MALAYSIA Tanah Tumpah Darahku


Thursday, February 29, 2024

Anwar’s Bumi economic congress must focus on real issues


The time has come for Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and leaders of all Bumiputera-based parties, especially Umno, Bersatu, PAS and PKR, to be courageous and advocate the real issues when dealing with the role of Bumiputeras in the national economy.

First and foremost, they must ensure that henceforth, all aid and opportunities given to members of the country’s Bumiputera communities benefit only those in the B40 segment, who are living at the lowest levels of our society.

Properly devised, such aid must not be limited to Bumiputeras alone, but must reach all Malaysians in that stratum.

Historically, educational initiatives that favoured Bumiputeras through English-medium residential boarding schools and ITM (now UiTM) had been successful in creating an educated Bumiputera class.

However, a shift to Bahasa Malaysia as the medium of instruction eventually led to Bumiputera graduates preferring government and GLC jobs over the private sector, contrary to the original intent.

Until recently, those jobs have been safe and secure, and the pay and perks they received have been quite rewarding.

Straying from their objectives

Unfortunately, over the years, these Bumiputera-controlled agencies and regulatory bodies have strayed from their objectives.

A number of them have quietly played a pivotal role in supporting non-Bumiputera private sector groups, allowing them to benefit instead of the Bumiputera business groups whose interests they were supposed to advance.

Such actions have not come without a cost. Corrupt practices within government agencies, including GLCs, have become widespread.

These often involve employees of these agencies entering into commission contracts, business partnerships and joint ventures that favour private sector entities rather than their own government-owned enterprises.

Over the years, Bumiputera-owned companies have entered numerous different ventures purportedly to assist rural Bumiputera folk.

Examples are abundant: independent power production (IPP) contracts, highway and mining concessions, oil and gas contracts, government land swaps, railway land development, and plantation land allocated by states to private sector companies.

The irony is that while the government languishes under a continued financial strain, with many of its GLCs reporting losses in their financial statements, their private sector partners appear to be doing well and amassing wealth.

True purpose

This raises fundamental questions about the true purpose and effectiveness of Bumiputera-controlled agencies.

Rather than fostering a robust economic environment for Bumiputera communities, these entities appear to be entangled in practices that benefit private sector interests, which in turn contributes to a widening wealth gap.

Let’s leave aside complaints of preferential treatment received by GLCs simply because they are Bumiputera-owned companies. That’s only a facade.

The real question is whether there is a need to review the operation of some of these GLCs, and if found guilty of corrupt practices, whether these GLCs should be shut down and those who run them sanctioned in some way or other.

It is high time that the government pushes for transparency, accountability and a re-evaluation of the roles played by Bumiputera-controlled agencies to ensure they genuinely serve the economic interests of the Bumiputera groups they are intended to support.

Despite dominating key sectors like banking, securities and entrepreneurship, Bumiputera-controlled enterprises in these sectors appear to be in doldrums with GLCs repeatedly reporting losses.

And despite their failure to perform, those who occupy management positions in these entities feel safe and secure in their employment. Their real economic contributions are never measured, let alone scrutinised in terms of growth. Wrongdoers are also seldom brought to book and punished.

Meanwhile, the real commercial activities are left to the non-Bumiputera entities and “second-class Bumiputeras”, those whom nobody wants to touch unless they are successful in their own right.

The bottom line is that GLCs, filled with Bumiputera employees, do not contribute to Bumiputera enterprises, resulting in a lack of success.

Many tasks ahead

Since the turn of the century, no notable new Bumiputera enterprise has emerged, especially in the digital field that has come to dominate our economy.

Blaming the country’s past leaders, like Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Najib Razak, Muhyiddin Yassin, and Ismail Sabri Yaakob is easy, but does not offer a solution.

The reality is that Anwar has inherited these challenges, which include a significant national debt of RM1.5 trillion.

As living costs soar, the question arises: are businesses assisting the rakyat by lowering their prices, and are the members of the Bumiputera communities truly willing to unite behind the prime minister?

Anwar has many major tasks ahead of him.

However, setting out a specific Bumiputera economic agenda at this juncture of the economic crisis is not going to provide the missing link to encourage entrepreneurship.

Neither is it expected to improve the Bumiputera communities’ low support for his government.

In an era of global economic uncertainty, and given the sliding ringgit and funding difficulties, Anwar would do well to avoid stoking the Bumiputeras versus non-Bumiputeras conflict within Malaysia. That is the work of the opposition, usually with ulterior motives in mind.

In any case, that is a rhetorical debate.

The real challenge is to prepare and equip Bumiputeras to work together with all Malaysians to catch up with the changing business world.

Shouldn’t that be the focus of the Bumiputera economic congress? - FMT

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of MMKtT.

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