Where is Malaysia heading to? Where are the reforms?

When Anwar Ibrahim was sacked from the position of Deputy Prime Minister, the Reformasi movement was borned and Anwar himself became the icon. It was a long journey for him, as it took decades for the movement to achieve electoral success.

In 2008, the Reformasi movement found the light at the end of the tunnel through Pakatan Rakyat (PR). Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) with the Reformasi icon joined forces with Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) and made a historical change in Malaysia’s electoral history. DAP took charge by taking over the Penang state government, PAS leading to form the Kedah and Kelantan state governments, and with the strength of the PR coalition, they have also captured the Perak and Selangor state governments. 

After that victory in 12th general elections, many Malaysians found hope and probability of making positive changes in the government through the new coalition. PR, which subsequently changed to Pakatan Harapan (PH), promised to make massive reforms and continue giving hope to the people. Their performance in the elections have shown good results especially DAP which has been consistently getting full support from the voters. Finally in the 2018 elections, PH managed to form the federal government with none other than the force of political maverick Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, but was later toppled due to political uncertainties. 

Then in 2022, they took control of the federal government again, and this time ironically by joining forces with their all-time political opponent, Barisan Nasional (BN). BN, before the 2022 general elections then, was labelled as a corrupted party that misuse the power of the government, mismanage the country and their leaders should be put to jail. But, Malaysians were told that a PH-BN unity government was for the bigger picture of the country. By hook or by crook, they will need Anwar Ibrahim to be the Prime Minister to reform the country.

Well, of course Anwar managed to climb up to the top position, and later on, the President of UMNO, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was appointed as the Deputy Prime Minister (DPM). Prior to that, it was already known that Ahmad Zahid was charged with 47 counts of graft which includes 8 counts of corruption, 12 counts of criminal breach of trust (CBT), and 27 counts of money laundering. 

After 77 days of trial over a course of 4 years, the DPM was granted a discharge not amounting to an acquittal (DNAA) on September 5, 2023. The Attorney-General (AG) of Malaysia uses his power to stop the proceedings on all 47 charges against the DPM, in line with Article 145 of the Federal Constitution and Section 254 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC). Thus, the judge has no choice but to grant the DNAA.

It is a matter of fact that the proceedings have been conducted in a legal way, and the DNAA is sought through legal means. But we can see that in such a high profile case involving a No.2 government official of the country with such a huge sum of money involved, the ongoing court case can be easily stopped. It is questionable, but possible legally.

Let’s not forget that the AG is technically appointed by Yang di-Pertuan Agong, on the advice of the Prime Minister. Since 1980, the AG’s Chambers falls under the placement of the Prime Minister’s Department. And who are the superiors in the Prime Minister’s Department? None other than the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Ministers, Ministers and the Deputy Ministers of the Prime Minister’s Department. In a way, the Deputy Prime Minister is also one of the bosses to the AG.

As to how much influence the PM has over AG, the excerpt from Tun Dr. Mahathir’s memoir, A Doctor in the House tells us. 

“By the time Tun Hussein had taken over as Prime Minister, Harun had been indicted but not yet jailed. I thought Tun Hussein would act strategically and garner political goodwill by not proceeding with the legal action against Harun. Thinking that he would at least be open to the idea, I met with him and suggested dropping the case. Strictly speaking, it should have been the Attorney-General’s decision, but the truth was the entire case was political. And in those days, the Prime Minister has a say in everything.”

– A Doctor in the House – Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad

Back then in the end of 1990s, Anwar, being the Reformasi icon, made claims that the AG had interfered in his sodomy trial. He ended up being jailed and the Pakatan Harapan coalition vowed to make reforms if he comes to power. The reforms that were needed include separating the Attorney-General from the executive arm of government. Unfortunately the powers of the AG today still remain the same as it was before.

So, where are the reforms? Where is institutional reform? Has the 1998 Reformasi movement died, or was it never a movement for reform, afterall? Was it just a movement to put one single person into power?

Our Ministerial Appointment process is too weak

Ooi Zhi Yi's article about appointment of Malaysian ministers

The appointment of Ministers, EXCOs and every governmental position have been a questionable issue all the time. In every single cabinet, there are bound to be questions on whether the appointed person is credible and possesses the ability to handle the given role. At times, there is a doubt if there is any horse trading or political bargaining in the process of the appointment. 

