2/2016 – What a bizarre start to 2016!
by Tan Thiam Hock
Saturday, 9 January 2016
JUST when you think we have gotten over a weird ending to the year 2015, I would dare predict that this year will be more weird and more bizarre.
For the first time in my life, my luggage will definitely arrive later than my body if I travel to Europe on our national airline. Since I have been pre-warned, I would have to pack an extra pair of briefs and change of clothes in my 7 kg cabin bag, which means I will have no space for my laptop, files and snacks. That is assuming my luggage arrive on time the next day.
If you think this is bizarre, our civil service servants will be cooking lunch in their pejabat if our Domestic Trade Minister has his ways. I believe instant mobile kitchen suppliers will make a killing rushing out instant burners, woks and chopping boards.
His title should be renamed to Domestic Minister to reflect another innovative idea of beating inflation and high cost of living.
Then you have our Agriculture Minister setting up digital malls and innovative supply chain by adding an additional wholesale layer in a thin margin business. Granted, selling handphones is similar to selling vegetables and kangkungs nowadays, digital business will soon become a perishable business in no time.
Bear with me… as I am considered a dinosaur in this digital world, I am trying to make sense of all that is happening at breakneck speed around me. To put things into perspective, I will try to recall the past and compare with the present for your kind consideration.
Back in the 1960s and 1970s, our 5-year economic plans were structured based on our needs, our strengths and our capabilities. The Agriculture Minister then focused on expanding our rubber and palm oil plantations, first to offer employment to our rural citizens and to develop our natural competitive strength. This was followed into the eighties with an aggressive manufacturing policy based on electronics and agri-based industries.
The result was a fast-expanding manufacturing workforce and we became world leading exporters of rubber and palm oil which lead to exports of finished goods such as oleo chemicals and rubber products. The Trade Minister then looked after international and domestic trade. Our Mexpo (export agency under the Trade Ministry) now known as Matrade blazed the export drive helping our fledging exporters to sell all over the world.
Our Trade Minister then, Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz was feared by the international community for her tough and uncompromising negotiation skills. Malaysia stood proud and was identified as an Asian Tiger together with Taiwan and South Korea, one of the fastest growing trading nation in the world.
The government then work hand in hand with entrepreneurs to build industries and markets. Bank Negara was instrumental in setting up a sound financial system with good regulatory discipline. Our legal system based on the common law provided the confidence for foreign investors to invest in our country. The police force provided neutral protection and security to the nation. Malaysia was certainly on its way up the economic ladder and became a shining beacon of how a multi-racial country can live peacefully and thrive as a nation.
Back in the eighties, venture capital and private equity was unheard of. The only source of funding for entrepreneurs was from the banks. Just ask all the rich tycoons how the banks have helped them build their business empire. I am forever grateful to Bangkok Bank and UOB Bank for their financial support in those early trying years.
Prosper thy neighbours and thou shall prosper together. That’s how banks grew and that’s how entrepreneurs grew. The government working hand in hand with entrepreneurs and that’s how Malaysia grew. Common interest. Common objectives. And just plain common sense.
Now fast forward to the present Malaysia. The government via the GLCs compete with entrepreneurs in all sectors of the economy. The government has become the biggest investment holding and commercial company in the country. In fact in 1MDB, it has become the largest property agent in the country making extraordinary profits for the benefit of the country.
Race-based political parties breed race-based policies which further raise racial issues. Throw religion into the mix and we have a potent potion brewing at boiling point overflowing into a river of discontent. The common people are perplexed and confused. Nothing makes sense anymore. No common interest. No common objectives and definitely no common sense left.
My advice to young entrepreneurs is simple. You face the crossroads and you have to decide. The easiest route is to join the political business bandwagon but do be warned that it is a crowded bus. You might be lucky enough to get a morsel or two.
Since government business is big business nowadays, even leftovers on the sidewalk might be lucrative reward for your endeavours.
Or you can go on your own. No political baggage or handouts. Definitely no donations. But do be warned that it is a route fraught with hardships and uneven competition. Your empty pockets are filled with pride. No worries if the bank ignores you. There is always venture capital and daddy’s capital. Your mum will ensure you have a roof over your head and food on the table.
No worries if you are not successful at your first try. You can always find a job. Or two. With the high cost of living, you must be prepared to work twice as hard to make ends meet. If it gets really desperate for you, move into your parents room and Airbnb your room for additional income. Or you can become a Uber driver using your mum’s car. Or do both.
So don’t be surprised if you find too many Ubers plying the midnight shift. They are just officers from the Trade Ministry following the advice of their ministers. Welcome to the new bizarre world circa 2016.