMCO – and an emergency to boot.
Let us not hide behind the well-worn defences that the politicians peddle. They will tell us we cannot compare apples and oranges.
We failed in our ‘Look East’ policy decades ago. We could not thrive on their discipline of work, management and business ethics.
We have been on lawatan sambal belajar (learning visits) to many places – but what did we bring back?
What can we learn from Singapore? To argue that we are a bigger nation and therefore it would be unfair to compare the too nations is cowardice. We have a multiracial, multi-religious and multicultural society; so does Singapore. We have foreign workers. So does Singapore.
But Covid has been contained in Singapore, unlike our endless clusters. Only lately do we seem to have discovered that many migrant workers live and work in poor conditions. Will our local media have the freedom to bring all this up for public discussion?
It’s not about the numbers. It is all about political will and leadership that can set the tone and pace for us to move forward. Let us demand higher standards, which once put us at the forefront of Asean.
Reset the domestic economy
The government must note what experts and other governments are saying about a highly possible, extended Covid presence.
Singapore believes that the effects of Covid could be felt for four to five years. Thailand has already reset its tourism trade. It is gearing to go big on domestic tourism promotion.
We should urgently rewire our domestic trade and tackle domestic tourism. Engage hotels and restaurant operators to work hard to attract local tourists. Review the pricing of accommodation. It must match rewired economic realities.
Encourage enthusiasm. Promote local cultures and culinary experiences in a new way. There are enough creative citizens to contribute ideas and knowhow and to lead.
Come up with a special travel and tour promotion national calendar for the next three years to encourage Malaysians to travel across the country.
Do what Thailand has already achieved. Provide well-planned and maintained parks and open spaces with huts around lakes, scenic valleys and rivers for families to enjoy our natural heritage at low cost. Make it affordable for locals to travel.
Look into agriculture seriously. We have neglected it for decades while in search of export and import profits.
Get all local councils and state governments to release vacant, uncultivated land to encourage the youth to cultivate food crops and rear livestock. Like Thailand, mobilise agricultural and veterinary institutions to assist the youth so they succeed in their ventures.
Abolish the middleman and monopoly structures of domestic trade. In this digital age of marketing and logistics, farmer-to-consumer contact does not need nuclear science to develop and sustain. It takes only a clean slate and political will to make things happen.
Tackle small and medium-size enterprises sector without race-based strategies. These enterprises have to be the sustaining engines of domestic consumption. Domestic markets are our immediate salvation.
The world is rewiring quickly. The political landscape must be transformed to put the nation above narrow party strategies.
We must grab the opportunity arising from this great crisis affecting humanity and quickly reset the nation. Meritocracy will lift all of us. Plugging corruption will motivate citizens to strive to be the best.
We should harness our spirit of solidarity as a priority. We must shun those bent on spreading religious and racial divisiveness. Such vile attempts should be seen as a threat to national harmony. Otherwise, be prepared to plunge into darker days ahead.
Property market overhang needs courage to resolve
Some analysts believe the overhang in the residential and business property is due to Covid. Others even think a vaccine will ease the badly shaken construction and building industry.
They are wrong. Some media hooked to the property advertising revenue bait may be reluctant to burst the bubble created by industry players and policymakers.
It all boils down to affordability. The Covid crisis has hopefully shaken some sense into buyers who contributed to unrealistically high property prices.
Often the media showcase claims by contractors and builders that they are unable to build homes at a lower cost. They claim building material costs are too high or migrant workers are in short supply.
But the building industry has been beyond effective government control for a long time. If we cannot rein in this runaway wagon that has led to mounting debt for so many home buyers, even a safe Covid vaccine will not resolve the problem.
The state must think of intervening in the residential housing sector and deploying its resources to build homes for the people. Leave only commercial buildings to the developers.
Only then will we see a narrowing of the gap between the rich and the poor. If Covid has not taught us to think boldly, nothing else will. This is our last chance to rebuild the nation.
‘Reset’, ‘recalibrate’ and ‘rewire’ – or suffer
As the Covid toll rises, our leaders do not appear ready for a national rewiring of decades-old practices. We seem to be stuck in the mould and content to debate on lockdowns or ineffective movement control orders that have left many confused.
