Woe is us
No money, more problems
If our Finance Minister telling us the country’s debt could hit its statutory limit of 55% by the end of the year wasn’t bad enough, Malaysians were further reminded yesterday of the horrendous impact Covid-19 has had on our economy.
Minister in the PM’s Department Mustapa Mohamed, who holds the economy portfolio, says the government had to abandon strategising for the 12th Malaysia Plan (12MP) when the pandemic began to blight our shores, despite the fact the planning was already at an advanced stage. Because of this, there will be a delay in presenting the plan in Parliament.
Each plan, says Tok Pa, has to be in sync with current developments. And since things are unpredictable at the moment, it made sense for planning to be halted, at least temporarily.
The Malaysia Plans are five-year outlines of government development policies and strategies, with the first introduced in 1965 and which covered the nation’s development agenda for 1966-1970. We are currently in the 11th Malaysia Plan, with 12MP set to run from 2021 to 2025.
Mustapa had been speaking at the launch of the World Bank’s Malaysia Economic Monitor Report, which, incidentally, saw more bad news being dished out. You see, the report says Malaysia’s economy is set to contract by 3.1% this year, thanks to the pandemic.
The World Bank also says the government may need to spend more on economic stimuli and social aid to protect households. It notes that the Prihatin and Penjana aid programmes will cushion the economic impact of Covid-19. Unfortunately, those packages were based on the assumption that the pandemic would end in a few months and not that the economy could take up to two years to return to pre-coronavirus levels.
Thankfully, it wasn’t all doom and gloom, as the report states that despite the effects of the pandemic on the economy, Malaysia could become a high-income nation within 10 years. To achieve that, though, the World Bank recommends six reforms to be undertaken by the government. These are having more women join the workforce; improving human capital; boosting competitiveness; creating well-paying, high quality jobs; modernising institutions; and, promoting inclusion.
Now, all that sucky news tempered with good bits may have left people with hope for the future. Regrettably, that hope came crashing down when credit rating agency Moody’s Investors Service announced that all the Asean-5 economies face the risk of recession, despite policies having been undertaken by the countries to cushion the impact of Covid-19.
Funnily though, Moody’s report focuses on Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand, when Asean-5 actually refers to the five founding nations of the Southeast Asian bloc. Vietnam is not an Asean founding nation, however, Singapore is.
By the way, as if all that wasn’t already worrying, the International Monetary Fund has estimated a contraction of 4.9% in global economic growth this year, and has revised its prediction for Malaysia. Though the IMF had earlier estimated a 1.7% contraction, it now forecasts a 3.8% decline in gross domestic product.
All-in-all, these reports merely confirm what we’ve known and felt for some time now: that 2020 will be a bleak year for the country, for businesses (except rubber glove makers, apparently) and for Joe Public. The only thing we can do is ride out the bad times and pray the good times come quicker.
How low can we go?
For the third day in a row, Malaysia saw only a single-digit increase in the number of new Covid-19 cases.
There were only four new cases yesterday, consisting of three imported ones, and just one locally-transmitted case. The new cases bring the total number of infections to 8,600. Also, 40 people were discharged on Thursday, thereby taking the total recovery rate to 96.2% or 8,271 people. The death toll, incidentally, remains at 121, with a mere 208 people still hospitalised.
Meanwhile, on Day 100 since the Movement Control Order (MCO) was implemented on March 18, the Health Ministry called on the public to play a bigger role in the fight against the pandemic. And, it’s pretty simple, really. All we have to do is embrace the new normal and adhere to standard operating procedures (SOPs).
Health Director-General Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah says that since March 18th, the country has managed to flatten the Covid-19 curve and reduce infection rates. What’s more, we’ve increased laboratory testing capabilities by six-fold. However, yes, the rakyat have to stay vigilant.
Elsewhere, the government has released a set of SOPs for non-Muslim wedding ceremonies. Apart from the new normal practices of social distancing, temperature checks and providing hand sanitisers, there were a number of other conditions. The most important thing is that there can only be 20 people at the ceremony, including the couple and the assistant registrar of marriages.
This, however, confuses us a little as it was earlier announced that social events, including weddings and engagement ceremonies, would be allowed to take place with up to 250 in attendance, depending on the size of the venue. Why then is there a disparity between the numbers? Does the figure 20 refer only to ceremonies and 250 to wedding parties?
As we’ve said countless times before, the gomen needs to make things crystal clear. And that’s not just for our understanding. If things are left unclear, enforcement personnel could make mistakes, and we, the people, could end up having to pay for it. Imagine being handed compound fines at your own wedding! As it is, ang pow packets are gonna be smaller no thanks to the economy!
Anyhoo, a number of other Covid-related news items came out yesterday, and here they are:
- The 36th Asean Summit will, for the first time, be held via virtual conferencing today. Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin is set to bring up the creation of the “green bubble” for free movement between nations which have successfully contained Covid-19.
- Speaking of travel between countries, Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein has given his assurance that any reopening of our border with Singapore will certainly take into account health protocols and SOPs. Errr, we’d hope so.
- The new academic calendar was planned to allow the learning process to continue after health authorities managed to stem the spread of Covid-19. Deputy Education Minister Mah Hang Soon says the ministry is aware some teachers are unhappy with the extended school year but hoped that they can understand why the decision was made.
- Broga Hill is too popular a hiking spot for its own good, apparently. The Health Ministry has now declared it off limits as too many people have been going there of late.
