A ‘new’ Bumiputera agenda?

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Now we are told that the “Bumiputera agenda” is not politics but a national agenda of great importance to the wellbeing of our country. Economic Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali has promised us that this policy will differ from its predecessors and that, this time, the Government will get it right.

The Bumiputera are awaiting this policy paper with much anticipation, but I am not too excited about it. Many fear that it will be yet more humbug—more of the same excuses to gain political support but will bring no real benefit to ordinary people. Many feel that this so-called “new approach” will be the same as before: recipients of benefits will be decided by some people at the top for reasons known only to themselves.

Before we go into the mechanics and philosophy of this new Bumiputera policy, here is a true story for you: A Minister offered a Malay of some ability a certain position in a government body, but the offer was withdrawn by someone higher up (or perhaps “more powerful” is more accurate). This same Malay was then given another offer by another Minister, but this offer was also withdrawn.

I have much sympathy for this unfortunate Malay because, for reasons unknown to him, he is regarded as a national risk and not a team-player. I find that surprising because I know this Malay reasonably well. He will not do what is wrong, nor has he the habit of “closing one eye” and covering up the misdeeds of his boss. Beyond that, he is a man of integrity and a team-player. He is the kind of person a reformist Government needs.

The incident involving this unfortunate Malay is not important in the larger scheme of things, but the way decisions are made by this new Government should worry all of us. The most important question is: do our Ministers operate under the surveillance of some “higher power”?

If Ministers are not empowered and allowed to decide what is good for his or her Ministry on small matters such as appointments, how can we expect our Ministers to do great and difficult things for the country? Ministers will not be able to make difficult decisions in future because they might be overruled, publicly embarrassed or even reprimanded by some Cabinet Committee.

It makes many people wonder who actually rescinded the Sabah Gas pipeline project when we have paid more than 80 per cent of the contract sum. It does not make sense. Why not just compel the Chinese contractors to complete it. At least the people of eastern Sabah will have enough Gas to light up their homes.

Then we have the ECRL project. When we add the cost of the project which we have paid to the Chinese Contractors with the usual amount of compensation for termination of this nature, it will cost us at least RM 20 billion. Why not pay RM 50 billion for the project to be completed? Again who is behind this decision, the Ministers collectively or some power from above?

Coming back to the new Bumiputera policy, I would like to suggest that Azmin should present a White Paper not just on FELDA but also a paper entitled Getting the Bumiputera Policy Right. In this paper, Azmin can give us a comprehensive outline of the new philosophy and what the new approach will be like. He must also define clearly what characteristics “deserving Bumiputera” should possess—these characteristics must be objectively verifiable, otherwise subjective selection will recur.

Next, the Government must disclose the process it intends to use to ensure that deserving Bumiputera can be helped. The Government must also account for the different types of problems facing non-Malay Bumiputera: how will the new approach help them?

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