A Green Deal to assist Malaysia’s economy

The world including Malaysia is facing or going to face perhaps one of the worst unemployment challenges in history.

The Department of Statistics has stated that the nation’s unemployment figures have risen 16.2 per cent in the month of March 2020, which is approximately 610,000 unemployed people. Although we do not have the figures for the subsequent months, we do not have to say much as we have been hearing companies closing down, small businesses deciding to stop operating, foreign companies pulling back from Malaysia. The figures will just keep increasing.

The Government has since then initiated plans to revive the job sector, such as incentives for companies that hire or sustain their employees. Or plans to re-skill and upskill workers. These are all very typical ways of assisting the businesses and keeping people employed.

But have we thought about creating jobs, assisting the economy, but sustaining our environment too? Have we thought about taking this opportunity to generate and boost the green economy? Why don’t we push for a Green Deal for Malaysia? 

In my previous article, I have written that Covid-19 is a prequel to the global climate crisis. I cannot deny that today’s priority is to prevent and to cure the people from Covid-19, but we must not also forget that climate change is an imminent danger. Charitable organisations and people were kind enough to donate foods to the poor during the pandemic, but they forgot that they are using single-use plastics in their packaging. And we haven’t even counted the delivery packages that we ordered every day. I believe that amounts to tens of thousands of plastic packaging daily. That is something we can avoid, but we forgot.

Back to the Green Deal for Malaysia, the Government must introduce a package that addresses the financial crises as well as the environmental issues that we are facing. 

The Government can take the lead to invest in the development of alternative energies. The research and development efforts will create jobs for scientists and engineers. Development of the infrastructure for alternative energy also generates jobs for the skilled workers. 

When the purported leader of all nations, the United States of America, with a President that decides to protect the coal industry which creates a carbon footprint; why not Asia lead the way in alternative energy?

We know that our country’s economy depends a lot on oil, but what if Petronas invests part of its profits into the development of alternative energy? That would be a positive step for an oil & gas company. Besides, oil is a resource that will end someday. And that someday, we will need renewable energy, why not do it now, then to wait until it is critical.

The Government should also introduce low-carbon infrastructure redevelopment. Instead of using the same old materials, public infrastructures that need to be redeveloped should be done in an environmentally-friendly manner. To save more cost and reduce carbon footprint in the long-run, we have to invest efficiently. These would create more jobs when the redevelopment efforts are initiated, but at the same time, we have to avoid the cronies to profit from it.

This can also include overhauling our transportation system to an energy-efficiency method. By systematically changing our public transportation to an energy-friendly system, we will need employees to implement the initiatives. If we provide incentives for the automobile industry to research environmentally-friendly cars, we will need more engineers, skilled workers to run this project.

The Government can also provide extra financial incentives for startups that focus on the green economy. New ideas and business will then generate more jobs. This could also lead to the encouragement of social enterprises. 

Now, some may think this is such a huge effort and it is too big for a country like Malaysia to implement. But if we don’t imagine, we won’t even start to work for it. Nobody has ever thought that Malaysia would ever have one of the tallest skyscrapers in the world, nobody would have thought Malaysia would be able to send their man to space. 

Can we begin to imagine a Green Deal for Malaysia?

Now is the moment to make use of the crisis for a change

It’s coming to almost three months when Malaysia begins to face the dangers of Covid-19. It could be one of the most difficult challenges faced by Malaysians since World War 2, racial riots and any economic recession that has happened. For my generation and those younger ones, it is definitely the most challenging time of our lives. 

Across the three months period, I’ve been listening to stories of people and as the Movement Control Order (MCO) eases to Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO), I went out to know more about the situation, and played my role as part of the community.

I went to a children’s home, and the caretaker told me about one of the children’s families who has suffered from domestic violence. A single mother who has been jobless since the early of this year, and she has 6 kids to feed. With the pandemic currently happening, and without resources, she couldn’t do anything much other than depending on the assistance of the neighbours. But how long can she get the help that she needs?

A close friend who has been doing quite well in a multinational company and expects to have the opportunity to grow in the company suddenly finds out that they decided to close down the operations in Malaysia. What’s next for him? Start all over again? Some may argue that if he has the right mindset and character, he will survive. Yes, it is true, but it is also a setback for him.

Another friend in Kuala Lumpur who was delighted to know that he passed his job interview in March, resigned from his current job and expects to begin a new career soon. Little did he know that the MCO began a couple of days later. The former company accepted his resignation and the new company decided to reject him before he managed to sign the job offer.

In the neighbouring state in Kedah, a woman that I know was preparing to retire in just a couple of months. The pandemic has caused her to fork out a huge portion of her savings for her family. With that, she ended up cancelling her retirement plans, and maybe having to work for another couple of years.

The boss of a small local restaurant that I have frequented recently told me that they are barely making RM100 a day. The monthly revenue that they’ve earned is not even enough to cover the cost of rental. 

These true stories are proof that a pandemic does not discriminate. It hits people of all ages, race, religion and background. It is a crisis that affects everyone in the world. It begins with a health crisis and followed by an economic crisis. 

But as the chinese proverb says, every crisis can be turned into an opportunity, 危机就是转机.

In 1982, even Milton Friedman, an economist, wrote: “only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions are taken depending on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.”

