The Madani government seems to have lost its direction

Shankar R. Santhiram, Free Malaysia Today

This week, four state governments under Perikatan Nasional (PN) – Terengganu, Kelantan, Kedah and Perlis – formed a grouping to focus on economic development, called the “state government 4” (SG4).

All the four states in this grouping have GDP per capita that is lower than the national average, and collectively they comprise 5.6 million people or about 17% of our total population.

So, for the citizens of these states, the idea behind forming this cluster, which one would think is for economic prosperity, is definitely good news.

For years, Kelantan, for example, has been in the doldrums as far as economic growth is concerned. It is a lovely state to visit, but economically, many of their younger population have had to venture out to other parts of the country as economic migrants.

Of course, having been lifelong enemies, the PAS-dominated SG4 states have ironically appointed their former nemesis, our nonagenarian erstwhile prime minister as their “informal adviser.” This possibly means that if they do not like his advice, they can easily kick him out.

This appointment is certainly just political chicanery. Even if the states thought, as some analysts have suggested, that our ex-PM will help them with investments from countries like Japan and South Korea, the appointment, to the neutral observer, is simply about the optics of having him on their side.

Lots of work will need to be done in these SG4 states. Infrastructure, education, technical skills upgrades, housing, human resource concerns, and also some social re-engineering. Foreign investors will need airports, roads, and the like. At the same time foreign investors will need to socialise, and entertain themselves after work, in these “dry” states.

But anyone who has seen the latest documentary on Singapore’s founding prime minister, commemorating his 100th birthday, “Lee Kuan Yew – In His Own Words” will see that with strong leadership, determination, single mindedness, and not succumbing to corruption, even a swampy mudflat can be turned into a gleaming jewel of a nation.

For the sake of the people of these four states, I hope this SG4 initiative succeeds. Perhaps calling the cluster “SG4” is an inadvertent luck bringing moniker, considering the written acronym for the city nation of Singapore is “SG.”

This week also saw the Sarawak premier excitedly informing denizens of his state that our prime minister asked him to “teach” ministers and chief ministers in West Malaysia about the Sarawak experience with the green economy and the hydrogen economy – concepts that he claimed us westies know nothing about.

In Malaysia, currently it is all about “one-upmanship” and boasting about which coalition is doing a better job. This is all that our politicians seem to be concerned about.

How about for the rest of the PH controlled states, and for Malaysia as a whole?

The so-called “green wave” states seem to have got it right, and are making further strides on focusing on the economy, and wooing the electorate through development, and potential wealth creation. Soon, the population of the “non-green-wave” states will be asking about economic plans in their states, too.

But it feels like our current PM and the unity government have only one thing in their mind; which is to ensure their survival for the next four years by pandering, threatening news portals, and clearing potential damage from the “court cluster” that is propping up their tenure.

Instead, they should be focusing primarily on economic growth.

So, why is the economy so important for a government that actually wants to survive?

In a nutshell, economic growth is important as a means to fuel progress in social terms, including increasing well-being and equity. And, inclusive growth is just as much about politics, as it is about economics.

Only when Malaysia’s economy grows, can this government gain the resources needed to provide citizens with upgraded services in healthcare, education, social protection, and basic public services. Doesn’t this unity government understand that enhancing this capacity is the only way to keep the prime minister beyond being a one term phenomenon?

The nature of Malaysia’s politics shapes how growth happens and how the flow of benefits from growth are directed. Do these benefits flow to elite groups or certain segments of society, or are they more widely distributed? And, do the beneficiaries change with the political tide, or do they stay consistent?

This is where PMX needs to put his attention.

He cannot make the same mistakes that former prime ministers, including the new informal adviser to SG4, made. Malaysia was one of the fastest growing countries between the 1970s and the 1990s. But the Asian Financial Crisis put a halt to our progress.

People expected the strong growth to resume after the crisis, but it did not happen.

This was because of the local political landscape, which prevented a wider group of Malaysians from participating in the activities required for growth. It was just the cronies who came back.

Today, we see the lack of growth in our national airlines, airports, public services, and various other infrastructure projects, as a result of this bad management.

So, for the prime minister and this unity government, the choice is simply to focus on economic growth, or be ready to pack up in four years, at a max.