By Kee Thuan Chye
16 Sept 2013
Najib Razak shows once again that his actions are often driven by his own paramount desire to stay in power. He’s about to be challenged for the position of Umno party president soon or returned unopposed, a situation that will also determine whether he retains the position of prime minister. Most likely, from the look of things, he won’t be challenged, but he still needs to consolidate the reason he should stay on as president. So last Saturday, he abandoned his 1Malaysia slogan to announce a Bumiputera economic empowerment plan that is obviously designed to win him support from the ethnic community that patronises his party. He exposed his own contradiction and reaffirmed what we have come to see as his real belief – that he doesn’t care what means he uses as long as he achieves his end.
By his action, Najib also shows yet again that he is a flip-flopper. He has apparently forsaken his New Economic Model, which was introduced in 2010 to phase out the outdated New Economic Policy (NEP) in favour of affirmative action based on needs rather than race, and make Malaysia more competitive and investor-friendly. But now with the new Bumiputera economic empowerment plan – to which he is dedicating a whopping RM31 billion, to be dished out in the form of loans, contracts and programmes – it looks like he is reinforcing rent-seeking, which will retard sustainable growth.
By his action, Najib has set us back 40 years – to 1971, when the NEP was introduced. He has fortified the idea that there are two classes of citizens in Malaysia – Bumiputeras and non-Bumiputeras – thereby totally subverting his 1Malaysia stance. But whereas one of the stated objectives of the NEP was to eradicate poverty, Najib’s Bumiputera economic empowerment plan is not aimed at helping the needy. It seems to be providing crutches even for those who don’t need them.
Malay Economic Agenda Council CEO Nizam Mahshar is right in pointing out that the plan provides no courses of action or strategies, and no targeted outcomes. Is this perhaps deliberate? Is the money being pumped into the programmes meant to be loosely administered so that it can easily go to Umno cronies? And is the lack of targeted outcomes aimed at avoiding accountability?
Unashamedly, Najib declared that the new plan was a reward for the Malay community for supporting Umno and Barisan Nasional (BN) during the last general election (GE13). Is it really a reward for the entire community or a reward for Umno cronies?
When he increased the price of RON95 petrol in early September, he said it was a necessary part of “the process of reducing the public’s reliance on subsidies”. Ironically, his Bumiputera economic empowerment plan is perpetuating this very reliance on subsidies, but on the part of Bumiputeras.
Of course, this suits Umno fine, because as long as the party drums it into the Malays that they cannot compete without assistance, they will have to depend on Umno’s largesse. And, consequently, they will continue to vote it into power. But, at this rate, how will the Malays – who, incidentally, form the majority of the population – be able to progress on their own? And how will this affect the country’s productivity and goal of becoming a developed nation by 2020? With this kind of plan and this kind of subsidy mentality in place, do you think we can still make it?
I much doubt it. Najib’s action has effectively stopped Malaysia from moving out of its malaise. We will continue to lag behind because we can’t seem to shake off ethnocentric policies that blunt our economic competitiveness, enfeeble our human resources, curtail our efficiency. If he still wants us to believe that we can become a developed or high-income nation by 2020, he is fooling us.
He also spoke with a forked tongue when he tried to appease non-Bumiputeras by claiming that his new plan was made in consideration of all the races. He said it was meant to create new wealth so that all Malaysians could share the benefits. “We are doing what is fair, we are doing what is right, and we are doing what is equitable,” he said. “It means that we do not have any evil intent or prejudice against the other races.”
Yeah, right. His vocabulary needs to be re-examined. Or perhaps he meant that with the impending new opportunities, non-Bumiputeras would benefit from the forging of Ali-Baba partnerships like before, or from being sub-contracted to do the actual work for projects that inexperienced, ill-chosen Bumiputeras secure.
But, seriously, it would be hard for non-Bumiputeras to believe what he said. Most of them were already incensed that he used public funds to help him and BN win GE13 – by doling out cash to many individuals and groups. Now he is using public funds again – to reward the ethnic group that voted for his party. That’s a double whammy.
They would be further incensed that government-linked companies (GLCs) will have to set targets for Bumiputera participation, and CEOs of these GLCs will score high on their key performance index (KPI) if they fulfil these targets! We know what this could result in. To meet their quotas, the CEOs might just take in any Taib, Din or Haris. That would be counter-productive.
Besides, as MCA Youth Chief Wee Ka Siong has rightly pointed out, GLCs have developed to where they are from the taxes paid by all racial groups. “Therefore, there should be no racial distinction in the performance of GLCs … If skin colour and ethnicity are the only priority, this will cause GLCs to become uncompetitive.”
Wee should have been harder on Najib and said that there must be no racial distinction whatsoever, full stop. It doesn’t do this country any good to divide the races; in fact, it causes harm. As it is, on social media, non-Bumiputeras are calling Najib names and hurling abuse at him because the taxes they pay are being channelled towards upholding an ethnocentric cause that is not only divisive but also makes them feel like second-class citizens.
I would, however, suggest that instead of repeating this decades-old claim, non-Bumiputeras might want to pause and consider which is the group that is actually second-class – the one that is being marginalised, or the group that’s being told that it can’t compete on its own. I think in all fairness to everyone, Najib should be treating Bumiputeras with respect and telling them that they can succeed without special assistance. In doing so, he would not only be forgetting about his own ends; he would really be helping his own race and also his country.
* Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the new book The Elections Bullshit, now available in bookstores.