(Petaling Jaya, Wednesday): I have two hopes for the new year, 1998, which is probably going to be the single year with the greatest pain, hardship and sufferings for Malaysians in the 40-year history of Malaysian independent nationhood.
These two hopes are:
These two conditions are fundamental prerequisites if the country and people are going to tide through the national economic crisis, which will get seriously worse before it could get better, in the shortest period possible and with the minimum of avoidable pain, hardships and sufferings to the people.
On the eve of his retirement as Treasury secretary-general, Tan Sri Clifford Herbert said he is more than convinced that the Malaysian economy would bounce back sooner than what the pundits have predicted as Malaysiaís strong economic fundamentals would propel it out of the economic turmoil.
He said: "Itís not true to say that the economic turmoil has made nonsense of our fundamentals. Sooner or later, investors will look back at the fundamentals and that will definitely bring confidence back".
Herbert said Malaysia too suffered a loss of investor confidence simply because of problems afflicting some other countries in the region.
"Itís the timing really. People are in the mood just to leave the region. Thatís why they are not looking at the fundamentals."
He said that if investors had looked at the fundamentals, they would see Malaysia as different from other countries in the region.
"Thatís what makes it all the more annoying. We are different, in fact, all countries are different."
Herbertís prognosis that the Malaysian economy would bounce back sooner than expected would have more credibility if it had not been based on the classic "denial syndrome", viz. That Malaysia is in no way responsible for the national economic crisis, that all the problems came from outside, and that what Malaysia is suffering, to use the recent description of the Minister for International Trade and Industry, Datuk Paduka Rafidah Aziz, is only a "mild case of cough".
A comparison with the currency and stockmarket movements of other Asian countries in the past 12 months would show that there are legitimate cause for concern as to whether Cliffordís forecast that Malaysia can bounce back earlier than expected could come true, as Malaysia had not been able to withstand the investor loss of confidence like Singapore, Hong Kong and Taipei.
The Asiaweek Dec. 26, 1997 - Jan. 2, 1998 gave the following changes in the various national stockmarket indices in the past 12 months:
The Asiaweek dated December 19, 1997 gave the following currency movements against the US Dollar in the past one year:
For the two preconditions in my 1998 New Year wishes to be achieved, the government must be prepared to undertake far-reaching political, economic and financial reforms including allowing more press freedom and greater public access to information to restore the much-battered confidence of both investors and the general public.
The Government should not doubt the support, patriotism or loyalty of Malaysians in wanting to give full support to the national economic recovery programme and it should focus on confidence-enhancing measures as following policies of accountability, transparency and integrity instead of confidence-undermining actions such as:
Some Ministers are going around saying this was the time for the people to prove their patriotism and support for the Government. Malaysians have proved their patriotism for 40 years, and they have shown their support to the Barisan Nasional government in the 1995 general elections by giving the ruling parties an unprecedented landslide victory and mandate to provide good government.
The question of the people having to prove their support for the government and patriotism therefore does not arise. The issue is how the government is going to restore confidence by vindicating the overwhelming support the people had given the Barisan Nasional government in the 1995 general elections and secure united support from Malaysians regardless of politics or race to respond as one unit to minimise the pain and sufferings of the national economic crisis and effect an economic turnaround and revival in the shortest possible time.