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Projecting economic uncertainty

THERE seems to be a raging debate as to whether the new Pakatan Harapan (PH) Federal Government should go on with a seemingly endless expose of alleged corruption scandals involving the preceding Barisan Nasional (BN) government.

It does appear that even within PH, there are two minds over the controversy, as revealed by Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng saying that his ongoing expose has the blessings of Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, in a direct response to words of caution from Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to Lim.

To be sure, public accountability dictates that the new administration must identify and pursue cases of financial and other improprieties, especially as it got elected over voter disquiet about just such improprieties.

But the sooner the government sees fit to let the normal course of law and justice take over, the better, lest public suspicions start growing that it is simply bent on political vendetta. That will be regrettable in and of itself but even more so if it comes at the expense of full energy being devoted to the routine business of government and perhaps the equally pressing need to bolster economic and investor confidence at a time of grave uncertainty both at home and internationally.

Coming to two months after the general election, we have yet to get a full cabinet line-up in place, a fact that is itself not the most reassuring sign of a government united in purpose and intent to pursue its work on the people’s behalf.

Even as we speak, foreign fund managers are pulling money out of our market, giving ours the dubious distinction now of being the worst-performing in the region.

Local corporations with public contracts are largely being held in abeyance as major projects are either being scrapped or in the process of being re-negotiated. That is if they are lucky to have their fates definitively pronounced upon.

Other major projects are not as lucky. One such project is the Pan-Borneo Highway (PBH) in Sarawak. Although Sarawak PH leader Chong Chieng Jen had earlier said it would go on, he was speaking as a political, not a government, leader.

Given that this is the single largest Federal Government public project ever in Sarawak, it is saddening that Putrajaya has, till now, not found time to categorically affirm that the project proceeds, as many expect it will be — given how much work has already been undertaken and all the packages involved awarded (unlike in the case of the Sabah portion of the same project).

Ironically, if there is one major project awarded by the previous government that can stand up fairly well to public and independent scrutiny, the Sarawak PBH project is arguably one. It had been subject to some surprisingly rigorous and stringent oversight that public perceptions of the previous government suggest it is incapable of. In the greater public (and national) interest, Putrajaya should therefore not delay further in saying this project can and will proceed as planned.

The finance minister announced last week that the Tun Razak Exchange (TRX) project — a controversial project given that its link to the 1MDB scandal has now been officially confirmed — will proceed as otherwise the government will only incur even greater losses.

The PBH in Sarawak, unlike TRX, has long been anticipated by the people in Sarawak and can be a real catalyst for its economic growth going forward. Both, incidentally, come under the purview of the Ministry of Finance. It surely would have provided far greater political optics for the ministry to prioritise giving official certainty to the fate of the highway project over that of TRX, a project that may only add a surfeit of office space to an already saturated office-building market in the federal territory.

Going full-speed ahead with the PBH in Sarawak with minimal hiccups despite the change in Federal Government will send encouraging signals to the business community and the public at large (particularly in Sarawak) that politics is indeed not an overriding consideration as PH goes about the business of running the country.

It should also prove comforting to those in Sarawak still doubtful that despite assurances, cooperation between the PH national government and the non-PH state government will proceed smoothly in instances where interests benefiting the people are indisputable.

The new government is surely only helping itself by showing that it rewards professionalism, give or take some lapses, provided these are minor, of course.


The writer views developments in the nation, the region and the wider world from his vantage point in Kuching, Sarawak

Source: New Straits Times