Monday, August 2, 2021

Malaysia far from being a failed state

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FORMER Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad celebrated his 96th birthday on July 10, 2021. The Pejuang Presiden prayed that Malaysia will be developed by all parties until it reaches its objective of becoming a developed nation. 

His prayer couldn’t have come at a better time, especially a day after Bloomberg published an article entitled: “Malaysia is staggering down the road to failed statehood.” When he was the fourth Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir  actually postulated Vison 2020 that promise of a modern, industrialised, developed and united Malaysian nation.   

Daniel Moss on Friday argued that political instability, poor management of the Covid-19 pandemic and the white flag movement by Malaysians asking for aid were a sign of the country’s slide.  

“The current intrigues sadly seem far removed from the daily needs of business, finance and even putting food on the table. No country can continue on this course indefinitely and be a model for anything other than dysfunction,” he had said.

What was argued by Moss in terms of the strain in health system, challenges of a social safety net and issues in terms of governance encountered by Malaysia, to be fair and objective, are also encountered by other countries. 

Some weaknesses in the way the government handle the issues  had created a negative perception  and exposed the PN government’s shortcomings. 

But bear in mind, Malaysia has passed the 10 million mark for the number of vaccinations administered to the population as of  July 8, 2021. Covid-19 Vaccine Supply Access Guarantee Special Committee (JKJAV) expects more than 14 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines — from Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Sinopharm’s Sinovac  this month.

Is Malaysia teetering on the brink of collapse or is at the trajectory of becoming one as claimed by the columnist?

You might want to know  examples of failed states and why they failed.

Among the countries that are categorised as failed states are Yaman, Somalia, Syria, South Sudan Selatan, DR Congo, Central African Republic, Chad, Sudan,  Afghanistan and Zimbabwe. Is Malaysia descending into utter chaos in the way encountered by the top ten failed nations?

One thing is for sure. Malaysia is far  from a failure. Based on the ranking by Fragile State Indexs 2021, Malaysia is ranked at 157 out of 179 nations. Obviously, it is not a failed state even though some sceptics and pessimist, will not agree with me.

What is a failed state? What are the criteria that constitutes a failed state? According to  the Oxford dictionary, a failed state is one whose “political or economic system has become so weak that the government is no longer in control”. 

In essence, a failed state is a nation in anarchy with dysfunctional administration system and very low Human Development Index. All the government agencies are still functioning and operating effectively despite certain complaints and weaknesses. 

Malaysia is among the top 25 Most Peaceful Country, currently ranked 20th in the 2020 Global Peace Index  by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) which ranks independent states and territories according to their level of peacefulness. Afghanistan is the least peaceful country in the world for the fourth consecutive year, followed by Yemen, Syria, South Sudan, and Iraq. 

A failed state is a polity that failed or unable to perform the fundamental jobs of a nation-state in the modern world.  According to Wikipedia, a failed state is a state that is unable to perform the two fundamental functions of the sovereign nation-state in the modern world system: it cannot project authority over its territory and peoples, and it cannot protect its national boundaries. 

Failed states have the following characteristics: rise in political and criminal violence, loss of control of borders, no press freedom, rising ethnic, religious and cultural tensions, a civil war against own citizens, weak institutions, food shortages, unemployment rises,  high inflation, GDP falls, and infant mortality rises. 

You may read books like Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James A.Robinson, A Failed State authored by Andrew E.Coussens, Failed State by Noam Chomsky and Fixing Failed States by Ashraf Ghani and Clare Lockhart to understand the real meaning and factors that contributed to  failed states.

Failed states exhibit flawed and weak institutions or there is a tendency by the government to  manipulate or abuse the institution by the government. If legislatures exist at all, they are rubber-stamping machines. 

Democratic debate and discourse is noticeably absent. There is no press freedom and  the government  has the tendency to use and abuse the instruments of hegemony to muzzle the press. 

The judiciary  become the tool of the executive rather than being independent. The is an obvious lack of respect for the doctrine of separation of power.

 Citizens cannot rely on the court system for  redress or remedy, especially against the state. Frankly, are  we in that impasse and quandary at the moment?

Some regarded Malaysia as in an imbroglio with no clear direction and leadership that can salvage us from the current predicament but definitely we are not a failed state albeit the PN government and Malaysia, as any other nations, is not perfect.  Three is room for improvement in many aspects, especially the way we handle Covid-19 pandemic.

We need a government that  can govern and leaders that lead and show us the way during this challenging time. We cannot be in the current quagmire  forever. We have been in this quandary for more than 16 months. 

As I write this article on Monday, the Health Ministry reported  more than 9,000 new Covid-19 cases, a record for the second consecutive day.  According to Worldometers, Malaysia is ranked at 34  in the world in terms of the cumulative number of cases with almost a million cases. 

Now we have no other option and failure is definitely not the option in fighting the battle against the lethal coronavirus. 

That’s why there  is a loud political and social narrative and discourse in social media that the Prime Minister must step down and his position is now untenable. More people loose their jobs, with no income as the number of sucide cases increase on average of four cases per day. With all the negative news, is there light at the end of the tunnel for Malaysia?

We have to admit that the delivery systems, law and order, and the government is still functioning. There is no sign as yet that the system is at the brink of collapse, except probably the health system as the number of Covid-19 cases increase.  

If the number of new daily cases being reported shows no sign of reduction, there is a possibility and risk that the health systems will be paralysed. 

But Malaysia and its government were not paralysed and that public administration was still continuing as per normal.

Yes, we failed to fully achieve  the objectives of Vision 2020  but we have somehow achieved some of the objectives. 

I  do agree that Malaysia should have done better in many aspects, especially in economic growth and education quality. But on the economic front, S & P Global Ratings, had in June 2021 affirmed its “A-” long-term and “A-2” short-term sovereign credit rating of Malaysia. 

In fact, it has also affirmed its “A” long-term local currency rating on the country. In terms of foreign direct investments (FDI), RM80.6 billion worth of investments in the manufacturing, services and primary sectors were approved in the first quarter of this year, a surge of 95.6% from RM41.2 billion a year ago (The Star, June 11, 2021). 

If at all, Malaysia is a failed state, we would not have achieved great improvements in terms of economic growth, including our success in terms of creating T20, M40 pre-Covid-19. 

The majority of our population would have been poor. Remember before 1970, and pre-New Economic Policy, more than half of our population were poor. 

Yes, despite the pandemic and  the various problems that we experienced, the poverty rate remain under 10% out of 33 million population in Malaysia. We reckoned that due to Covid-19 and MCO, the T20 and M40 groups were also economically  and financially affected. 

More than 600, 000 households from the middle 40% (M40) income group have slipped  into the bottom 40% (B40) category as the Covid-19 crisis dented Malaysians’ income level. Against the country’s 7.28 million households, as reported by the Statistics Department for the year 2019, this represents at least 8% of households that have seen incomes drop below the B40 income maximum threshold of RM4, 850 a month.

But does that mean United Kingdom is also a failed state? According to the Guardian, in 2020, about 700,000 UK citizens were driven into poverty due to the pandemic. Just because of a white flag campaign amongst some quarters in the community, does not mean we are down the path of a failed state.

In a nutshell, Malaysia is not on the path of being a failed state despite the current political, health and economic crises we are facing. As Malaysians who love this country, we should  continue working hand in hand to make this nation a great nation, not a failed nation. 

Yes, Malaysia is far from becoming a failed state as claimed by Moss.

DR JENIRI AMIR  is a Senior Fellow of the National Professors Council 

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