By Sarawakian

The year of the Wooden Dragon begins its reign from 10th February 2024 this year. The rabbit will leave and will only return on the 12th year from this year. We hope that the wood dragon will bring in better prospects for the country and level headedness.

It is also understood that for each of the 12 Chinese Zodiacs: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig has 5 elements: wood, fire, earth, metal and water. In the case of the wooden dragon, this wood element and zodiac like any other combination would occur every 60 years.

In Malaysia, 2023 has been a year without much political turmoil as the rakyat requires more attention from the Government in helping with the tough economic conditions. Our exchange rate vs the US dollar has reached RM4.70 to 1USD and if we compare with Singapore and Australia, it is at RM3.50 to 1 SGD or RM3.10 to 1AUD. This data is a snapshot at the point of writing.

The exchange rate would make travelling overseas expensive and the costs of imports to surge. We are also going to be dealing with the increase in SST from 6% to 8% for selected goods and services as what the Budget 2024 revealed. This would however not be applicable for food and beverages and telecommunications as these are considered essential items. There are also signs of the definition to be expanded to cover logistics, underwriting, brokerage and karaoke. The exact mechanism to date is still unknown though the implementation date is slated for 1 March 2024.

There is also a high value goods tax or HVGT (previously known as luxury goods tax) to be implemented from 1 May 2024 and would attract between 5-10% rates. This would affect shopping of luxury goods for those who are not in the high-income bracket but would likely not affect those in the high income group.

However, the Government is adamant to do a targeted method for taxations instead of bringing back the GST. This is likely done to protect those in the lower income group for now and help reduce the gap.

On the tourism side, the tourist arrivals have started to improve with the top 4 countries being Singapore, China, Indonesia and Thailand. The numbers have yet to match 2019 but the efforts made to encourage tourism has to be acknowledged. The recent announcement for visa free travel from China and India up to 30 days and valid till the end of 2024 would definitely drive inbound tourism.

The Kuala Lumpur International Airport 1 is seeing lots of physical improvements as well as retail offerings. It is so nice nowadays to see local heroes helm the F&B scene. You can get our local favourites Jibby Chow and Grandmama’s at the passenger terminal and Kitchen by Open House at the public terminal. These highlight Malaysia’s food and beverage proudly.

It is understood that in Kota Kinabalu, the major tourist arrivals were from South Korea and China. Many are flocking to Kota Kinabalu and have started to discover Sandakan and Lahad Datu. In Kuching, the reliance on few direct flights meant that the pace was slower than in Kota Kinabalu but nevertheless, medical tourism seems to boom in Sarawak. This is driven by the Indonesians coming in from Kalimantan to seek medical care.

I believe that tourism would be improving this year as more would want to come by especially with the lower exchange rate. But this should not be the main driving factor. Otherwise, we would relegate ourselves to being just reliant on being exchange inferior. We should improve our products and campaigns so that our tourism plan would work better. It is not conducive if we have some idiots who are in office talking nonsense about clothing and food.

On the political side, there is a need to focus on the unity of the people who come from diverse backgrounds. Too often for the past 2-3 years we have been manipulated by unscrupulous characters in office for their own agenda. There is no loyalty to the cause to some as they are only loyal to power. These characters must never be allowed back in office.

We do not want to hear about anymore “moves.” The Sheraton Move was a revelation and should be the last we ever get to experience. That was a coup and an assault on the rakyat’s votes. The last we heard was a “Dubai” move where some even said that the Sarawak Premier would step down and become the next PM. This was swiftly clarified and rejected as something sinister by the Premier himself.

This would be the beginning of the 2nd year of the current Government’s term. Let us look forward to more progressive politics and a sure effort for keeping peace. This has got to start with the MPs and ADUNs themselves. They must learn from the past and better behave for the future.

In Sarawak, we have a new Governor this year as the last Governor has completed his mandatory term. We also have a new Yang di-Pertuan Agong this year. We hope that the year of the Wooden Dragon brings us a more creative and vigour in the way our country is run.

We all would have made our own resolutions for the year and hope to achieve at least a good percentage of what we set out to do by the end.

Here is wishing everyone a Happy Chinese New Year 2024! Kong Hee Fatt Choy!