We all know that a ministerial position comes with an annual budget of millions of ringgit. Whoever sits in that position comes with massive power as well. With Malaysian ministers usually appointed from the pool of elected Member of Parliaments, they are also the group of people that have the influence that decides who is the Prime Minister, although indirectly. 

As many would also know that the appointment of Ministers in Malaysia is rather simple, the Prime Minister usually has the call to decide, although they still have to consult the Yang di-Pertuan Agong. That is why there are always controversial Ministers that have been appointed throughout the history of Malaysia. 

The current questionable Cabinet member would be the Health Minister, Dr Adham Baba. He was literally made fun of in the social media when he suggested that drinking hot water would kill the Covid-19 virus. And with the Health director-general, Dr Noor Hisham appearing to be the person who is taking up the lead role in combating the pandemic instead of his superior. The latest being Khairy Jamaluddin appointed to be in charge of the Covid-19 immunisation programme instead of the Health Minister. Even some including Liew Chin Tong proposed that Khairy be replaced as the Health Minister instead.

I think the problem here isn’t about who to replace as the Health Minister, instead I think we should change the way cabinet members are appointed. It may require an important constitutional amendment, but I believe that it should be done to enable government positions to be held by competent and capable individuals. First is that we must not allow MPs to take up ministerial positions, they should focus on their role to be lawmakers and representing their constituents to voice out in the Parliament. Second is, we should make the appointment of Ministers a more transparent and credible process.

If we look towards the United States, despite Joe Biden having been inaugurated as the President on January 20th, only 7 out of 23 of his proposed cabinet members were officially appointed as I am writing this article. 

Why is that so? That’s because the proposed list of cabinet members by the sitting President can’t be appointed just because the President wants it. It has to go through a few processes to determine if they are suitable or not.

The nominated individuals will first pass through a series of investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Internal Revenue Service and the office of Government Ethics. 

After that the nomination will be submitted to the respective Senate committee with jurisdiction over the appointed position. The committee hearings will conduct a close examination of the nominee, looking if there is any partisanship and views on public policy. The Senate committees can also conduct their own investigations into the nominees. The committee will then present their findings through Senate debates. Unlimited debates on the nomination is allowed until two-thirds of the Senate vote to invoke cloture. Following a vote of cloture, the Senators conduct a vote to confirm, reject or take no action on the nomination. 

And the amazing thing is that the Cabinet members are not debated and appointed as a whole, but individually. Each cabinet position is debated and appointed individually. Thus, from the President’s nomination, some may get appointed, and some may be rejected.

Imagine when our Ministers in Malaysia are not in a way indebted to the Prime Minister for their appointment, they do not owe the PM a favour. When they are appointed by MPs from different political backgrounds, probably the only favour that they owe is the people that have voted for the MPs. And so, the appointed Ministers will have to pay back by performing to the best of their ability in the Government.

Although there are still loopholes, at least we can reduce horse trading by making political bargaining difficult and a more competent team can be appointed to take up the role. 

This article is published in Kwong Wah Yit Poh in Chinese dated 9 February 2021.

Don’t disguise “women empowerment” to grow political power

perspectives of Ooi Zhi Yi

I believe not many knew about Sabah’s political system of allowing appointment of members of the State Assembly (ADUN), until the recent Sabah political fiasco. Terengganu and Pahang has then subsequently followed suit to appoint members into the State Assembly. 

Penang has also recently proposed to appoint representatives into the State Assembly but only limited to women as to increase the participation of women in politics and governance. 

For whatever reason the Government or those who proposed to implement such a system, I think it is not the right move and it is against the principles of democracy. The whole idea of democracy and election is for the people to elect and bring the candidates that they trust in to represent them in the State Assembly. And not some people that they may not have heard of.

It is also not fair for those who have worked hard to campaign, to meet people, to present their ideas on developing the constituency, to serve the people in order to get elected. Now they will have colleagues who can just wait to be appointed?

No matter how different the appointment system may be in different states, it is just merely to further increase the power of those who are in power. I don’t think that those who are in power will allow their opponents to decide on the appointed representatives.

