The Malaysian Dilemma

According to World Bank’s data, Malaysia’s GDP in 2019 was US$365 billion and Singapore’s was US$372 billion.

With little fanfare and reportage, the tiny island has already surpassed Malaysia in terms of absolute output. But what is even starker is the per capita GDP.

The population of Malaysia in 2019 was 32 million and Singapore’s population was 5.7 million.

In terms of productivity, that translates to an average Singaporean roughly equals to five Malaysians.

The fact that Singapore can be five times more productive than Malaysia means a lot of Malaysians are simply unproductive. This is no hyperbole. Almost the entire cabinet of Malaysia can be removed and Malaysia would not be worse off.

During the emergency period, a majority of the cabinet did not perform any useful function despite drawing full salaries.

In fact, some may argue, Malaysia would be better off without them. The cabinet is but the tip of an iceberg of a larger malaise.

One does not need to be a rocket scientist to see this situation is unsustainable. Anyone with a modicum of brain function can see what’s coming.

But no one has the courage to bell the cat because to do so would mean all benefits that flow so easily to the majority must cease.

As the situation worsens and becomes direr, the need to reform is greater but the improvement will not come quick enough to incentivise the majority to act.

At least two generations who were raised with silver spoons in their mouth will have to swallow bitter pills before Malaysia can dig itself out of this conundrum.

Any politician who tries to do this or even utters it would be suicidal. Thus perversely, they will be incentivised to extract as much as they can before the impending collapse, further hastening the collapse.

The minorities are also seeing the writings on the wall and will seek to emigrate if they can, again hastening the brain drain.

Once there is not enough minority to support the insatiable largesse, unless you are well-connected, the next in line to be exploited could be you.

The tragedy of Malaysia is that everyone can see the impending abyss, but no one has the will and courage to change course.

Malaysia needs leaders who are fearless to lead and not be led by popular sentiments.

Malaysia offers an object lesson to the world on how easy it is to squander a promising future and descend from being a tiger economy to an also-ran.

S K Wong

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