The dreadful performance of the Malaysian ringgit and a listless economy underperforming its potential are not merely depressing news but have caused Malaysians plenty of pain.
And yet, the most senior civil servant in the Finance Ministry, arguably a most powerful one, the treasurer-general, insisted that all is well, and what is wrong is only “a matter of perception”.
“I go to restaurants and supermarkets, who are there? People are buying and travelling. Some group of people are making noise as though the whole country is in trouble,” Irwan Serigar quipped at a press conference yesterday.
We are stunned that the treasurer-general thinks that just because there are people in restaurants and people are still visiting the supermarkets for the daily needs, everything’s fine and dandy with the economy.
Does he expect all Malaysians to be jobless and living in the streets begging for food before he would recognise that the economy is in trouble?
According to him, the plummeting of the ringgit was a short-term phenomenon that would recover in the middle-term following the measures taken by Bank Negara Malaysia.
However, isn’t that exactly what the ministers and Bank Negara have been telling Malaysians annually over the past 4 years as the ringgit lost more than 40 percent of its value against the dollar? How can it still be a short-term problem when we are consistently the worst performer among the major regional currencies for each of the past few years?
Printing good news the solution?
Worse, the latest Nikkei Malaysia purchasing manager’s index (PMI) clearly cited that our manufacturing production has been shrinking for 21 consecutive months, with no signs of improvement.
The PMI is derived from indicators for new orders, output, employment, suppliers’ delivery times and stocks of purchases.
How can Irwan continue to insist that all is well when our manufacturing performance is so pathetic, despite the fact that our substantially depreciated currency should have made our goods so much cheaper and competitive?
The biggest shocker from the press conference however, is the fact that he believed that all the negative perception arising from the problems with the economy would be righted and vanished immediately once the media publishes his “all is well and good” assurance.
He told the media to contribute to the ringgit appreciation through positive reports about the currency and economy. “Hopefully, when you publish today’s briefing, the ringgit will be strengthened,” said Irwan.
How we Malaysians can renew our hopes on the economy when we have such a hopeless treasury-general is beyond me.
Bankrupt of ideas
Irwan Serigar’s refusal to address and resolve the issues surrounding the tens of billions of ringgit which have allegedly been siphoned from the Finance Ministry subsidiaries, 1MDB and SRC International, which made Malaysia an infamous kleptocratic capital of the world is one thing.
After all, he is not the first person you would accuse of being “cari makan” (just making a living).
However, his woeful attempt to wave away our economic misery with his magic wand without recognising the problems we face and without offering any concrete measures to remedy the situation, proves beyond doubt that the Najib Abdul Razak administration is completely bankrupt of ideas.
In order to have any chance of reviving our currency and economy, the Najib administration must be replaced, and there is no better time than the impending general election.
TONY PUA is DAP national publicity secretary and Petaling Jaya Utara MP.