By having additional ADUNs meaning that the government has to bear additional cost of allowances and allocations. The salary of one representative in Penang is about RM135,000 annually. I believe with this amount we can do even more for Penang instead of giving it out as salaries.

With such appointments, does that mean that in the next round of general elections, there are certain people that do not have to go through the hassle of contesting. They just have to make sure that they please the person who has the power to nominate and appoint them into the state assembly. There will be even more political bargaining and lobbying no matter how one tries to prevent it. The only way to prevent it is to not allow such appointments.

If the DAP is so sincere in advocating for the rights of the women and 30% representatives of women, they should have done so way earlier. In the last general elections, they have only fielded 21% female as candidates.

Chow Kon Yeow has also said that the state has approved a 30% requirement for posts for city councillors and state GLCs. But the MBPP and MBSP has 5 women councillors out of 24 which is only 21%. Somebody must have miscalculated. 

How can you guarantee that the appointment of representatives is truly for women empowerment when you cannot even do it at the simplest way in the beginning? The appointment of councillors is in a way solely in the hands of those in power, and you cannot do that. And you try to fix women empowerment in the membership of the State Assembly which can only be decided by the people. Or are you trying to even control the membership of the State Assembly as well? 

Tsai Ing-wen is not up on the Taiwan Presidential chair because there is a women quota for that position. Countries like Australia, Germany, New Zealand, Sweden did not set any women quota for their Parliamentarians, but more than 30% of those elected are women.

In the end, women empowerment is not about quota, but in our own community whether we believe in and truly advocate for gender equality. When we begin to acknowledge the capability of women as similar to the men, there is no need for any quota in any organization. The true empowerment comes from within our attitude towards gender and not through a set quota.

Well, some claim that the appointed ADUN move is not politically motivated, and these ADUN appointments are to enable them to serve the people. If it is not politically motivated, I wonder why those appointments have to come from a political party. Well, Tan Sri Noor Hisham Abdullah doesn’t have to be appointed as ADUN or MP to serve the people, and so are the millions of frontliners in our nation battling the pandemic.

This article is published in Kwong Wah Yit Poh in Chinese dated 2 February 2021.

What is our political priority?

We are putting the wrong priorities. We are doing it wrong.

The recent decision of the Government to discontinue the Penang ferry has caused an uproar among the public as well as the political arena. There were a mixture of opinions and views regarding this matter.

Some said that it is high time for us to change to a new ferry as the old one has been operating for decades. It is a sign of advancement and improvement. 

Some feel that there is a need to protect the heritage and historical elements of the ferry, and thus must continue with the same type of ferry, perhaps by rebuilding a new, similar version.

 Well, of course the politicians took this opportunity to politicise this matter. Some turned this into a ‘Save the Ferry’ campaign. 

The publicity and awareness has turned many publics into taking the opportunity to take one final ride on the old ferry. I wonder if it might result in a “Penang ferry” cluster in a couple of weeks to come. I hope not.

Regardless of what the final decision may be, I think such decisions will always have a mix of different opinions. As long as the Government made a decision that covers different aspects of analysis, I think it is fair enough to just make it happen. We wouldn’t be able to please every single person. But of course I am not sure whether the Government decides it though, only they know the best. 

But the way we are focusing on the issue and making it as though it is a matter of life and death is ridiculous. This shouldn’t be the priority at this current moment.

The news of Minister Khairy Jamaluddin falling off the pothole when riding his bicycle has also caused a big issue in the social media. Even the Public Works Department (JKR) has to make a public apology to the Minister.

If that is the only pothole throughout the whole of Malaysia, then I will agree that it makes sense for the JKR to make that apology. But come on, we have so many potholes throughout the nation then I don’t think we will ever finish counting it.

I wonder if the Government has any statistics or data of accidents caused by potholes. I am sure there will be a huge number of them. Did the JKR then apologise to all the Malaysians that were affected by the potholes?

And of course JKR is not fully responsible for all potholes in Malaysia though. We know some road maintenance is the responsibility of the local councils. Some are caused by the maintenance works of TNB and other departments that require them to dig holes on the roads.

We do not need these departments to apologise, we just need them to focus on solving the problems that they are supposed to be in charge of, and they would save their time apologising and doing public relations’ damage control.

