Having lived here for almost two years, I can safely say Singapore is not only rich but well managed.
Despite widespread construction, its roads remain clean, green, and remarkably pothole-free. Better yet, crime is negligible, and the streets are safe at any hour.
Its public housing projects – where over 60 per cent of people reside – are attractive, landscaped, and free from the incipient grot that characterise most public housing in Malaysia or, the West.
And things work. The buses and trains run on time. And water disruptions of the frequency and magnitude witnessed in the Klang Valley the last two years, were last felt by Singaporeans in the 1960s!
Indeed, heads would have rolled had the same thing happened here in Singapore. But we continue to accept inept management because we have become inured to mediocrity. Simply put, we’re accustomed to it.
Why am I going on like this?
Well, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasts, Vietnam’s GDP in 2020 was estimated to have reached US$340.6 billion, exceeding that of Singapore with US$337.5 billion and Malaysia with US$336.3 billion.
This makes Malaysia the sixth largest economy among the Association of Southeast Asian Nations ahead only of Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Brunei.
How the mighty have fallen!
In the 60s, Malaysia was the largest economy in the region but by the 90s, I became used to describing the country as “Southeast Asia’s second largest economy” after Indonesia.
And what about The Philippines, perennially the region’s “sick man?” Not any more, it seems, glass houses and all that.
In fact, the IMF estimated The Philippines’ GDP to have reached US$367.4 billion, while Thailand will remain way ahead with its US$509.2 billion GDP.
The elephant in the room is undoubtedly Indonesia with the IMF predicting that it became a US$1,088.8 billion economy in 2020.
What are we to make of these trends?
The only conclusion we can reach about Malaysia is that we seem to have been in “decline mode” for some time. The pandemic merely served to hasten the process.
How else are we to explain our gradually declining economic status in the region?
To what do we ascribe the continuing deterioration of our currency, the ringgit, and the steady build-up of our national debt?
Why is there a worrying pull-out of foreign investment from Malaysia to other places like Indonesia, Singapore or Vietnam?
These are the facts and they are irrefutable. If we are to connect the dots, we have to conclude that out policy makers, our leaders, have failed us, and are continuing to do so. We simply seem to be doing something wrong.
Penalising successful companies by extra taxes simply results in seriously escalating tax avoidance methodology.
And taxing those who bring money back from abroad will inevitably result in them creating offshore accounts.
Neither is anything gained from nit-picking matters of morality, drinking, gambling, et absurdum. It irritates everyone including investors who might wonder why the same care and concern isn’t directed at, say, corruption or public waste and profligacy?
What’s needed are bold measures. Scrap fuel subsidies and impose a tax on fuel instead. That will be green and bring in money in a hurry!
The world – both governments and companies – is marching to a different drum nowadays. And future outcomes will be judged against how they stack up against environmental, social and governance yardsticks, the so-called ESG standards. Dyson’s recent booting out of a Malaysian supplier over alleged labour issues is a case in point.
We will have to measure up or risk abdicating the future.