Goodbye 2023 and a Happy New Year 2024

By Wong Chen

My dear constituents of Subang,

This is an article to mark the year end. Like some of you, I have been spending a good amount of time reflecting on 2023 and planning for 2024. I have also been resting more in this last two weeks of the year end, spending more time with my family.

The year 2023 has come to an end. It was a political watershed year which started with a lot of hope and ended as a year of mixed results. From my perspective, the year 2023 will be remembered as a year of political compromises and some missteps. In Parliament, where MPs are in charge, we had a good run of reforms but we did not deliver on the fundamental Parliamentary Services Act bill. Hopefully, we can complete that major reform in 2024.

At the government level, I have received a torrent of disappointed notes and complaints. It was indeed a year preoccupied by the government’s need to seek political stability at all costs. So much so that, reforms were effectively put on the back burner. Now that the Unity Government has solidified its coalition and talks of a political coup have very much receded, 2024 holds better hope of reforms. The reforms needed for the rakyat are simple; anti-corruption and good governance at all levels of government. To be fair to the government, we have seen some notable reforms in 2023 such as the passing of the Fiscal Responsibility Act and human rights reforms on prisons and the death penalty. However, in the larger reform agenda, these reforms are a relatively minor start.

On the economy, I think we still have challenges ahead in 2024, and at a reduced level. I would say that the global economic problems has in December 2023, reached its peak or near peak. Next year, we should see by the 2nd quarter, a return to lower interest rates and the easing of inflationary pressures at the global level. However persistent conflicts in Ukraine and Palestine, may continue to disrupt international trade and widen the ongoing trade war. Malaysia has to be acutely aware of the geo-political nuances and do our very best to protect our economic interests.

For Malaysia, the rakyat in 2023 have been somewhat partially shielded from the full force of economic and inflationary pains suffered elsewhere. Yes, the cost of your hawker noodles and milo have gone up, but elsewhere in the vast majority of the rest of the world, the price rises have been significantly higher.  This lower inflation rate is largely due to the high level of subsidies, in particular for petrol and cooking oil, deployed and paid for by the government.

However, these subsidies, which is estimated to be RM90 billion in 2023, are unsustainable and contributes directly to the ever-growing national debt. If we continue this trajectory of subsidies, we will only be dooming the next generations; your children and grandchildren to a death debt spiral. To prevent this scenario from happening, in 2024, the government is committed to supporting subsidies for the B60 but will impose some subsidy rationalisation for the rest. We await to see how extensive and deep the rationalisation will be. To power this rationalisation, the government will be rolling out PADU, a centralised database to enable targeted subsidies.

While the government will be asking the middle and upper class rakyat to pay their fairer share on subsidies, this can only be viewed as fair and workable if the government itself is committed to fighting corruption and increase good governance.  Hence these economic reforms need to be reciprocated by political reforms. As your MP, I am fully aware of this unspoken “quid pro quo” and as such, I will continue to pressure my government on reforms in Parliament in 2024.

Lastly, on a personal front, I don’t remember having experienced a similar year, like 2023. I have never been busier in my official capacity as your Member of Parliament. My Parliamentary works as (a) the Chairman of the Parliament Special Select Committee for International Relations and International Trade, (b) the Asia Pacific Representative of the Inter-Parliamentary Union Working Group on Science and Technology, and (c) the Chairman of Malaysian Chapter of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, provide me volumes of varied diplomatic and policy work, and take me overseas on a frequent basis. My two other chairmanships; All Party Parliamentary Group for Political Financing, and Malaysia Debt Ventures (MDV), also keep me super pre-occupied with other work.

Of the lot, my appointment into MDV was a good departure from pure legislative and political work. It has in fact, awakened and sharpened my dormant corporate skills. I was previously a corporate lawyer prior to being an MP. My short experience in MDV (since June 2023) has provided me a real-world working platform to better understand the renewable energy and technology sector. This is fortuitous, as Malaysia will embark on the National Energy Transition Roadmap (NETR) in 2024. This fundamental policy will put Malaysia on track to fight climate change and transition our economy to be more sustainable.

Lastly, I will end this article by asking for your continued patience in government reforms. I am hopeful that we will see more reforms and economic growth in the year 2024. I will continue to do my best in Parliament and serve you without fear or favour. Wishing all a happy and prosperous 2024 ahead.