Yet after former second finance minister Datuk Seri Awang Adek Hussein finished his speech, the journalists who've covered past assemblies rolled their eyes, as they tried to dig out what was new.
Much of Awang Adek's seven-point speech was about demands for quotas, loans and openings in the government machinery and government-linked companies (GLCs) for Bumiputeras. That is, Malay entrepreneurs’ demands that are always expressed whenever the Umno grassroots meet to talk about the future of the Malay economy.
It’s a familiar ritual: Umno tells the government that more loans need to be given and more contracts are needed to develop Malay small and medium enterprises.
Failure to do so would make the Malays “slaves in their own lands” to “foreign races” which is a code word for non-Bumiputera Chinese (and sometimes Indians).
This time, delegates justified the help for Malays and Bumiputeras on the grounds that they were the ones who handed Umno its 88 seats and returned Barisan Nasional to power.
Yet many of the speakers who debated the economics resolution don’t seem to realise that they are trampling over familiar ground.
More importantly, why despite all that was done by three presidents and prime ministers, starting with Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to develop Malay entrepreneurs, has Umno still not reached its 30% wealth share target?
The demands this time focused on a familiar target: GLCs that, in the words of several grassroots leaders, were there to help Malays and Bumiputeras.
So there was Awang Adek, Perak delegate Dr Azizah Johor and Federal Territories delegate Affandi Zahari demanding that GLCs have an effective vendor system for Bumiputera SMEs.
Also on the list of demands were easier loans from the Tekun financing scheme and desks at banks to help Malay female entrepreneurs.
Finance Minister II Datuk Seri Ahmad Husni Hanadzlah described the demands on GLCs as the grassroots expressing their desires to see the country’s majority community get a fair share of the economic pie.
“The Bumiputera economic agenda is a national agenda. It is necessary for social stability,” said Ahmad Husni to The Malaysian Insider when commenting on the day’s debates.
He does not view the demands as interfering in their operations as the Government was already parcelling out contracts in mega projects, such as the MRT train system, to Malay contractors.
“What is needed is to coordinate the system of giving out jobs so that it is effective.”
The demands of Malay businessmen may be one thing, but little was debated about the economy as it is experienced by the public.
So as the grassroots made more demands for aid and opportunities from GLCs and government departments, the topic of the vast wastages in government procurement was hardly mentioned.
There was no talk about RM200 screwdrivers, RM 1,000 binoculars and soft loans of RM250 million to companies without the expertise running a massive cattle project.
Except for a brief mention in the Umno Youth assembly on Wednesday, no one talked of the problems highlighted in the auditor general’s report.
No one talked of “ketirisan” a byword popular during assemblies in Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s time as president and prime minister. It referred to leakages either in giving out aid to the wrong people or not getting value for a contract handed out.
Not one delegate talked about stamping out corruption.
Yet according to a poll by the Merdeka Centre in December 2012, 51% of Malaysians put “fighting corruption” as the No. 1 priority of the Government. The second most important priority was fixing the electoral system at 25%.
The next problems were affordable housing (24%) and inflation (21%). Notably, 59% of the poll’s respondents were Malays.
So as Umno debates the state of the Malay economy it is unclear which percentage of that 67% it claims to represent. The minority that needs more handouts or the majority struggling to make a living while others profit from RM200 screwdriver contracts.