COVID-19 has caused Malaysia’s GDP growth to contract by least 3.1% since the beginning of the pandemic and its impact will be felt most amongst its urban poor. At least 3.8% of Malaysians living in urban areas struggle to maintain a minimum income to sustain a healthy and reasonable life.
This is a serious issue considering that about 77% of Malaysians dwell in urban settings. Urban poverty in the Klang Valley has been attributed to an increased migration of low income and low skilled groups from rural areas in addition to an influx of foreign workers. The B40 group, particularly in Kuala Lumpur, with household income less that RM 4,850 often struggles to meet the cost of living. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused loss of income that places burdens on access to basic amenities, healthcare and child education for the urban poor and its impact is felt most in groups that lack employment opportunities due to low education, low skills and large families.
It is worthwhile noting the economic model adopted by Botswana to address national poverty. This African nation was the second poorest country in the world when it gained independence from the British in 1966. At that time, Botswana only had 12 kilometers of paved roads, and a population comprising 22 graduates and about 100 high school graduates.
There was no formal economy, no hospitals and universities, and the majority of its population was illiterate. Botswana became an economic success story within 50 years and is now the least corrupt nation in Africa. This economic success was attributed to visionary leadership that emphasized strong judicial and legislative systems with effective checks and balances, business friendly policies and prudent fiscal planning. The Government placed great emphasis on merit as the basis for achievement and opportunity, and adopted a policy not to replace foreign members of its civil service with native born regardless of skill levels. Its native population was not given any unfair advantage. Skilled foreign workers continued to be employed until its native population was sufficiently educated and skilled to compete for the same jobs on a level playing field. All national projects with foreign companies were structured based on merit and negotiated in a manner that greatly profited its national treasury. Botswana achieved a fiscal surplus in the 1970s and became the world’s fastest growing economy due to its corruption free civil service.
Addressing the issue of urban poverty in Malaysia will require the Government to adopt a multi-pronged strategy. Quality healthcare must be afforded to all Malaysians regardless of their financial status to ensure that it has a healthy population capable of generating income and contributing to the national economy. Malaysia currently practices healthcare where the quality of service provided can depend on the status of the patient, and this has resulted in private healthcare that is significantly better equipped than public healthcare. Why should this be the case when billions in tax Ringgit is spent in bailing out unproductive Government Linked Companies and institutions?
Cost of living can be easily brought down, not by price controls but rather, by eliminating monopolies and rent-seeking import licenses, and all sorts of other rent-seeking licenses and approved permits held by middlemen linked to politicians. Corruption must be eliminated at all levels in Government. A more bureaucratic Government only leads to greater prospects for corruption. Fewer and simpler approvals processes to do business create an environment with less corruption. Large projects must be prudently assessed for its long-term economic impact and financial wastage must be eliminated. This calls for political leadership at all levels with integrity and a sense of duty to the nation. There should never be instances of national leaders profiteering from the country.
Elected representatives must fight for the interests of their constituencies and this will require strong engagement with all its communities to determine strategies that can be adopted as well as issues to be raised for resolution at Parliament. We must recognize that only national leaders of integrity at Parliament can exercise their power and influence for the good of the nation. A Member of Parliament must therefore not only work intelligently but must also be seen by the people to do so. Have Malaysia’s elected representatives exercised integrity to do enough for the people? This does not appear to be the case based on what has happened in Malaysia over the past 63 years. Leaders of integrity who will do what is right have instead become a rarity.
We, ordinary Malaysians, must step up and take the mantle of national service and sacrifice for the good of this Nation. We cannot sit idle by the sidelines and continually complain, and repeatedly trust these politicians to change our Nation for the better. We cannot and must not allow our fellow Malaysians to continue to slide into poverty whilst our politicians prosper at our expense. I am taking this firm stand to do what is good and right for my nation.
Taking the Stand