What JKR has done is as though they are fearful of the Minister. I may agree that Ministers are their bosses to a certain extent, and that we must respect leaders who are running our nation. But the culture of putting Ministers and politicians at a super VIP level must stop. 

Don’t the politicians always claim that the “people are the bosses”, or does that only happen during the elections? If the people are the bosses, why didn’t the JKR apologise to the people?

It is already 2021 now, perhaps we should review our priorities, and put the right ones on top.

This article is published in Kwong Wah Yit Poh in Chinese dated 5th January 2021.

JASA – Right or Wrong?

Parlimen Malaysia

After the tabling of the nation’s Budget 2021 by our Finance Minister, everyone is hyped about the RM85.5 million allocation to Jabatan Hal Ehwal Khas or more commonly known as JASA. As usual in Malaysia’s typical politics, those politicians who are ruling the government will laud the move while those who are not in the government will keep criticising the decision.

Before I even comment on the issue, let us look back at what this JASA is all about.

The department was originally established as Badan Hal Ehwal Khas after the 1959 general election with the objective of maintaining and protecting the political, religious and government stability. The name was subsequently changed to Cawangan Hal Ehwal Khas and then Jabatan Hal Ehwal Khas. The role of JASA was then also to explain the government initiatives and programmes. 

To justify, I wouldn’t say that it is a definite right or wrong about the existence of the department or even the proposed RM85.5 million that was allocated to it.

Some criticised that the JASA has been misused as a political propaganda machinery for those who are in the government. It is an irony that those who have attacked JASA were the ones that are benefiting from their efforts when they were in the government. Now that they are not in power, they criticise it.

Now that we already have the experience of both sides ruling the government, if we were to pay attention closely; no matter who is in the government, there are units or departments that were formed to appoint people into positions, politically. 

Some say that RM85.5 million can be used to curb the Covid-19 pandemic. But this is very subjective. What if the role of JASA can be turned to be part of curbing the Covid-19 pandemic. At the end of the day, it is whether we are doing the right thing or not. The government can always divert the RM85.5 million to another department or ministry, but if it is not used wisely or misused, it will also be a waste. The question now is not about where the funds flow to, it is whether the government is efficient or not, whether they are effective or not, whether they are sincere in governing or not.

Some say that Tun Dr. Mahathir has been doing the right thing by abolishing JASA in 2018. But if we were to think politically, could he have been doing that to get rid of his political adversary’s machinery? Considering that when he joined politics, JASA has already been around, and that when he was the Prime Minister, JASA has also been assisting in his government, and he knows JASA very well. And if JASA has only been doing government work, why would he choose to abolish JASA?

When we discuss the objectives  of JASA, I actually think that a department such as JASA is important in any nation with the role of promoting and creating awareness of government’s initiatives. I have been long enough in politics and on the ground to know that the majority of Malaysians do not know what does the government has to offer to the people. 

To put a good confidence of the people towards the government is a secondary matter. But a lot of the rakyat do not know they have specific benefits from the government or they do not know how to get them. While other departments need to play a role to implement policies, we need units such as JASA to make the people know about how to benefit from government policies. 

The tabling of the budget is an example of the lack of awareness from the public. On that Friday, I was sitting in a cafe doing my work while listening to the Finance Minister’s speech. As and when I heard some announcement that could benefit people that I know of, I would drop them a message. Unfortunately, most of them would ask me what is this, when was it announced? They don’t even know that there was a tabling of the Budget at that time.

There are pros and cons if we were to have JASA back in the government. In the end, there is no right or wrong on reviving and allocating RM85.5 million to JASA. It is whether the government as a whole is doing the right thing or not. Again and again, the more important thing to change now is our political culture. If we don’t, the same mistakes will happen to the country over and over again. But of course with the current political culture, I would still prefer if the funds are allocated to more important efforts such as education and entrepreneurship and the environment.

This article is published in Kwong Wah Yit Poh in Chinese dated 17 November 2020.

Emergency over politicking or politicizing the emergency?

open law book and gavel

Since a couple of weeks ago, Malaysia was busy again discussing the same topic. After the hoo-haa of a potentially vote of no confidence motion to be tabled in the Parliament against the Prime Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin, the Government then proposed to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to impose a ‘political emergency’ which includes suspending the Parliament.

