Sunday, January 08, 2006

Time for a non-race based agenda for M'sia

Time for a non-race based agenda
Nurihsan Majid, The Sun
Updated: 06:31PM Fri, 06 Jan 2006

Parti Keadilan Rakyat is a party that is often accused of having only one ideal: to champion the cause of former deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

The recently concluded national congress however offers a promising sign for the party, and Malaysia as a whole to move forward, in particular replacing the remains of the New Economic Policy.

The NEP was launched to remedy the socio-economic inequality that led to the May 13, 1969 racial riots.

While the NEP itself is controversial, I do not think anyone can question the serious situation that plagued Malaysia when the Malays, the dominant race in Malaysia, were severely left behind in the economy.

The NEP was launched with a two-pronged objective to eradicate poverty regardless of race, and to remove economic identification with race. The NEP officially ended in 1990, but many of the aims and objectives of the policy are preserved in the New Development Policy.
Three decades later, the NEP is a true success story in many ways.

A Malay middle class (previously largely rural) has been created, living in the cities and suburban areas.

They are well-educated, working in well-paying jobs as professionals and entrepreneurs. The Malay corporate equity, which stood at a measly 2% in 1970, is now at 18%.

Yet, at the same time, no one should be blind to the failures and abuse of the NEP. The corporate equity target for the NEP, set to be achieved in 1990, is 30%.

Many government contracts are inflated due to a bumiputra-only policy, which means that bumiputra companies without any know-how can land contracts, and then in order to get the job done sub-contract the project to non-bumiputra contractors - a practice otherwise known as the "Ali Baba syndrome".

Under the guise of securing equity ownership for the bumiputra, well-connected individuals are given lucrative shareholding that gives them instant wealth in order to fulfil the 30% target - whereas the majority of the Malays do not stand to gain any real benefit from the policy.

The real objective should have been to improve the capability and capacity of the Malays to participate in the economy.

Our public institutions of higher learning suffer from a policy which sets different pre-university standards for the different communities, effectively continuing the old quota system.

The fact that a substantial Malay middle class is in existence makes the injustice of the status quo only more prevalent.

How can one justify a policy that prefers a bumiputra regardless of his socio-economic status, and discriminates against a non-bumiputra regardless of his socio-economic status?

The policy assumes, blindly, that all bumiputras are poor and disadvantaged, while no non-bumiputra is.

It is therefore deplorable that Umno Youth in its 2005 AGM continued to play the NEP card. That only shows the drawbacks of a race-based party that sees the easiest route to survival as being to continue to play the race card.

A culture of dependence and subsidy has fostered a continuous belief that Malays can only survive in an increasingly challenging world by government preference and handouts.

A refreshing note came from the Keadilan national congress.

The congress unanimously approved an economic motion to forge a new deal on the economy, replacing the race-based NEP with a New Economic Agenda.

Such a call is significant coming from a party that while in principle multi-racial, is predominantly Malay.

Furthermore in the debate that ensued, none of the Malay delegates questioned the ideal of universality of the New Agenda.

The Keadilan supreme council had noted that while the NEP had some positive achievements, a racial approach is inadequate to deal with the complex socio-economic inequality at the moment.

In essence, the New Agenda proposed would be based on the following principles:

* An emphasis on justice for all Malaysians; eradicating poverty regardless of race;

* Narrowing the gap in development between rural and urban areas;

* Providing training and education opportunities to prepare all Malaysians to face a knowledge-based economy; promoting entrepreneurship in order for a stronger small and medium-sized enterprise backbone of the economy;

* Promoting a delivery system which is worker and business friendly, that inculcates accountability and openness for a more sustainable development;

* Ensuring government intervention is limited and strategic by forging positive partnership with the private sector that empowers economic actors for a growth-based economy;

* Forging a positive economic strategy to compete in a globalised economy.

Having passed the motion, Keadilan now plans to organise a convention involving politicians, NGOs, academicians, business leaders, unionists and other citizens to put forward constructive proposals based on the principles of the New Agenda.

It is likely a deeper debate will emerge in that convention, as abstract principles are translated into specific policies.

That is the next test for Keadilan. As of now, Keadilan must be congratulated for having arrived at such a brave and ground-breaking policy.

This proves that even a party that consists of a predominantly Malay membership can look beyond the issues of race.

If Keadilan succeeds, this will be a turning point not only in the fortunes of the fledgling party, but for our country as a whole.

The country needs to move forward. At the moment, beneath the issue of improving the fortunes of the Malays, a lot of abuse has been committed by a small group of elites while the real capability of ordinary Malaysians have been largely ignored. But the failure of the status quo will be borne by all Malaysians.

Anwar: Time to suspend NEP

Abdullah: NEP still relevant

Where to, Malaysia?