KL should focus on economy, not politics

KL should focus on economy, not politics
PHOTO: The Straits Times

The amount of time spent on politics by Malaysians is remarkable. One wonders if our politicians from both sides have anything else to do besides issuing daily press statements and calling for press conferences.

The issue on state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), without doubt, needs clear answers and a conclusion. Investigators have not come up with anything. Neither have they revealed what they have discovered to date.

The Public Accounts Committee, meanwhile, has had to put its own probe into the issue on hold following the promotion of some key members to be deputy ministers, which makes them ineligible to sit on the committee.

But even as this issue continues to captivate the people, and it must, we also must not lose sight of another important front - the country's economy.


Malaysia is being hurt by the collapse of crude oil prices, outflow of funds, plunge of the stock market, devaluation of the yuan, strengthening of the United States dollar and shrinking ringgit. And it does not help that investors see Malaysia as politically unstable now.

At meetings with foreigners overseas, Malaysian businessmen can tell you that they are asked point-blank about the 1MDB issue and, most of the time, they cannot really tell much beyond what has been reported in the media.

And because we want to keep the Malaysian flag flying high, we have to speak well of this country. But we must remember that investors have plenty of choices as to where to put their money. We need to end this political controversy soon and move on.

Yes, we have maintained this year's economic growth target of 4.5 to 5.5 per cent despite external shocks.

Bank Negara governor Zeti Akhtar Aziz has pointed out that economic growth will be anchored by domestic demand, with continued expansion across all economic sectors while the external sector is expected to remain resilient.

Domestic demand, which is projected to stay at 6 per cent growth, will continue to drive economic growth, supported by robust private investment and spending.

On the trade side, she said an expected narrowed current-account surplus of 2 to 3 per cent of gross national income is in line with global rebalancing and structural transformation in the local economy.

But she also spoke of a lower projected current-account balance of RM21.4 billion (S$7.2 billion) due to low oil prices and a higher deficit in income account.

It is obvious now that we have to look at other sources of revenue as crude oil prices continue to drop, with no sign of stopping any time soon.

The tourism sector is crucial. The weaker ringgit will help make Malaysia a cheaper tourist destination.

Even though 2015 was Visit Malaysia Year, we can still put in more resources to promote Malaysia as the ultimate tourist destination for 2016.

For a start, we need to tone down negative impressions, often caused by overzealous theologians and crime cases, that make the headlines overseas.

I attended a Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra concert recently, when it paid tribute to the music of Queen. The American singer subtly asked if Malaysians were allowed to stand up and sing and dance along. And at the David Foster and Friends concert in Genting Highlands, he also made various jokes relating to the conservativeness of Malaysia.

We all know the world thinks lowly of Malaysia as a concert destination and those who shoot off their mouths do not realise how much our neighbours have capitalised on such a perception.

The authorities need to realise concerts bring in tourism money and are not about promoting free sex and gender mixing.

Tourism Board chairman Wee Choo Keong said "there is no doubt that Malaysia is being 'outshined' in the region in terms of advertising".

"You only have to turn on the TV and there are ads on campaigns such as 'Amazing Thailand' or 'It's More Fun in the Philippines'," he said.

For example, following the outbreak of the Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers), South Korea is fighting hard to get tourists back, with the Korean Tourism Organisation embarking on an aggressive promotional blitz worldwide.

For the upcoming national-level Matta Fair to be held at the Putra World Trade Centre between Sept 4 and 6, the Korean Tourism Organisation has taken 24 booths and is bringing in top K-pop stars and other artists to promote what the country has to offer.

It is shocking that, instead of pumping up the advertising and promotion budget to sell Malaysia, we are actually slashing it by RM50 million, which is 25 per cent of the RM200 million that has been allocated for the past 15 years.

Tourism brings in close to RM70 billion annually, and is the second-largest foreign exchange earner and among the largest contributors to the economy.

Some 27.4 million people visited Malaysia last year but the numbers could drop if not enough is done to woo tourists.

It is quite perplexing that Malaysia continues to insist on visas for Chinese tourists even though they are now free now.

The summer season is usually when tourists from temperate countries, including China, travel and it looks like we have missed the window period. Wake up, Malaysia!

We recorded a shocking drop of 500,000 tourists from China for the first quarter of this year. The second quarter is just over and we can expect the numbers to go down further.

The records show that each tourist from China spends RM3,401 in Malaysia on average, therefore for the first quarter of this year, Malaysia has lost RM1.7 billion from this segment alone.

Strong political will is necessary to push through the implementation of visa applications online like in other countries. Malaysia needs to be competitive and accommodating if we want to see more tourists.

Anyone visiting the major shopping outlets in Europe, especially Paris and London, will know that Chinese-speaking sales assistants are hired to cater to Chinese tourists, especially at branded outlets. That is how they treat their Chinese customers.

Take action

It is crucial now for the government to pull together the best business brains in Malaysia, not just the academicians and bureaucrats, to work out how we can adapt to this difficult period. It will lift a huge burden off the prime minister and the Cabinet.

We need to identify the key sectors that can stimulate the economy to increase our revenue. Special incentives and stimulus packages need to be announced soon.

At the same time, it will be good for the government to help ordinary Malaysians cope with the cost of living by reducing transport charges, including the price of LRT and KTM train tickets. It is also time for electricity tariffs to be reduced in tandem with falling oil prices.

It can also look at reducing water supply charges to help consumers and, as this is within the state's jurisdiction, surely the various mentris besar (state chief ministers) and chief ministers can make it happen.

We need our leaders to focus on the economy. Their daily political charade is not going to help the people put food on the table.

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