Peace is not merely the absence of war any more than normalcy is the absence of crisis. The real currency in the face of crisis is resilience, defined as the effective capacity to be impacted by a crisis and survive in a sustainable manner well into the future.
It is no wonder that the current Minister of Finance, Tengku Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz, chose “Resilient as One, Together we Triumph” as the theme of his maiden budget to give credence to the gravity of the task at hand, coupled with a catchy “6R approach of Resolve, Resilience, Restart, Recovery, Revitalise and Reform”.
The question is, will the recent budget tick all the boxes and set a strategic direction for the economy to grow, while empowering those who will lead the economic recovery and assisting those hit hardest by the crisis?
Stakeholder engagement is a key component of crisis management and the fact that this government has done unpresented levels of stakeholder engagement with the public, business associations, NGOs and political groups shows that they have ticked that box. However, in the context of COVID-19 and the 2021 Budget, public opinion will be important but does not necessarily solve the problem at hand.
Resolute leadership, determination and the ability to make strategically correct decisions are imperative. One such strategic shift is the realisation that Internet connectivity is the third public utility after water and electricity.
Access to the Internet will bring positive change to those hit hardest by the COVID-19 crisis, including rural communities and the disadvantaged urbanites as it will give access to information needed to improve quality of life. At the same time, it will create access to global markets for entrepreneurs and SME’s regardless of where they are in the country.
If spent properly, the RM7.4 billion allocated for broadband over the next two years will go a long way in creating access to the global digital economy for all Malaysians. Access to broadband has to be the new baseline in the approach to resilience at the community and corporate levels. This should be coupled with a rapid adoption of e-Government to allow people to stay home and fully embrace the future of digital lifestyle.
Looking ahead, the first quarter of 2021 will be critical; the economy should see signs of recovery by then if the country is going to hit projected rebound targets of between 6.5% and 7.5% that the 2021 Budget is hinged upon. As a pathway to success and making sure that more people get back into gainful employment, the role of the digital economy can’t be understated.
The unemployment rate in Malaysia has jumped above 4.5 per cent due in part to COVID-19. Digital infrastructure and access to broadband, as the new baseline for resilience, will allow individuals, corporations and, indeed, the government to move beyond the crisis that COVID-19 has created for the economy.
The ability to navigate the waters in the Rubik’s Cube that is the political landscape in which the 2021 Budget was tabled is testimony to the Finance Minister’s courage in the face of crisis. The ability to stay focused on the task at hand, dealing with the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, will continue to challenge strategic planners and the average person in the street for many years to come as economic recovery will require a collective effort.
As for the many details of the budget, the coming days will see them debated in parliament, a real test of resilience and an opportunity for the government to communicate each line of expenditure in the context of economic recovery and future resilience. As it stands, the proposed expenditure on broadband ticks the box for a greater strategic shift into the digital economy.
Nordin Abdullah is Managing Director of Glenreagh Sdn Bhd and Founder of the Crisis Management Centre.