The humans seem like they have not learned from the past. The pandemic has shown that science is hard enough. And our politics is making it harder. The US and China are blaming each other and are in a war of words, who knows when it will turn into a real war? In Malaysia, the battle for power and position has never ended.

In this moment of crisis, we need to shift our focus in making real changes; and not changes of power and position. We need a change of policies that will assist the people from the stories that I have mentioned. They are largely people who belong in the B40 and M40 community. We have to avoid the abuse of power to turn the crisis into a darker path as seen in the 9/11 tragedy where more lives are sacrificed later on.

Radical reforms that were mentioned before or in some other countries can be brought out for consideration and debate. Perhaps tax reform is needed to tax the wealthy to assist the poorer community. There is no use if the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The Covid-19 may be an exceptional case. But when the poor get poorer, which means lesser health and hygiene awareness in them which ultimately might develop other pandemics in the future as well. The virality of Covid-19 shows that viruses can also spread to the rich community.

I have read in an article that says the Covid-19 is a prequel to the global climate crisis. Although both may not be related, the climate crisis is purely a man-made issue. It could be even worse than a pandemic, affecting the whole world and every possible living thing.

There are already signs and science that has been warning us against global warming, but there are not enough actions that are taken to slow it down. 

Malaysia is not the country who has heavily invested in climate action, but now is the time to do it. The leaders, politicians and civil society have to bring this up as a serious next step. The global warming effects wouldn’t stop temporarily and wait for us to cure the Covid-19 pandemic. It still goes on. Are our politicians even aware of the dangers?

Now is the moment for change. But this is not about the change of political power, position or anyone. But a reform of our policies to make the world a better place.

We have to make use of the crisis to bring to the attention that the age of excessive individualism and competition should come to an end. We have to mark and push for the beginning of solidarity where we work together for the better good of our nation and the world. 

The pandemic has shown it is workable. People were singing from the balconies together; neighbours collecting food and giving it to those who needed it; volunteers sewing PPE and making masks; doctors, nurses, healthcare professionals, police, military and many others were risking their lives in the frontlines. And it is all to save the lives of others.

Now is the moment for us to change. We can only be better together.

Are our children anti-Government?

Are we teaching and encouraging our children to learn to think and criticise constructively?

Few weeks back, an international school was probed for alleged “anti-palm oil propaganda activities” over their school’s performance. Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok openly berated the school for allowing its students to be critical of palm oil. The Education Ministry even stated that the probe would be carried out in accordance with the Education Act 1966 (Act 550).

I have seen the video for myself which is uploaded on Youtube and I do not see any serious “propaganda” elements in it. 

From my understanding, there are several keywords that the students wanted to deliver in the message which are, “the orangutans are disappearing, which is caused by deforestation”, “one of the cause of deforestation is the production of unsustainable palm oil” and “we have to ensure palm oil is produced sustainably.”

The fact that the numbers of orang utan is shrinking and it should be a concern for Malaysia as it is one of our protected species. One of the main reasons for the disappearance of orangutans is indeed deforestation. Production of palm oils indeed needs to sacrifice a certain part of the forests, but the students did not even mention any specific country that has been producing unsustainable palm oil. The students did not even advocate for the stop of producing palm oil, instead they did mention the importance of producing sustainable palm oil at the end of their performance.

As a matter of fact, palm oil is one of our key economic drivers. I agree that we have to protect and promote it. But the opportunity cost of this resource is that we have to sacrifice a part of our forest. I am not saying that we should stop it as well; but as a responsible global citizen, the industry has to keep on researching best practices to bring sustainability in producing palm oil.

I am confident in our nation’s best practices of producing sustainable palm oil. The Ministry has been spending funds to run a “Love My Palm Oil” campaign. If there is a lack of confidence towards our own palm oil, that just indicates the failure of the campaign. Does the campaign educate on the sustainability of our palm oil? Or it just simply teaches people to drink palm oil daily?

How Teresa Kok and the Government reacted to the school and students is basically a conventional way of teaching kids. Children were not allowed to be critical, they have to just follow what is taught and have to support the establishment. 

In fact, the students have been advocating for the environment, which is an important topic for the world’s future. And we should be really glad these children are concerned about it. How many of our kids today really understand the problems of our world? Even the majority of us adults are not practicing good habits of protecting the environment. How many are even aware of the dangers of single-use plastics? How many even bothered to recycle their wastes? 

Do we want our children to support the Government because they understand our sustainable efforts in producing palm oil or do we want them to have the impression that they are “forced” to support the Government?

When we are talking about improving our nation, when we are talking about ‘Malaysia Baru’; we should encourage our people, especially the young ones, to learn to think constructively. We have to allow the youth to develop new ideas and plan for our nation and our world.

If this is not even allowed, then what is the point of reducing the age limit of voters to 18 years old, what is the point of reducing the age definition of youth to 30 years old? The actions of the Government does not even empower youth, and by just amending the age numbers is not doing the right thing, they are just doing the thing right.

Ideas, ideologies and opinions are the factors that have successfully changed the Government last year. That has given hope for the people for a Malaysia Baru.

If the students and Malaysians are not allowed to voice out their thoughts, then what is the point of changing the Government in the first place? What is the relevance of Malaysia Baru?

Above all, in the video, I really don’t see any anti-palm oil, defamatory and anti-Government elements by the children of the international school. Taking action against the school is only teaching the wrong values to them.