“The unity government must not relent on reforms”

Letter to Editor

ECONOMY Minister Rafizi Ramli was recently reported as saying that his ministry is drafting a specific law to curb the “rent-seeking” culture in Malaysia’s business and economic structure.

He also astutely pointed out that such practises create a sense of injustice and dissatisfaction in the community.

It is likewise heartening to note that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in March 2023 that the unity government was reviewing all existing monopolies in the country to ensure that the rakyat enjoys fair and better services.

These are all the right optics. Reform must start with a willingness to consider it, notwithstanding the cynicism of some Malaysians.

Although it is far from perfect, the unity government’s willingness to undertake reform and resoluteness to stay the course, compared with its predecessors, is a breath of fresh air.

There must be no let-up in reforms, regardless of what the outcome of the upcoming polls in six states is. This has to be kept in mind because it is often easy for reforms to get sidetracked. This happens in every country in the world.

However, the Anwar administration should also realise that its desire to review all existing monopolies would hit on a raw nerve among those with vested interests and they will waste no time derailing such efforts.

What’s even more insidious is that these attempts are often sugar-coated with assurances like, “It’s okay to create new monopolies. Your government is different from your predecessors. Your administration will be able to monitor things better.”

Our leaders may be cajoled “not to rock the boat”, told that they need to be “business friendly” and “not to scare investors away.” These are merely coded references for inertia and avoiding any confrontation, often to the benefit of those with vested interests.

Anwar and his Cabinet members should not fall for such sweet talk and fear-mongering but wise up to see through these sinister moves for what they truly are. Monopolies and rent-seeking should be combated with the utmost fervour.

The aspirations of Anwar and Rafizi are on point. Malaysians are often disadvantaged by monopolistic practises and other market distortions that should have gone the way of the dinosaurs years ago.

Moreover, it didn’t help that notions like “market forces” and “competition” often get a bad rap these days—especially in countries like ours whose brand of capitalism has unfortunately often hurt the public good.

But it is also true that in some cases, especially those I highlighted above, the free market is best for all concerned. This is especially true when it comes to staples. The way forward should be to open up and free the market rather than clamping down further.

Look at how for instance, there is always angst over the price and supply of commodities such as sugar or flour or cooking oil.

Furthermore, monopolies tend to be detrimental as a whole (though there are exceptions, such as the British National Health Service) and the government must avoid replacing the current slate of distortions with alternatives that are just as bad, if not worse.   “Madani Monopolies” are just as bad as the real thing.

The price of inertia is profoundly damning if we understand what is at stake. Rafizi was right that rent-seeking causes anger in our society. The anger will turn to rage and become a cancer that will metastasize if nothing is done to address such wrongs.

When that happens, our leaders may find themselves confronting worse “foes” than their political rivals—as the centre-left and centre-right leaders in Europe and America are starting to find out. Public interests must always come first.

Anwar, Rafizi and the unity government should trust their instincts in this matter. There must be no let-up in the reform process. It’s time to deliver! – June 30, 2023


Jonathan Fernandez
Kulai, Johor

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

 Main photo credit: The Sun Daily

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