By Salahuddin bin Hisham
HE may have made a wrong call early last year to expect oil prices to bounce back to US$65-70 per barrel for the rest of 2015.
At one time, the market could tumble the moment he uttered the word “overbought”.
When former Finance Minister Tun Daim Zainuddin speaks, people do still listen.
Whether it was in response to his comments or already on the drawing board or a question of timing, the government had acted on Daim’s past comments.
In The Edge’s special feature on Saturday, Daim called on government to address the chronic trust deficit facing the nation.
Sinar Harian published the Malay translation on Sunday.
Daim has often been described as an enigma. With the migration of former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to opposition politics, it needs the latest and most sophisticated enigma machine to decipher Daim.
So it is better to stick to economics and take his written word in good faith.
Daim attributed the deficit trust to corruption, empathy and inability to oversee the economy. In other words, he believes in the government initiative but some aspects of implementation is problematic.
Pursuing corruption is always a tricky bit. Getting more caught should mean more effective anti-corruption measures.
On the flip side, it can be interpreted to indicate more corruption. Now that the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) is faced with budget cuts and understaffing in key areas, corruption should subside.
Daim questioned the spending of half a billion ringgit to build Taman Tugu at a time when the rakyat are feeling the economic pinch.
If that is the issue with empathy, the government should prioritise.
Daim’s main concern then has to do with the government’s confidence-building statements.
It was viewed as being in denial of current and impending problems with debt – government and households, the US economy, graduate unemployment, and insufficient high-skilled jobs.
In February 2015, Daim described the economic crisis as the elephant in the room. Najib was accused of the same in-denial mode.
As Executive Director of the NEAC to undertake the National Economic Recovery Plan, he claimed the government released timely, accurate and coordinated economic data to revive domestic and international confidence.
The government did just that and more.
Business confidence, expectations and perception are difficult areas to ascertain. However, it is part and parcel of applied and theoretical economics. It needs to be managed.
Negative news, be it true or false, attracts public attention. Unlike during Daim’s day, negative news today can easily get viral on social media into individuals’ smartphones.
That has contributed immensely to the trust deficit.
Good corporate communications or public relations may not be enough.
Stakeholders’ engagement approach to stem the problem at source should be explored.
Stakeholder engagement is the process by which an organisation involves people who may be affected by the decisions it makes or can influence the implementation of its decisions.
Allowing stakeholders with a say, influence and input in decisions will attract buy-in.
In his writing, Daim suggested the assembling of a new team similar to NEAC, and secondly, to rid off feudalism mindset.
Dr Mahathir tried the second but within a couple of years as Prime Minister, he demanded loyalty to the party leader and not to question the government too much.
He could have achieved it by tolerating dissent and allowing for civil liberties.
In agreement with Daim, forming a new team is an easier solution. Apparently, Najib heeded his suggestion early last year to form a Special Economic Committee in August 2015.
The team, which comprised captains of industries and top government officials, completed their task and submitted their recommendations to the government in March 2016. The committee is now dormant and can be replaced.
When asked for his response to Daim’s first suggestion, Minister of Finance II Dato Johari Ghani was reluctant to comment.
As part of stakeholders’ engagement, Daim could offer his list of names of people he described as “professionals with high technical skills, are efficient and dare to speak the truth (and trusted by both rakyat/investors)…”
To help the government gain trust and confidence, Daim should make the list transparent so that the necessary public scrutiny can be undertaken.