We don’t need a magic lamp, just capable people at the helm

We don’t expect Pakatan Harapan (PH) to have an Aladdin’s lamp which will instantly resolve our national problems. However, the process must begin sooner rather than later.

My biggest concern is that we are constantly being distracted by unnecessary and unproductive issues which will only further derail our efforts to build a better nation for all.

The government can’t continue reacting to distractions and doing things on a piecemeal basis. It’s time to think short, medium and long-term.

Some of the problems we face as a nation today are daunting, but have we drawn any lessons from Singapore in its early years after seceding from Malaysia?

Singapore then was infested with city slums. It had just suffered racial riots, and was faced with endless union unrest, communist infiltration and high unemployment. It had no viable industry or natural resources of its own. But not only did it survive the initial years, it flourished, becoming one of the world’s richest nations today.

We have to ask hard questions about why Singapore is a zillion years ahead of Malaysia today in terms of everything, from income, standard of living, sophistication, infrastructure, housing and cleanliness to orderliness, public safety, education and governance.

Some may accuse me of being racist for citing the success of Singapore over Malaysia. Such people argue that Malaysia must develop in its own mould. But I don’t care. My whole life through, I have only seen a continuous divergence between the two countries. It’s time the PH government did some catching up.

It’s time we came to terms with our inadequacies and follies. We must put clean, competent and clever people in important positions. Important positions carry with them heavy responsibilities, not just the enjoyment of power. Our tragedy has always been the same: people assigned to important positions based on considerations other than competency and capability.

We can’t create something out of nothing. Whose idea was it that we should develop and build a flying car by year-end? If we know what we don’t know, that is the beginning of wisdom. But if we don’t know what we don’t know, that is a black hole. Those who want to build a flying car might well think that government projects are their “Disneyland”.

We must do things tenaciously, not be distracted by temporary political considerations and distractions. We must put troublemakers in their proper place.

Singapore put clean and competent people in charge from Day One. The PH government must do the same. How can we expect a government to initiate and institute reforms if it has corrupt and incompetent people at the helm? Likewise, how can we expect a wider use of English when those in positions of leadership are totally not proficient in the language?

Singapore has only one public housing agency to meet its needs. Here, meanwhile, we have more housing agencies than houses being built for the lower-income group.

This brings me to my next point. Singapore creates productive jobs – jobs that produce real goods and services that satisfy foreign and domestic demand. We create “fake jobs” – jobs in the civil service and GLCs which produce nothing.

Do we know why our ringgit is forever losing its value against the Singapore dollar? Do we know why our workers can never earn enough to make ends meet? It’s simple: we have too many transfer payments and free lunches going on in the economy. Those who do real work must share with those who do fake work. In Malaysia, our welfare payments are in the form of high salaries to people in the civil service, GLCs and crony companies who do practically nothing.

How do we earn a living when every piece of work is done by foreigners? How do we move up the value chain when our “production function” gravitates towards the skill level and capability of foreign workers? What jobs do our people do when even hawker licences issued to them are leased out to foreigners?

We should accept the reality staring us in the face rather than pretend to continue resolving the symptoms. We do not have an Aladdin’s lamp, but surely we have good and capable people. Time to put them to work.

TK Chua is an FMT reader.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.