By H G Rahman

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia--The COVID-19 pandemic has brought out some of the best and worst of policy making to the fore and Malaysia is no exception.

Front of center of a long list of failed policies introduced or revised since the undemocratic coup against Malaysia’s elected government last year, the arbitrary revisions Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) program are just another glaring example of policy formulated without thought or reason.

MM2H is a visa initiative introduced by the Malaysian government to promote Malaysia as a positive place to live, for potential residents from abroad. The MM2H scheme provides a renewable multiple-entry visa for successful applicants from around the world.

Initially hailed as a success, there are presently 57,478 MM2H visa holders plus dependents, and Malaysia has seen some RM40.6 billion enter into the country in total from its introduction in 2002 until 2018.

But under the new MM2H eligibility terms, the minimum monthly income was raised 400 percent from RM10,000 to RM40,000.

The minimum fixed deposit was also raised from RM150,000 to RM1 million. Previously at RM350,000, the minimum liquidity requirement is now RM1.5 million.

Yearly visa fees, meanwhile, have been raised from RM90 to RM500. Under the new terms, the duration of an MM2H visa was slashed from 10 years to five years.

What's the rationale?

Considering the benefits to the economy, why then is the Home Ministry drastically changing the terms of this otherwise successful policy, especially at a time of global economic turbulence including Malaysia, which is projected to have 0 percent GDP growth this year.

The ministry’s secretary-general Wan Ahmad Dahlan Abdul Aziz had announced the new MM2H terms and conditions on Aug 11, explaining it was to both stimulate the economy and mitigate local “concerns” about foreign citizens.

“The government understands the rakyat’s concerns and worries about foreign citizens entering the country through the MM2H programme, which is feared to increase the flood of foreigners in Malaysia.

“Therefore, the government has agreed to set a ceiling number for MM2H applicants and dependents at no more than one percent of the total number of Malaysian citizens at one time,” he had said.

Unfortunately Wan Ahmad Dahlan does not seem very capable at basic maths. 1 percent of Malayisans makes up some 319,000 individuals while the program has a maximum of 1/6th of that number at best.

Of course he does not have an explanation as to why this paltry number of foreigners and expatriates is somehow “disturbing” the locals but the estimated 3 million low-skilled workers from Indonesia, Philippines, Bangladesh, Pakistan and elsewhere, about half of whom are illegal, suppressing wages and grabbing low-rung jobs previously held by locals  and send their earning from Malaysia to their home countries is not “disturbing” the locals.

How is it thistiny number of MM2H visa holders, who bring in money, invest in properties here and typically hold professional jbs or are retirees are considered a “threat” to Malaysians? And just who exactly is flocking here when even the locals are attempting to leave a country that will certainly become a failed state should it continue on this trajectory?

Criticism locally will be echoed abroad

In a joint statement, Industries Unite (IU) and MM2H Consultants Association (MM2HCA) described the revised terms as shocking, drastic, and unreasonable, adding that some of the conditions are downright unacceptable.

Among their harshest criticism is that the policy will subject existing MM2H holders to all the new requirements explaining that it would be unfair to enforce the new conditions on them as many of the holders have sold their properties in their home countries while contributing to the economy here.

“It is unethical to subject them to the new requirements. This shifting of the goalposts will reduce foreigners’ confidence in our government. Drastic changes will tarnish our image and will make us the laughingstock of the world.

“Many expatriates under the programme are convinced that the government is looking to remove them from the country in light of the new requirements and conditions announced.”

What do people like Wan Ahmad Dahlan and those instructing him to carry out these policies think when these foreigners are forced to leave Malaysia? Will they praise it for having an investment and expat friendly society or are they more likely to tell the world the ugly truth about Malaysia and its current political masters?

What will the vast multinational corporations (MNC) with their billions in foreign direct investments and desire for friendly countries with good infrastructure and skilled workers do when they consider Malaysia versus Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia?

How will foreign governments, whom Malaysia is dependent on  and beholden to view this blatant exploitation and extortion of their citizens at the hands of what is likely to remain a weak and short lived political construction seeking to push its own version of apartheid against locals and foreigners?

Can Malaysia really afford such a disastrous policy move at this time? Do these policymakers even understand the implications of their actions or is this a simple matter of shoot first and see what happens? Sometimes the only way to learn is the hard way and Malaysia’s current political structure has chosen the hard way indeed.