THE election is over; battles have been lost and won. The nation has undergone a catharsis. It is awash in a muted euphoria of a new dawn that augurs well for the nation. It is now time to get back to working on the affairs of the state.
The incoming government has a clean slate to draw the contours of the nation. Those contours will have to mirror the volksgeist or the larger aspiration of the people for an integrated and inclusive nation — the very ideals that Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad himself imbued in all of us through his Vision 2020.
It is a gargantuan task for the government to make sense of the many voices, some inarticulate, what has to be done for the nation. But, the consensus is clear. The nation wants change and change for the better.
Being new, the government has to be given space and time to do what it has set out to do in its election manifesto. What can we offer the government in this journey other than our well wishes?
Taking a leaf from Jim Collins’ 2001 book Good to Great the administration should see itself as a bus. First, it should pack the right people on the bus. Second, it should get the right people in the right seats. And third, eject those who are toxic off the bus.
Dr Mahathir has announced his initial cabinet line-up. We now await for the bus (read cabinet) to be fully filled up. Once done, the core cabinet will now have to set a clear direction for the economy and society. Doubtless, its election manifesto will steer its efforts. Vision 2020 will be the end-state for the time being.
Businesses favour continuity. Dr Mahathir has reiterated that as a trading nation we shall be at peace with our trading partners. Fiscal and debt management too will take centre-stage. Other long-term issues need to be worked out. Taking the country out of the clutches of the middle-income trap to reach rich-nation status is one of them. Sovereignty is another.
Representing 41 per cent of registered voters, youths played an instrumental role in the change of government. For once, they felt change was possible and the country now appears to be more beautiful. They have found new hope for the country. They and their voice will have to be directed at nation-building efforts.
Technology is a great accelerator of growth. We need to find our footing in the new paradigm of exponential technologies to fuel our growth.
True to its election manifesto, the government has vowed to eliminate the goods and services tax, and, in its place, reintroduce the sales and services tax. This should enhance citizens’ incomes as they get to keep more money. However, the inevitable shortfall in revenue collection — estimated at RM25 billion — must be plugged.
It is heartening that oil prices are on the climb. The 2018 budget was prepared on the estimate that the oil price will be US$50 per barrel. The government stands to make RM300 million for every dollar rise in the price of oil. At around US$75, oil revenues should deliver an additional RM7.5 billion to government coffers. Admittedly, this will not be enough to patch fully the revenue gap.
This is where the firm hand of the government in restructuring the public service is crucial. If duplication and redundancy of functions across the bureaucracy can be eliminated and all-round efficiency improved, the government should be able to squeeze a 10 per cent savings on public expenditure. That will save it roughly RM28 billion. This saving alone can patch the gap between the collections under GST and SST, with ample to spare, perhaps for petroleum subsidy.
Whatever the merits of GST and distortion-free markets, life is all about balance. Pragmatism must leaven economic considerations in socio-economic development.
The election has galvanised Malaysians into working together to revitalise the nation. This unifying flame of national identity must be kept burning strong. This is after all the essence of Vision 2020. As Martin Luther King Jr. once remarked: “We must live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
To accelerate nation-building, brain-drain must be stanched. We need to reconstruct our meritocratic ecosystem to become an even greater magnet for talent. Good governance has its cornerstone in competent and honest people helming the various institutions and organs of the state. Dr Mahathir admits that corruption will take time to bring to heel. True. Hong Kong took 10 years to tame the beast. But, a good start has been made.
In promoting good governance, we must not lose sight of public service reforms. Dr Mahathir was an ardent reformer during his previous term of office. That reformist zeal should burn ever brighter under his new reign.
The new government has its work cut out. We wish it well for our own happiness and prosperity. God bless Malaysia!
Dr John Antony Xavier, a former public servant, is a principal fellow at the Graduate School of Business, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia