KUALA LUMPUR: Review of the New Economic Policy (NEP) must see the affirmative policy move away from a race-based to a needs-based approach, said Tun Daim Zainuddin.
The Council of Eminent Persons (CEP) chairman said the Bumiputera-based affirmative policies stemmed from the fact that the community remained amongst the poorest and neglected groups.
However, the agenda of the NEP had also not quite achieved its intended target, he said.
“It is time for a new approach, to start afresh and truly change the lives of those amongst us who are not reaping the rewards of national development. The difference is that we must now target those among the people who need assistance the most.
“We can no longer allow Bumiputera interventions to continue to enrich those among us who have benefited from these policies, yet continue to take advantage of loopholes in the policies.
“It must be acknowledged that although Bumiputeras are indeed disproportionately represented among the poor, other races too are deeply affected by poverty and low standards of living,” he said at the launch of Emerging Issues in Public Policy: Global Trends and Projections (IPP 2019) International Conference held at University Malaya.
He said if the country continues to resist the changes, the people will pay the price as there are still those in severe poverty such as the Orang Asli who serve as a reminder of the indecent wealth disparity in the country.
“The disparity in modern infrastructure and amenities between regions is like night and day, and the educational opportunities only available to some ensure that income and standard of living gaps will continue to widen if something is not done to rectify them.
“NEP started out with the best intentions. It has become a polarising policy, associated with discrimination on one hand and entitlement as to rights on the other. In actual fact, the NEP in its original concept and purpose; is neither of these two,” said the former Finance Minister.
He said Malaysians now are more urbanised, better educated, live longer, and ethnic imbalances have been reduced which should be the changes the country can be proud of.
“It cannot be denied that the NEP brought political stability and peace, resulting in economic growth.
“However, the NEP has also been rife with shortcomings and abuses. These began not long after the NEP was implemented which prompted the late Tun Abdul Razak to say ‘Some became rich overnight, while others became despicable Ali Babas and the country suffered economic setbacks'," Daim said, adding that the NEP, in its various forms and conceptions, had spanned 11 Malaysia Plans, 48 national budgets, six PMs and now, two political coalitions.
He said as such it was important to attend issues on an educational level to ensure NEP to be effective.
“The educational reform is part of the government’s agenda but it is reforming too slowly and the political will for real changes is severely lacking.
“We are still arguing over whether to teach Mathematics and Science in English, while the rest of the world has embarked on advanced curriculums that focus of Industrial Revolution 4.0 to make their youth more competitive and relevant in a world that is going to be dominated by artificial intelligence and robotics.
“We must go through a knowledge-based economy and Malaysia has failed because the government, through the Education Ministry Education, has not got its priorities right. The ministry must not fail our nation,” he said while adding other countries have moved into the tech language while Malaysia was still debating between English or Mandarin or Bahasa Malaysia as part of the political rhetoric moving the country further behind.
The 81-year-old also commented on the purpose of teaching children the right of entitlement just because of one’s race.
“Is it morally okay to drill into students that others are not entitled to certain privileges simply because they are not of a certain race, even if they are
“ Is it right to think that if you are of a certain race that is economically successful, and then you look down on others? There needs to be understanding and empathy across the racial divide,” he said.
Daim said communities that have been neglected must be acknowledged as they might not even have a fair chance to participate in the nation’s growth and development.
“I am referring to our Orang Asli community, urban poor, rural folks, and all those who have not really benefited in the national agenda.
“Also those who should have been recipients of Majlis Amanah Rakyat (Mara) scholarships and Junior Science College (MRSM) placements but were pushed aside in favour of those who could have afforded their education on their own.
“We have been robbing the poor to uplift those who don’t deserve the support, and this widening of the education and income gap must come to an end.
“The fear mongering is only to encourage and continue this abuse. It is time to stop the ‘them versus us’ rhetoric,” he said.
The former five term member of Parliament for Kuala Muda and Merbok noted that priority must be given to the B40, irrespective of race, to ensure and sustain their livelihood and continue to contribute to the national economy, policy wise.
“As the majority among the B40 group, Bumiputeras will still stand to benefit the most. Those who don’t deserve assistance will not get it. And this should be the case.
“There is a need to see with a fresh perspective of the new NEP to ensure that all Malaysians can have their fair share of our national prosperity and any policy must result in justice for all,” he said.
Daim also said that any new NEP cannot be devised only by considering the local economy but also the global situation through the country’s strength and comparative advantages such as the halal industry, agriculture, tourism, palm oil and even arts and culture.
“The world is increasingly globalised – we need to embrace it. In order to survive and thrive, we have to synchronise with other global partners. We cannot have a silo mentality.
“In order to capitalise on these advantages, we need to enhance global collaboration and global linkages,” Daim said.
Daim said the government must be able to take a proactive role in addressing the national economy as well as be clear on local and foreign investment guidelines.
“Malaysia has always been a friendly country for investors; we need to show them that it is safe to come back again. The narrative must be clear – we are serious about foreign investment, and about national development."
He said Malaysians should not be under any illusion of progress as the country was far behind and was not ready for changes and should be embracing differences and changes.
Daim stressed that there must be unity and a sense of urgency in order to proceed and ensure changes especially through education.