Tackle the socioeconomic concerns of all the poor and those left behind, regardless of ethnicity or religion, WH Cheng writes.
Recently, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced yet another new council to address bumiputera socioeconomic concerns. It is expected to be simply known as Bumiputera Prosperity Council or, in the local language, Majlis Kemakmuran Bumiputera.
We are not questioning the status of bumiputeras nor their position in the Constitution. But we understand that such “councils of empowerment” of many kinds or brands have been in place from the beginning. From Umno, to Barisan Nasional, till Pakatan Harapan and today the Perikatan Nasional, the efforts are the same old story, under different brands, of course, and under different ruling coalitions.
For over 61 years of BN rule, dominated by Umno, which claimed to champion the plight of the Malays and bumiputeras, we only saw a small group who crafted successful business ventures and became billionaires. But many others in the bumiputera communities remain left behind and under-educated, unable to afford this or that, not having the opportunities to excel in whatever they want or intend to do.
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What has gone wrong? This is the question that we have been asking for decades, and the question is still a question till today. It remains unanswered. If we were press ahead to ask more searching questions, we might be accused of questioning Malay rights and Islam instead.
Why? Because, by raising such a question in public and asking them for answers and putting the right things in place, some parties may then feel their positions and wealth being threatened with by ideas or possible reforms in the system, which has remain unchanged since Abdul Razak Hussein’s era. Nothing has changed since the New Economic Policy was implemented and a later version under the disgraced former Prime Minister Najib Razak (yes, Razak’s kleptocratic son).
So, starting yet another round of so-called bumiputera empowerment efforts under a different brand, but with the same old leaders and politicians handling the initiatives, the same old system managing such “empowerment” programmes on the ground, the same kind of hierarchical management style from the politicians right down to the bureaucratic structure, which existed for decades without any reforms as to how the distribution should be carried out, it is doomed to fail yet again.
And if you ask how many more initiatives it will take to truly empower the bumiputeras into a stronger and better community in terms of the economy and their achievements, we will give the same answer: the same old story, the same old empowerment with nothing to achieve apart from enriching only a small group of the already rich bumiputeras.
Nobody within the system knows what went wrong? Or they knew about it but did not dare to speak out for fear of being targeted or have action taken agains them by certain leaders with vast political interest?
As long as race is still a concern in any kind of economic empowerment programme, there is sure to be abuse of power or mismanagement of such programmes taking place. The race-based political parties who are now part of the government will seize the chance to bulldoze whatever it takes, in the name of their “race”, to sweep through the bumiputera empowerment programmes’ subsidies. They will then establish a line of their cronies and connections to take up the same and enjoy every spoonful given out by the government machinery out there.
That is why only a certain minority of bumiputeras within the current ruling political circle will get to enjoy all this. The rest? Maybe they will have to wait for a few more generations before they can lay their hands on this. Just go into any rural part of the country and check a few villages there; you will see many disconnected bumiputeras who have never heard of any sort of “bumiputera empowerment” in their lives.
So it is time to come up with a needs-based socioeconomic empowerment programme instead of a race-based one. Tackle the socioeconomic concerns of all the poor and those left behind, regardless of ethnicity or religion. The bumiputera community is not the only one in this country that still needs help. There are also the poor and people left behind people among the Indian, Chinese, Kadazan, Orang Asal, Iban, Dayak, Orang Asli communities.
Socioeconomic empowerment programmes should be applied to all Malaysians. We are already in the year 2020 (when Vision 2020 was supposed to have been achieved) – and the NEP (or a version of it) of the 1970s is still in place? Surely, this is the world’s greatest joke!