It is not just the economy alone that needs fixing; the entire socio-economic and political system and the institutions also need to be reformed, writes Ramon Navaratnam.
Most fair-minded and thinking Malaysians, especially non-Malay Malaysians, will enthusiastically support the Group of 25 for their bold agenda for action to be taken by the Economic Action Council (EAC).
We would also want the EAC to act fast on its substantive and comprehensive agenda for action that has been provided by this group of Malay intellectuals and proven professionals who have contributed immensely to the development of Malaysia since Merdeka.
Like many thousands of non-Malays who also served our country faithfully, we would all like to strengthen the voices of our Malay brothers and sisters, who have boldly and patriotically come out with an agenda for action for the dedicated members of the EAC to seriously consider and act upon.
Solid G25 recommendations
As the G25 rightly and courageously points out, “There is no shortage of recommendations on the measures that Malaysia must take to inspire confidence in the economy and enable the country to move out of the middle-income trap and become a developed country”.
The problem is one of slow action and whether we have the strong political will to think out of the box and to look at our long-term needs to face the new global challenges posed by the digital Economy.
The main recommendation of the G25 is the fundamental need to review the New Economic Policy. It is now outmoded after 60 years of headstrong application, during which it has been much abused.
After initially achieving its many goals earlier, the NEP added to our problems by providing more opportunities for more corruption and the widening of income disparities. The consequent unequal distribution of income and opportunities has caused both intra and inter-racial disparities.
In fact it can be argued that the present major concern, the high cost of living, is largely due to uncompetitive NEP policies and practices.
All these shortcomings have brought about more uncertainty for the future, national disharmony and national disunity.
Hence, the G25’s recommendation to reject race-based policies and to adopt and effectively implement needs-based economic policies must therefore be the first priority of the EAC.
All true and sincere Malaysians should therefore welcome the continuation of affirmative action for the poor of all races. Then we will experience a surge of national unity and national wellbeing and a better quality of life for all Malaysians.
Agenda for action
The G25 proposal to reduce the role of government-linked companies is most welcome. Many of these companies have been too protected and have crowded out the private sector – both bumiputeras and the non-Malays.
There could be new policies to include small and medium industries to work with the government-linked companies or we could dis-invest from some of the weaker among these companies altogether.
The government-linked companies could be made much more efficient, competitive and meritocratic. This way the economy could be freed of some of the shackles to promote greater productivity, with more competition. The non-Malays will also feel more inclusive in helping to realise the full potential of the economy.
Similarly, the EAC could devise ways and means to be more inclusive in the private sector where there is some dominance of the non-bumiputeras. The serious brain drain could also be reduced if more opportunities are given to all Malaysians, regardless of race or elitism.
The education system will largely be responsible for our success or decline as a nation in the future. A recent dialogue organised byAsian Strategy and Leadership Institute (Asli) showed the frustration expressed by many over the slow pace of education reforms.
There should be much more teaching of science and technology, the English language, and the arts and culture to produce more rounded and better equipped students to meet the challenges of the future.
Religious teaching and the cultivation of good value systems are vital. But they must be given the right balance and in reasonable proportion in terms of time and priority.
Foreign labour has been excessive. And now the G25 has indicated that it is due to much lobbying by vested interests and even corruption. So the EAC has to investigate this matter quickly and introduce some solutions to solve this longstanding decay in our society. Again, will there be the right political will to act fast – or will the EAC delay action?
Other agenda items
The G25 has an impressive agenda for the EAC to act upon and hopefully at a faster pace. We hope its report will not be put away like some other reports.
I would only add a few more items – and there can be many more to give the EAC, to adopt and act fast so that it can raise its credibility and boost public confidence. The new items are as follows:
The public service should be made more multi-racial and multi-religious and better represented geographically. More Sabahans, Sarawakians and especially Orang Asli could be roped into the public service.
Economic development should be more decentralised so that the poorer regions in the country and pockets of poverty can receive higher priority for more rapid development. Local elections will help ensure better performance of local government.
The 17 UN sustainable development goals could be adopted as our underlying goals to enhance our quality of life on a consistent and long-term basis.
Extremism and bigotry of all kinds, from whatever quarters, can undermine our socio-economic development and must be rejected stoutly, as this will undermine national unity and progress.
The UN human rights conventions should be adopted soon to eliminate discrimination and to improve our faith in our future.
Our national institutions must be further strengthened. This would include among others the independence of the judiciary, the press, the civil service and religious freedom.
Obviously we the people know what we want and that is to build a united, strong and progressive country. The able members of the EAC know very well that it is not the economy alone that needs improvement. It is actually the whole socio-economic and political system and institutions that need to be reviewed and revised.
But the crucial question remains in the minds of most thinking Malaysians – how much will the EAC be able do and how fast will it take to deliver – at least on the low-hanging fruit and the higher priority issues that worry all Malaysians.
We hope the EAC has enough issues for a good agenda for action and that it can deliver fast.