Saturday, September 14, 2013

Eyeing the Bumiputera Agenda through the eyes of Rashid Yusof - New policies to boost inclusivity

BUMIPUTERA AGENDA: Expansionist strategies will enhance inclusivity and growth with equity and renewed focus

    THE defining moment of Tun Abdul Razak Hussein's policy direction was the convulsions leading to May 13. To be exact, it was the shouting match over the social contract against a backdrop of widespread poverty. Some 60 per cent of the population then were poor. Poverty in the strictest sense had dipped to two per cent by the time Razak's son led Barisan Nasional into the 13th General Election.
Never mind the resultant seat tally. The conduct of Malaysian politics has been fractious over the tenure of Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and now Datuk Seri Najib Razak's administration, because of the potent mixture of race and rights; entitlement and perceived deprivation in national conversation.
Translated, this is about differences over the social contract all over again. After a reasonable time had lapsed following May 5, which saw a significant majority of Bumiputera voters going with BN, the prime minister will now move decisively to reassert the constitutional provisions on matters regarding the Malays and Bumiputeras, or more commonly known as the social contract.
Today's landmark speech by Najib at the Majlis Pemerkasa Ekonomi Bumiputera is a carefully thought through document, designed to enhance inclusivity, growth with equity and, therefore, harmony by renewing the focus on the Bumiputera economic agenda.
There has been a set of triggers. A range of indicators, which were not considered significant then, has to be looked into with keener interest.
Bumiputera home ownership, which is a strong basis for wealth creation is low.
Bumiputeras feature in less than 40 per cent of last year's housing transactions. Bumiputera equity, which was growing well throughout the New Economic Policy (NEP) years had stagnated since the policy lapsed in 1990. The Malay-Chinese income disparity is wide still.
The composition of Bumiputeras in the population has actually expanded, from 56 per cent in 1970 at the outset of the NEP to 68 per cent 40 years later. There are a host of triggers justifying the new focus.
It is only to be expected that a host of questions will be thrown at the government. One of which is the question of timing.
People familiar with the thinking that went into crafting the additional measures to be unveiled today point to the rupture of sorts in the Bumiputera economic agenda induced by the 1997/98 Asian financial crisis.
The expansionist economic strategies and the Bumiputera focus that had until then worked well for the nation, both for the Bumiputera and wider population, were not as urgent as saving jobs for instance.
The tone of the new initiatives in relation to the exacting standards of modern business shall generate considerable attention.
Areas such as upscaling, employability and getting Bumiputera businesses into strategic industries with massive growth potential shall feature prominently.
The New Straits Times was told that the principles of the Bumiputera agenda shall be pursued within an expanding economy driven by inclusivity.
The needs-based measures to address the bottom 40 per cent of the population shall remain, as would other economic programmes.
"A rising tide lifts all boats, " said an officer met in Putrajaya. Meritocracy is not about to be abandoned. It will be the guiding principle in selecting deserving Bumiputera companies.
Foreign analysts are not expected to be overly buoyant about this policy trajectory.
The government, shaped somewhat by the outcome of GE13 that has been Najib's defining moment, is not about to pander to the sometimes misguided demands of outsiders.
The emerging line of thinking in Putrajaya these days -- the government is not about to be sidetracked by sniping and stray thoughts.

Read more: New policies to boost inclusivity - Columnist - New Straits Times