The ‘emergency’ proposed by the government was to enable the nation to focus on battling the Covid-19 pandemic and battered economy despite some saying that it is a strategy for the Prime Minister to stay in power amid a leadership challenge.

To impose an ‘emergency rule’ over the nation might be too exaggerating and might cause even more chaos or stress towards Malaysians; but I do agree that a stop towards politicking should be done at all cost. 

The more we lengthen the political uncertainty, the more dangerous it is to our health and economy as I have mentioned how this has affected the Covid-19 infections as well as our economic setback.

With due respect to our Constitution, if we still allow any MP or any political leader that claims that they have the numbers, and they need to seek the audience to the King or table a motion of no-confidence vote; then we will continue to have a chaotic political arena. 

Politicians from all sides will be eager to know who the ‘numbers’ are, and political camps will start contacting and meeting up. Those who are in the government will do their best to protect their power while those who are not in the government will do their best to get themselves into power. And all of them will tend to forget about the pandemic and economy again. That is what happens in Sabah state elections which has caused the growth of the pandemic to a critical situation now.

All these negotiations of power not only involve the elected officials, but also people surrounding them, dealing with negotiations and horse trading. The assistants, the lobbyists, power brokers, political influencers, leaders and even political members.

And each time a person claims that they have the ‘numbers’, everyone else gets busy together with them – the journalists, the staff of the Parliament, civil servants and even the King.

Instead of imposing the emergency rule, as I said, we should put a stop towards politicking. Parliament should still go on as the lawmakers have to decide on the Budget 2021 to enable the government to function. But there shouldn’t be any other political agenda including tabling of no-confidence vote. Some may like and some may dislike the current government, but if we continue to harp on political agenda, nobody will get any benefit from it if we do not solve the pandemic problems. 

Considering the amount of people involved in the politicking every time there is a possible change of power, if they can spend the time and energy in focusing to fight the pandemic instead, I am sure we can do better.

It is also weird how some politicians fear the pandemic and feel that the Parliament session shouldn’t be held to avoid the spread of infection, but how they weren’t afraid when they campaigned in the Sabah state elections. They weren’t afraid when they traveled around the country doing the negotiations and dealing so that they will stay or get into power.

This is how hypocritical some politicians are. Are we having an emergency over the politicking or are we politicizing the emergency? And by looking at the numbers of the Covid-19 infections today, we better stop politicking, I hope and I wish.

This article is published in Kwong Wah Yit Poh in Chinese dated 3 November 2020.

MACC awareness in Chinese is also an issue? Wake up, politicians. Is political survival or the advancement of Malaysia more important?

screenshot of MACC website

In life, no matter what we do, we are bound to meet challenges and problems. It could be in our work, in government and politics, in our business or in our personal life. I believe that everyone would agree that when we encounter such matters, what we need to do is to find solutions and solve it. 

That is what I see in the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), when they recently launched its Chinese-language website, which contains relevant information of the anti-corruption efforts. What I see is purely a method to help in fighting corruption.

The launch has drawn criticism from Bersatu Youth, Parti Bumiputera Perkasa Malaysia (Putra) and Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma), which claimed that the move sidelines Bahasa Malaysia’s constitutional position as the national language.

Although I may not know the exact reasons behind the launch of the Chinese-language website, I see it as a positive effort to educate many Malaysian Chinese or even foreigners who are probably working in our country. I definitely do not think that MACC is launching the website to promote Chinese language nor degrade the national language.

Whether we like it or not, we have to face the reality that there are still Malaysians who hardly use the national language. By having a website in an additional language does not hurt the national language. Furthermore, the MACC is not a government agency that functions to promote the national language. It functions to curb corruption, be it in the government sector or the corporate sector.

Malaysian Chinese or even foreigners who speak in Chinese, are one of the contributors to the economy of our country. When there are business and government dealings involved, they are bound to be open to the possibility of corruption. By allowing better understanding through different languages would create more awareness towards the corruption laws in Malaysia. 

It wouldn’t be the major approach to curb corruption, but one of the ways to solve the problems is through awareness and education. 

It is an irony that the youth wings of these political movements still need to use the racial cards to gain publicity and support. The young people who are involved in politics are supposed to portray young and fresh ideas, instead of keep using the old politics.

