By Wong Chen
As I am writing this article on 31st July 2021, a political and pandemic crisis is unfolding. This is not the best of times for our nation. Nevertheless, in fulfilling my duties and responsibilities as your Member of Parliament, I have always tried to take a constructive policy position even as a member of the Opposition in Parliament. For those that follow my social media closely, I don’t have to repeat here my political positions and extreme disappointment regarding the performance of the current administration.
In this article, I will share some of the policy matters that I presented to the Minister of Finance, Senator Tengku Zafrul Aziz about two weeks ago on 14th July 2021. I was asked by the KEADILAN leadership to represent the party and to share our public policy views on the National Recovery Plan. The meeting took place in the MoF office in Putrajaya from 10.30 am to 12 noon.
On the matter of national recovery, I raised and delivered in totality 40 policy recommendations. The following is a summary of the more important policy points that I raised in the said meeting.
I started by stressing that all policies for national recovery must be grounded on the following three core principles:
- The government must be guided by medical science and data;
- The government must be fair to all individuals and groups; and
- The government must be transparent and accountable for its Covid-19 policy implementations and spending.
On public Health, the government has to ensure all public hospitals are properly funded and are able to operate with adequate resources such as ventilators and oxygen tanks. The army must be mobilised to build more temporary field hospitals and the private health sector must be further incentivised to treat more COVID-19 patients or alternatively take on more non-Covid patients from public hospitals.
The government must hire and train more para-medical, clerical and administrative staff to support public health doctors and nurses. The private sector must be fully engaged to help carry out vaccinations via clinics and medical centres to further speed up the vaccination process. Acknowledging successes in Sarawak, more mobile vaccination teams should be deployed for rural and semi-rural areas. There must also be a stricter clampdown of corrupt practices and queue jumping in the vaccination program to shore up public confidence in the program.
On data and science, the government has to publish monthly granular Covid-19 reports and increase our genome testing capability. Protocols and the promotion of pool testing need to increase exponentially as well as mass testing and contact tracing capacity.
On the economy, I advised the government to move to a risk based classification and build the data collection infrastructure for risk assessment now and then back it by frequent periodic mass testing of industries and services. I also pushed for job protection via wage subsidy to stop insolvencies and unemployment. Lesser of a priority is the continued promotion and enabling work from home (WFH) programs, where internet bills and the purchase of computers for work should be subsidised. For those who are required to work in offices and factories, more incentives need to be given for redesigning workspaces with better ventilation. More focus and resources are needed on the plight of the migrant workforce on their working conditions and living quarters, to stop hotspots from developing.
On financial stability and fiscal needs, I urged the government to report periodically on banking, moratorium effectiveness, and means to boost investors’ confidence. On education and economic scarring, the government must quickly address the issue of jobs for fresh graduates and prioritise physical teaching for students facing crucial examinations. The government must improve remote learning for all, with a fair distribution of computers and tablets, and subsidised internet access.
On the budget and fiscal policy front, I stressed that the government has to account for all monies spent during the Emergency and reveal how much fiscal injection is needed for 2021. The government must disclose the state of MGS, the risk profile of foreign exposure to our bonds, and answer if we need to increase our external borrowings ceiling. I also urged the government to direct BNM to do a detailed study on a short term, Covid specific quantitative easing program and to report the pros and cons of the same to Parliament. I also urged the government to focus on distributional issues and prioritising in the following order; wage subsidy, direct cash transfer and lastly, outright grants.
Lastly, I provided the following guidelines and recommendations on the implementation process. The Emergency must end immediately and that a more inclusive approach is needed to implement a proper national recovery. Full transparency and accountability need to be instilled in the recovery plan with frequent Parliament sittings to provide checks and balances. The government must form a joint select committee of equal government and opposition MPs to monitor the implementation of the recovery plan. I also argued that the federal government must move to empower and finance state and local governments to do more in terms of welfare, mass testing and contact tracing so that effective and localised measures are deployed.
The minister was happy to receive my notes and recommendation. I am thankful for his time and candour. However, the bottom line is this. While I am willing to constructively suggest policies to my political opponents, for the sake of bettering the country, I remain unconvinced that the other side will actually meet me half way. In the meantime as the political crisis continues, I urge my constituents to pray for change.