We were more decisive last year when curbing daily infection rates that had reached double and triple digits. Now, despite the four-digit daily new infections and hundreds of deaths so far, the government appears to be buckling under pressure from various groups.
Senior Minister (Security Cluster), Ismail Sabri Yaakob says 2.8 million people risk losing their jobs if we have a full lockdown like last year.
He is not wrong in factoring economic considerations in national decision-making. The pandemic has revealed how unsustainable our economic structuring in the past has been.
But what if the 240,000 figure for cases so far doubles or triples in the weeks ahead? Must we continue with our infamous “wait and see first” mantra of governance?
Are the government and its team of 72 cabinet members, government-linked companies heads and many other experts not confident enough to recalibrate national agendas and past practices to prepare us for a new world taking shape?
Must we still be at the beck and call of business cartels, monopolies and oligarchs who are bent on protecting their investments at all cost – even if more people succumb to Covid?
Are we incapable of deploying workers – especially the jobless – into sustainable projects that the government should kickstart? Can we not explore cottage industries and small-scale sectors to feed the domestic market quickly?
The government must not rely on old conduits for easy government revenue. We must have the courage and political will to reset the past development agenda, which has become the comfort zone of politicians.
The private-versus-public health battles we are seeing now here amid the pandemic is an example of the failed Malaysian-styled privatisation agenda of the past.
We must have the will to correct past misdeeds and practices that have camouflaged extensive corruption. We must demand that leaders recalibrate all aspects of governance, which so far has been unable to sustain the people during this pandemic.
Other nations realise the pandemic and its after-effects are here to stay for about five years. Life is not going to return to ‘normal’. Other nations are already building their new normals.
Where is our compassion, oh Malaysia?
Part of our national reset must focus on compassion.
For example, news reports about the dead bodies of foreign workers stuck in mortuaries in Malaysia were not only heart-wrenching but despicable too.
According to news reports, the Nepalese embassy has appealed for Malaysia’s compassion in helping to transport the dead back to their loved ones.
One report said the bodies of 24 Nepalese migrant workers are still in mortuaries here. The Nepalese government had earlier managed to return 19 bodies after a 45-day wait.
The government seems to have certainly done little to ensure that foreign migrant workers who die here are sent back promptly through a procedurally effective and coordinated move involving the employers, airlines and authorities.
It makes us wonder how many more dead bodies of migrant workers are still in our mortuaries while their families back home pine for a decent burial for their loved ones.
The least we Malaysians can do is to ensure that bodies of these migrant workers – many of whom were exploited to boost our nation’s progress and development while securing sound profits for their employers – are sent back quickly upon their death.
Where is our nation’s religious anchoring? We emphasise religious teachings, the dos and don’ts, but why have we failed in our duty to the dead?
Just look at the living and working conditions we have subjected these workers to all this while.
Yet even in death there is no national will to ensure they are treated as fellow humans. The media expose on foreign workers’ dead bodies languishing for months in our mortuaries speaks volumes about Malaysia’s lost values.
Common sense health science must prevail
While the healthcare experts rightly keep advising us on the wearing of masks, frequent hand-washing and physical distancing, we should pay attention to common sense health science.
Happiness and stress have a direct impact on our body’s immunity.
While vaccines are being touted as the solution – which remains to be seen – governments must also address falling happiness levels and rising stress levels.
We must promote happiness. The Malaysian folly of ‘no money, no happy’ will only further compound our stress levels.
The political climate prevailing since February 2020 has not helped to reduce our national stress levels. The threat of job cuts by the millions is no better. The uncontrolled food prices are a sure way to keep happiness out of our homes.
The government is duty-bound to explore and implement innovative measures that can improve our happiness.
Meanwhile, politicians, policymakers and law enforcement authorities may have played a role in raising the stress levels of the people.
The same goes for the business community too. Fraudulent measures to increase profits in the short term will only raise stress levels many notches.
Making compassionate business decisions instead of clinging on to profiteering mindsets will go a long way in sustaining businesses and keeping customers happy.
We must tackle the plunging happiness levels and rising stress levels. When happiness is nurtured and stress defused, our immune system would be better placed to fight disease.
Our religious leaders should come together to promote interfaith happiness during this trying period. They should stay clear of politicians who thrive on divisive schemes.
Let us go for more happiness and less stress.