Everyday Matters: No time to be lazy

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VERY. “It’s a lazy word, Dad,” admonishes my youngest daughter, who is apparently enjoying her stint in Bristol, England. “You should avoid using it — the word ‘very’. You are not very tired, you are exhausted; you are not very, very sad, you are miserable! Let’s not be lazy, Dad.”

Her comment came after I sent her an early (very early) draft of this article, inking my experience during the recent floods that washed away most East Coast states. I guess I was lazy. I used the word “very” repeatedly for emphasis. I have decided not to use that word.

I wanted my first article for the year to be poignant and impactful and …  you get the picture. Be that as it may, it was hard to be optimistic about 2015 from my vantage point. The recent floods that ravaged our East Coast states have caused untold damage. The impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of fellow Malaysians and the local economy is immense. The great clean-up of cities, towns and villages are just beginning. There is a lot to be done. It is a (very) heavy burden for the nation.

But there are things in the offing that should raise our hopes for the new year. It is not all sadness and despair. Yes Eleena dear, the glass is always half full.

First, 2015 will welcome the latest Bond movie and a Star Wars sequel — my favourites. Entertainment is always good for the people, but I digress. There are more important issues to discuss.

Take the global economy for example. The economies of the US, the UK and the stronger parts of Europe are moving ahead at a decent pace and that is good. Their economic engines thirst for imports from Asia and Africa and that demand should underpin stability, if not growth, for regional economies. Malaysia’s export-oriented economy will benefit.

The US, in particular, will have a bigger sway over global geopolitics as it takes over as the world’s largest producer of oil, thanks to improved technologies in shale oil production. Some are projecting that its oil pre-eminence will continue until the 2050s. With Russia pushed to the economic sidelines, it will be Pax Americana all over again. Again, a win for free enterprise.

Asian giant Japan is in no immediate danger of slipping into a recession and that is good too. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s pledge to banish deflation is beginning to roll. Markets are hailing his monetary easing as a triumph and Japan’s economy is expected to ride on that crest. We rejoice in the economic stability a resuscitated Japan engenders.

China’s growth has been a focus of attention in recent times. Its lowered economic growth projection of 7% for 2015 is still decent by any standard. Its wide-ranging changes such as freeing interest rates, loosening the hold of state-run monopolies and relaxing the flow of money across borders bode well for the economy and region.

The country’s version of autocratic modernisation has long claimed to be better at long-term planning than its neighbours. The poor have surged forward much quicker than their counterparts in India. It is no wonder that India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is keen to learn from China.

India’s most dominant premier in living memory is well-placed to lead his nation’s economy forward. Modi’s economic success in Gujerat when he was chief minister now has a wider platform to perform and impress.

In short, the world economy, led by a resurgent US, should grow a little bit faster than it did in 2014. And that is (very, very) encouraging.

Closer to home, a recent Economist Intelligence Unit study ranked Malaysia as the 20th best environment to do business in 2015 to 2019. It is ahead of the UK (21st), Japan (22nd) and Thailand (34th). Singapore and Switzerland lead the ranking.

In our myopia and the desire by a noisy few to run down the government, we fail to see the strides we have accomplished on the global front. A shame, really, as there are (very) encouraging signs that Malaysia is one big, boisterous family.

We may quarrel and take digs at one another but one thing is (very) clear: Malaysians feel for one another — a citizen’s pain is shared by many. The disaster that was the Big Flood of 2014 united us as never before. Malaysians from all walks of life contributed in cash, kind and effort to alleviate the sufferings of fellow Malaysians in affected areas.

I see hope reawakened and I am encouraged. We risk being left behind as a nation if we continue to bicker and fight. No more of this for 2015. Please?

As for the government, there is still a lot to be done. Fundamentally, the challenge for our government is to imbue confidence. Whether it is the private sector, foreign investors or even the public, the government must make a convincing case that Malaysia’s potential is more than just hype.

Our leaders must work (very, very) hard to regain and retain the trust of the people as we seek to rebuild parts of our nation, the global faith in Malaysia and Malaysians. It is time for all of us to roll up our sleeves and get down to business. The year 2015 is no time to be lazy.

Zakie Shariff is a director of a stockbroking company and co-founder of hCap Associates

This article first appeared in Forum, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on January  12 - 18, 2015.