It seems as though that they are desperate to get support from their ethnic, and it seems that surviving politically in their own community is more important than curbing corruption.

And I wonder if those groups of youth see corruption as less important, compared to their political survival?

That is when I don’t see the possibility of Syed Saddiq growing his new political party, Muda, when especially it mainly targets only the young people. And it seems like some of the young ones are still practicing the old ways of politics. I have said before and would like to reiterate that a new political party cannot only involve a certain age group, ethnic or even gender. Malaysians have to work together and not to keep dividing each other.

Although we have seen changes in the government leadership at the federal level and state level in these two decades, I don’t see any signs of change in our political culture. Government may have changed, but it is still the same old political mentality that is running the country.

Perhaps, politics is not the way to really make a change for the country? Or maybe not in this era.

This article is published in Kwong Wah Yit Poh in Chinese dated 22 September 2020.

When will the people can participate in government budgeting?

Malaysia budget 2021

Coming this November, our Minister of Finance will be tabling his maiden budget speech, which is the National Budget 2021. It is the biggest budget of all in the country, as it determines how the government funds are spent in each category.

However, if we go down to the streets and ask the regular citizens whether they know about our national budget or how do they benefit from it, I believe we’ll get a lot of blank stares and question marks.

Very few people actually understand what it is all about. And when they do not understand, how can we expect that the national budget is tailored for the people’s needs? Most of the time, the budget is decided from the top, and not from the bottom up.

We are always saying that Malaysia is a democractic country; a country that respects the rights of each citizen. But have we ever thought that we ever have a say in our country’s budget? Do we have the right platform to give ideas or to vote on how government money will be spent?

We don’t. We never have.

Despite a couple of years back, when we started to have the option to give ideas on government budgets through website; we are not really empowered to participate in making decisions regarding the annual budget.

Perhaps, the elected politicians must give themselves more political will to begin at a small level. Begin to create awareness of the importance and empower the people in making decisions for their community.

In our case, I think Member of Parliaments (MP) and State Assemblyman (ADUN) play an important role in making engagement with their constituents, and to get them to participate in giving inputs on government budget.

Participatory budgeting gives citizens real control over where a budget is spent. As such, budgets can be spent in a way which better reflects the strengths, needs and aspirations of the population and can be more effective.

Participatory budgeting allows citizens to identify, discuss, and prioritize public spending projects, and gives them the power to make real decisions about how money is spent.

The budgeting that involves the public can be done in several processes:

– Participants or citizens are divided geographically into the areas that they live in.

– Members of Parliament then have to form their team of staff and volunteers with the advice from the Ministry of Finance. State Assemblymen should assist in the efforts whereby they can also garner feedback and inputs for the State Budget concurrently.

– The team that are established in each constituency will use multiple methods to get the ideas from the public including meetings, workshops, town hall sessions, door-to-door visits, public interviews, etc.

– Feedbacks and inputs have to be from individuals as well as local NGOs, religious organizations, trade organizations, etc.

– All proposals and ideas, initiated by the citizens, will then be compiled and submitted to the Ministry of Finance.

– The drafted budget is shared to the public and put for a vote. The government implements the top proposals.

For this, I have to give credit to YB Steven Sim and YB Lee Khai Loon who have executed participatory budgeting in their own constituency. It may not be perfect yet, but it is a good start to empower the citizens and let them feel responsible towards their own living place.

Participatory budgeting empowers people to decide together how to spend public money. The process will strengthen democracy, build stronger communities, and make public budgets more equitable and effective.

The rights of the citizen is not only to vote every 5 years; but to subsequently give feedback and be part of the government’s decision making process.

This article is published in Kwong Wah Yit Poh in Chinese dated 25 August 2020.

Next, economic challenges.

Malaysia economic challenges after covid-19 pandemic

We have been through the Movement Control Order (MCO) for more than a month now. And just last week, the government has announced to loosen the regulations and allow most of the businesses to resume their operations again.

The challenge during the MCO is not only about health hazards, but also economic challenges. We may have been able to strive through the darkest hours of the pandemic in terms of health. But the economic hazard has just about to begin.

Since the beginning of the MCO until now, it has affected almost every industry economically. The first few weeks have not been extremely tough for some companies yet as it can still be considered a short term loss. But when they couldn’t resume their business weeks after weeks, and yet they still have to bear operating costs, that is when the pain comes in.

