A progressive, prosperous and harmonious Malaysia must be founded on the basis that every citizen has a vital stake in it, writes Mustafa K Anuar.
The coming into power by Pakatan Harapan on 9 May last year was obviously a welcome turn of events in the country’s history as it supposedly opens the door to change and introduces a catalogue of reforms for the benefit of Malaysians in general.
In real terms, this means a change from what we’ve been so used to under the past Barisan Nasional regime: cronyism, patronage, corruption, lack of transparency and accountability, racism and social injustice.
That is why what was assured by prime minister-designate Anwar Ibrahim at the recent Malaysian economic symposium is what is expected by Malaysians who hunger for real change.
He spoke of the need for the PH government to move away from the race-based approach of the New Economic Policy (NEP) to a more inclusive needs-based strategy so as to narrow wealth inequality between the ethnic communities.
Never mind if it is true that the call for the dismantling of the race-based policy came from the urban elite, whom Anwar accused of being unwilling to do anything substantial to help reduce such social inequality. What matters is that this policy change is long overdue.
While the NEP was meant to serve well the needs of the poor and the disenfranchised in general, the past abuse of the economic policy, however, requires a review and change.
In the past, those who had political connections and clout enriched themselves through the NEP, depriving some of the poor and the marginalised of the much-needed opportunity to better themselves, economically and socially.
Moreover, this policy abuse has brought about increasing inequalities to some extent within the Malay/bumiputera community itself – instead of reducing the indecent gap.
To take a stark example, the Orang Asli in Peninsular Malaysia have been neglected in various ways by the government over so many years despite being indigenous, partly because almost all of them don’t have political clout – in contrast with the high-heeled urbanites in the bumiputera community who enjoy an affluent lifestyle.
The vulnerability of the Orang Asli to transgression of their customary lands by, say loggers, is a living testimony to how their welfare, livelihood and culture have not been given due attention and respect by the powers that be.
Additionally, there exists the bottom 40% of society – the majority of whom are bumiputeras – who are still in an insecure financial position despite the presence of the NEP since 1970 and its subsequent modified version.
A needs-based approach is more focused in that it targets the poor, most of whom come from the majority Malay/bumiputera community, ie the largest beneficiaries of government aid.
Furthermore, offering help to the really deserving and needy would go a long way towards stemming the tide of entitlement culture among some bumiputeras, which is unhealthy to themselves as well as to outsiders.
At the same time, this strategy reaches out to the poor of other communities who equally need and deserve government help. It is hoped that this would address the nagging issue of social injustice in a more comprehensive and fair manner.
Poverty, as we know, disregards people’s skin colour and, thus, the government of the people ought to provide assistance to the poor irrespective of their pigmentation.
This policy, which requires strong political will, is also aimed at ensuring that no one is left behind in the country’s march to socioeconomic progress, as espoused by Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad not too long ago.
Such an inclusive approach of shared prosperity also serves to foster a vital sense of belonging among citizens of various ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds in a social context where divisive forces have been religiously at work.
Indeed, the rationale behind this significant policy shift needs to be properly and adequately explained to the masses, particularly the Malays, in a concerted manner.
This is because there are quarters, with vested interests, in our midst who are ever ready to stoke fear and anxiety among some Malays, especially those who have been conditioned with a siege mentality all these years.
A progressive, prosperous and harmonious Malaysia must be founded on the basis that every citizen has a vital stake in it.