- Penang has decided to waive state hotel stay fees for six months from July 1 in a bid to boost tourism. Guests at hotels with three stars and below are currently required to pay RM2 per night while those staying at hotels with four stars and above pay RM3 a night.
Push it real good
Does anyone get the sense that Umno is feeling a little emboldened these days?
The triumvirate of Bersatu, Barisan Nasional (of which Umno is the dominant party) and PAS has reigned in Malaysia for four months now, and the Muafakat Nasional partnership of Umno and PAS have discussed the possibility of snap polls.
While no one in PAS has said anything yet, every day more and more Umno leaders talk up the possibility of the 15th general election being called early. We’ve already seen calls from the likes of Ismail Sabri Yaakob, Nazri Aziz and Mahdzir Khalid. And yesterday, Umno deputy president Mohamad Hasan joined the chorus of Umno peeps urging PM Moo to dissolve Parliament and call for snap elections. It’s important, Tok Mat said, because the federal government is currently considered unstable.
The Umno deputy president was joined by Khairy Jamaluddin a.k.a. The Beard who also talked about the current political instability. He says the mandate must be returned to the people to decide who they want to take the reins of the country.
So yes, political stability is the common denominator and the oft repeated reason to call for snap polls. However, we have to ask why it is that only Umno seems to want an election. Are Umno leaders so very confident Perikatan Nasional can hold on to power and maybe even get a larger majority in GE15? Or do they perhaps hope Umno can carry the day, emerge with the largest number of reps in the Dewan Rakyat and thus, have their man installed as PM?
To be fair, there are lots of things that political instability can affect and we were reminded of this yesterday when Fitch Solutions said Malaysia could remain a middle-income nation for years if political uncertainty persisted. Still, you’ve gotta wonder why Umno is making the biggest noise.
Meanwhile, former PM and Umno president Najib Razak says a win for Barisan Nasional in the upcoming Chini by-election will provide momentum for Perikatan to defeat Pakatan Harapan if GE15 is held in the near future. Quite significantly, without mentioning poor Bersatu, Jibby said he hoped Pahang would ensure the continued strength of BN and Muafakat.
The Jibster’s omission of Bersatu should serve as a warning sign to Umno’s current allies, of course. Even before Jib’s statement yesterday, former PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad had predicted that Muhyiddin and his gang in Bersatu would be vanquished in the next GE, and from the rubble, Umno would return to power.
Whatever the outcome though, it’s clear Muhyiddin is coming under increasing pressure to dissolve Parliament early. And with an anorexic majority of just two in the Dewan Rakyat, he may have no other choice but to do so in the hopes that BN and PAS, as well as Gabungan Parti Sarawak will continue to support him and hopefully, return with an even bigger majority.
Perhaps the only thing stopping Moo from doing so right now is the still-present threat of Covid-19. But when Malaysia is declared coronavirus-free, he may just choose to call for elections. We shall see.
Odds and ends
Here are a number of other things that came out yesterday which we thought important or interesting enough to include in today’s newsletter:
- PM Moo says all members of the current administration must make a declaration of their assets within three months of being sworn into office. If you recall, Pakatan Harapan had previously instructed all MPs to declare their assets, however, the then Opposition had strongly opposed the directive.
- The Transport Ministry is set to reduce road crashes and fatalities by introducing “drastic solutions”. It’s bloody time something is done, of course. But let’s wait to see whether the solutions will indeed be drastic.
- Incidentally, since we’re on the topic of madness on the roads, the driver of a vehicle which was recorded traveling on the motorcycle lane of the Federal Highway had apparently been led there by Waze. We’d laugh, but Waze and other apps like it have been known to lead motorists astray. Even into lakes.
- Malaysiakini and its editor-in-chief have applied to set aside the leave obtained by the Attorney-General to institute contempt proceedings against them over readers’ comments which allegedly scandalised the judiciary.
- An ex-top officer at a government foundation linked to federal Islamic authorities has been nabbed by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission in connection with investigations into abuse of power over a cycling event contract.
- As if Covid-19 isn’t enough of a problem, two other disease outbreaks – of Japanese encephalitis (JE) and malaria – have been reported in Malaysia. JE was detected in Penang while malaria has been reported in Selangor.
“Economics, politics and personalities are often inseparable.”
- Charles Edison -
IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS
- The number of Covid-19 cases worldwide has surpassed 9.5 million, with more than 480,000 deaths, but the official numbers could be way off the mark as the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believe more than 20 million in the country could have been infected. That’s 10 times more than the US’ official numbers!
- In Europe, authorities are getting alarmed at the resurgence in Covd-19 infections. Is another wave coming? Meanwhile, in India, Delhi has overtaken Mumbai to become the country’s coronavirus capital – and the worst part is, hospitals are struggling to cope with the number of patients.
- The US Senate has passed a bill that will punish China for introducing a controversial new security law in Hong Kong. However, an analyst says the law is “more symbolic than substantive”.
- Colorado will review the case of Elijah McClain, a young black man who died in police custody last year after being put in a chokehold and injected with ketamine. The case is one of many in the US to receive renewed attention following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
- NASA will rename its headquarters in Washington, DC, after its first black female engineer, Mary Jackson.
- Liverpool FC ended a 30-year wait for domestic league success when nearest rivals Manchester City lost 2-1 away to Chelsea, making the club’s 23-point lead insurmountable. They now have 19 top tier league titles, one less than record holders Manchester United.