Business owners and the management have to figure out ways to cut operating costs to reduce losses. Businesses with multiple offices have to consolidate their human resource into one office to reduce unnecessary usage of utilities. Some have to resort to negotiating with their employees to take unpaid leaves. Certain companies have to close off some of their branches. Some have to retrench their employees. The worst is to make their decision to close down their businesses permanently.

The tourism industry has been one of the worst affected ones. There are no flights, airlines are not in operations. No traveling means no tourists, and which makes hotels unable to continue their operations. The impact is very obvious in Malaysia as we have seen hotels closing down permanently one after another.

As of now, there are about 10 hotels that have decided to close down permanently in Penang, Ipoh and Kuala Lumpur. Malaysian Association of Hotels are expecting about 15% of hotels may have to shut down their operations.

This is only the beginning, and we’ll never know what will happen for the next few months. Although we may continue most of our business operations, the tourism industry may not be resumed yet. Traveling is still limited, even for inter-state travels. And even when tourism is allowed to resume, there won’t be many tourists that would want to take the risk yet; or perhaps the economic difficulties that were suffered might prevent people from traveling within this short period. The order that prevents large gatherings also caused the loss of hotels’ food & beverage department.

Besides that, the retail sector has also been affected badly as we can see the apparel brand, Esprit pulling out from Asia, and Esquel Group closing their operations in Malaysia. 

These are the huge companies and brands that are announced in the media. We might now know how many of the other small business owners that may have to close down. 

Despite the negative economic situations that we may see now, perhaps we can also see the light at the end of the tunnel.

In every major economic challenge that our community faces, there is always an opportunity to overturn. The losses of some businesses today, might be an opportunity to grow new ones.

This MCO has ‘created’ a number of homemakers into small entrepreneurs. Those who have nothing to do at home have spent their time making their own products, cooking meals and creating brands to sell on the internet. I am sure almost all of us who are using Facebook have seen a lot of friends and family selling their own products during this period.

It has proven that Malaysians are able to develop their own products and brands. But what can the Government assist from here? 

Governments always feel proud and boast their numbers of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) every quarter and every year. It is always good to have foreign companies investing in our country. But to think again, these companies might not have anything to do with our community other than earning profits. When operating at a loss or when it is not cost-efficient to operate in the country anymore, the management can easily close down the operations. Esprit and Esquel might be an example. 

Perhaps the Government should look into assisting Malaysians to grow their own brands and products into the standards whereby in the future we are the ones investing in other countries instead of us looking for investment from other countries. 

We have to look into the ideas and talents that may grow from these small and young online entrepreneurs. The Government has to tap into the passion of these young entrepreneurs, make that little spark in them into a fire by giving them necessary assistance. We can begin by drafting more public policies that promote entrepreneurship.

I believe that many of our own products have the quality that equals the big brands out there. But what we lack is knowledge of building brands, opportunity, and trust of our own people.

The confidence towards Malaysian brands have grown compared to decades ago, but it is too slow to expand ourselves to compete with the international market. 

I have always reiterated that in building a nation, it is not only the role of a Government, but our own community and people.

To rebuild our economy post-MCO, one of the most important factors is for ourselves to support the local economy. Buy from local makers, brands and shops. 

It may be a real challenge, and although we might want to see our economy striving again as soon as possible, I think the call to loosen the MCO regulations in such a sudden contrast is very risky. It should be done in phases in different industries.

Do we want to risk another wave of infections and start all over again? But a decision has been made, let’s do our part to keep our nation safe and hope for the best.

This article is published in Kwong Wah Yit Poh in Chinese dated 5 May 2020.

Ministry of Women & Family is not protecting women & family

Kementerian Wanita dan Keluarga Doraemon

In the modern world, advocacy for women’s rights, women empowerment and gender equality is a common thing. The awareness and the growing power of women is a norm in many developed countries.

We have people like Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey, Sheryl Sandberg, Malala Yousafzai, Emma Watson, Michelle Obama, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez playing their roles of empowering women. Locally we have women figures like Dr Amalina Bakri, Zainah Anwar and her team in Sisters in Islam, Irene Fernandez, Heidy Quah, Dr Mazlan Othman and many more.

