On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Malaysia must move on

Things are slowly bouncing back and we must work at strengthening our economy further and getting our confidence back on track.

MALAYSIA needs to go forth. Too much precious time and resources have been wasted on non-stop politicking. We sound like a broken record.

We cannot continue to be a one-issue country, whether we like it or not. Malaysia needs to move forward.

The doomsayers continue to paint everything in a negative light even when the facts show otherwise.

The ringgit is making a bounce back and it has actually become Asia’s best-performing currency this year to date.

It is hovering around 3.88 to the dollar and some of us, especially the doomsayers, just would not admit that at one time, they had predicted that the ringgit would spiral downwards to 5.00 to the dollar.

The price of crude oil is now around US$40 a barrel. No doubt it would never return to US$100 a barrel but at least, it has not gone below US$20 as we feared. The price of crude oil has stabilised and it is indeed good news.

The trouble is that bad news always gets more prominence than good news. It is as if we like to dwell in negativity. Some say it’s a crisis of confidence.

Perhaps, some of us have grown cynical and sceptical. The hearts have hardened, as they say, but the reality is that we have to move ahead.

I agree that some of the good news have not had an immediate impact on the market, especially in instilling consumer confidence.

Many of us continue to question the statistics dished out by the authorities, pointing out that the positive sentiment is not felt on the ground.

The first quarter of 2016 has ended and most companies, which will be announcing their results soon, have already found that the going has been tough and profits have taken a dive, especially on the retail side.

But one small news item must have missed the eyes of most Malaysians. Last week, the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) and the Institute of Management Accountants reported that business confidence in Malaysia had picked up slightly in the first quarter of 2016.

That is certainly welcome news. ACCA said the Global Economic Conditions survey showed that Malaysia’s economy has at least weathered the fall in oil prices better than most big producers, growing by a relatively healthy 4.5% in the fourth quarter of 2015.

It added that “the recovery in prices has helped to stabilise the ringgit, which is important given that Malaysia’s foreign currency-dominated external debt is unusually high”.

The survey showed that the high number of Malaysian companies reporting negative effects from recent currency movements fell from 66% in fourth quarter of 2015 to 48% in the first quarter of this year.

In recent weeks, the local stock market has received the largest capital inflow in South-East Asia and chalked up a bull run.

We do not know if the bull will run out of steam but the momentum is encouraging as it helps to boost confidence.

And while some of us moan about the future of Malaysia, the Chinese government has shown greater trust in us.

It has started buying more Malaysian government securities (MGS) and this inflow of new foreign money could rise to 50 billion yuan (RM30bil) in total, according to International Trade and Industry Minister II Datuk Seri Ong Ka Chuan.

If China were to buy RM30bil worth of MGS, it would mean supporting 8.5% of Malaysia’s debt in the current MGS market. According to Bank Negara’s website, the value of outstanding MGS stood at RM352.06bil as at April 5, 2016.

Meanwhile, it has also been reported that Malaysia’s debt markets saw an inflow of RM11.5bil, versus RM1.4bil of outflow in February. The March foreign inflow was the largest monthly inflow since May 2014, according to a Nomura research note on April 7.

If we were to read certain blogs and social media, we would get the impression that Malaysia is turning into another Zimbabwe or Uganda, and that our grandchildren will soon become maids or labourers in some foreign countries.

But what sets us apart from some of these countries is that our system and vital institutions have remained intact. They may have been tested to the limits but on the whole, they continue to function.

That is important even if some of us refuse to accept it, given the rising political temperature in this country.

We are too quick to condemn, and sometimes we react too fast, especially those in authority. Because of their hyper-sensitivity, they see shadows when there are none.

At the extreme end, it has become fashionable and anyone can become popular by just wielding the stick at the Government.

But credit must be given when credit is due. The past one year has been a terribly difficult one for all of us. In fact, the headwinds continue to be a challenge for most businesses.

But there is a calm sea ahead and Malaysians must grab this opportunity to ensure we chart through the safe waters.

We must accept the fact that the challenge against the Prime Minister and Government has failed. The Citizens’ Declaration has failed and even PKR and PAS have refused to be a signatory to it. The reality is that it is going nowhere.

We must move on and refocus the country’s attention on further strengthening the economy and on the good news about our country.

Malaysia simply cannot afford to have any more self-inflicted wounds. Get the ringgit strengthened further, boost the economy, restore consumer confidence, create more revenue streams as we cannot just rely on oil and commodities. And also, we must keep Malaysia moderate.