In August, Pemandu pronounced that Malaysia was moving towards a high-income position. However, the economic plight of the people then was in contrast to Pemandu’s assertion. The people were beset with the inexorable increase in the cost of living by way of higher prices of essentials, the weak ringgit, profiteering and the scourge of corruption. The people were reeling in their effort to make ends meet.
Recently, in a pre-budget announcement, the authorities gave the country a most encouraging economic health report: that we are already an upper middle-income country. If it were true it would have been an amazing economic transformation. But again the actual situation of the people does not correspond with such a declaration.
The figures cited for fiscal deficit, GDP, inflation and growth, though encouraging on the surface, are merely generalised macro perceptions. There is a disconnect between the official economic pronouncements and the actual situation, especially with regards to the ability to feed the family, the affordability of housing, education and health.
Although the authorities are convinced that hardcore poverty is non-existent, the spiralling cost of living has placed a sizeable portion of the population in the direction of that predicament. It aggravates the problems of the urban poor, rural unemployables and the homeless.
Thus, to categorically state that we are already an upper middle-income nation is more of a statement based on perception rather than an actual fact.
Affordability is key to reasonably respectable living. It is especially so in an upper middle-income economy where not only the essential, but also the non-essential, goods and services are within the reach of the masses. In an upper middle-income economy, the disposable income of an average citizen must be able to finance the basic necessities with money left over for savings and recreation.
However, when the authorities suggest that people take on a second job such as driving a taxi or even becoming night market traders to make ends meet, it suggests that our economy is reeling in hard times and not one that is in the upper middle-income bracket.
Nevertheless, we could really move towards a high middle- income economy and even beyond, if the authorities seriously address the following:
One is the haemorrhaging of national finances and resources through corrupt practices, such as the recent Sabah Water Department and Kuala Lumpur City Hall corruption cases;
Secondly, infrastructural financing should benefit the people and not vested interest groups;
Thirdly, there should be a systemic monitoring protocol to prevent inflated government contracts as well as the siphoning of funds from government allocations;
Fourthly, there should be a judicious trimming of non-essential expenditures in certain ministries;
Fifthly, there is a need to garner the support of the people to work in tandem with the government to raise productivity. For this to happen, those in governance should be role models of integrity and honesty, with strong ethical and moral principles.
Much work needs to be done before Malaysia achieves an upper middle-income status. We have to face many challenges and maximise our strengths and minimise our weaknesses. But in the final analysis, the achievement of an upper middle-income status depends on the proper and honest governance and management of our resources for the benefit of the people.
Source : Mohamed Ghouse Nasuruddin@FMT Online