Although not directly, these people, and also many men have been supporting campaigns for women such as He for She, Girls Not Brides, and even the United Nations have stated in the Sustainable Development Goals that gender equality is one of the global goals.

Since independence, we as a nation, have been trying very hard to move from an underdeveloped nation, to a developing nation and hopefully towards a developed nation.

Without a doubt, Malaysia has grown significantly fast in terms of material development. In a short period of half of a century, we have among the tallest towers in the world, long bridges, good infrastructures, buildings and cities.

But as we continue moving forward towards the status of a developed nation, we ought to think of the definition of a developed nation. Beside materials, infrastructures and buildings, what other aspects do we have to achieve?

Gender equality and women empowerment is definitely one factor that determines the status of a nation. A developed nation is not only about buildings and infrastructures, but the mentality, mindset and the human capital.

Unfortunately, during the COVID-19 crisis, many Malaysians were simply disappointed with the newly formed cabinet members when it comes to women empowerment. And worst is that the blunder came from the Ministry of Women & Family.

When we are in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, it started with a purported Deputy Minister Siti Zailah’s Twitter account that states “the probability of dying from coronavirus is 1%, while the possibility of dying at any moment is 100%”. But after being condemned by the Twitter world, the account was deleted. If the Twitter account is hers, which she did not deny, she should have acted like a leader, a Deputy Minister; admit the mistake, apologise and move on. And not deleting the Twitter account and not owning the mistake.

Even when she was appointed as the Deputy Minister during the period of crisis, one of the first few matters that she brought up was the shariah-compliant attire policy for female flight attendants. That was at a time when approximately 13,000 MAS airline employees had to take unpaid leave due to the Covid-19 pandemic. And this does not include other airlines yet. And that does not include employees from other sectors and industries which will affect every family in Malaysia yet.

When the employees are worrying and struggling to make ends meet, the Deputy Minister focuses on attire. The bread-and-butter issues have to be addressed first. Afterall, if the airline cannot survive through the crisis, what is there to discuss about the attire of the flight attendants?

The highlight happened last week when the Ministry’s official social media account posted a series of infographics with the hashtag of “#WanitaCegahCOVID19”, which I assume should be about how women can play a role in preventing Covid-19.

One of the infographics stated that women who work from home must avoid wearing home attire. They should be putting on makeup and wearing smart working attire. I totally agree that anyone including men, has to keep their outlook neat, tidy and nice. But I don’t see how this message is going to help to fight Covid-19. And I don’t see the necessity of wearing smart working attire at home unless we have to attend official video conference calls.

The other infographic basically mentions that, “If you notice that your spouse is carrying out task in a manner that clashes with your own method, avoid nagging – use a humorous way such as ‘cara sidai baju macam ni lah sayangku’ (mimic the tone of the cartoon character Doraemon and followed with giggling coyly”.

Again, this has nothing to do with the prevention of Covid-19. And this is totally not what should come from a Women’s ministry. When women should be taught how to empower themselves, this Ministry is telling the world that women are powerless and have to resort to such behaviour to get the agreement of their husbands. Can’t women reason with logic and sense? Can’t women debate and deliberate constructively? They are simply promoting patriarchy in this series of infographics, stating that men have the power over women; which is totally wrong.

To use a cartoon character, Doraemon as an example is simply showing that the Ministry is childish and unprofessional. Worst is that I don’t think the tone of the cartoon character would do any good in negotiating between husband and wife.

Well, the social media postings were then deleted after that which I think they owe an apology to every female in Malaysia.

Perhaps the Prime Minister should reconsider his appointment of his fellow cabinet members. For women to lead the Ministry of Women & Family but with the priority of restricting the attire of female flight attendants; and not finding ways to assist them during the difficult times is simply unacceptable. Perhaps she would perform much better in religious affairs.

There are a lot more important issues of women, gender and family for the Ministry to work for. 

Domestic violence, violence against women, sexual harrasment, sexual exploitation, child grooming, child marriage are some important matters that should be prioritize by the Ministry and the Cabinet.

When the Ministry of Women & Family should be protecting the women & family, they aren’t.

This article is published in Kwong Wah Yit Poh in Chinese dated 7 April 2020.