Perkasa, GLCs and the New Economic Model

Ibrahim Ali and his supporters are wholly mistaken in their view of poverty. The government’s own statistics indicate that poverty, however defined, has been drastically reduced. The stark issue is the unconscionable and widening income disparities that prevail within the Bumiputera community. Ibrahim Ali and his keris waving Umnoputra crowd are totally silent on this aspect of the Malay dilemma.

By Dr Lim Teck Ghee (CPI)

During the recent Perkasa meeting on March 27, Ibrahim Ali expressed his displeasure with the CEOs of government-linked companies (GLCs) for not attending his Malay rights group inaugural congress. He also criticised the GLC heads for being more concerned about their personal interests instead of the interests of the Malay community.

Introducing a note of intimidation, he warned that Perkasa will scrutinise the GLCs. “We are not only looking at their performance but also the role they play in helping Malay entrepreneurs.”

The GLC rebuff is indicative of a rejection of the Perkasa agenda by the Malay captains of industry who recognize the negative implications of the policies being espoused. It is also salutary that apart from Deputy International Trade and Industry Minister Mukhriz Mahathir, no other significant member of the cabinet took part in the gathering of the ultras at the Putra World Trade Centre (PWTC).

The Malay and Malaysian public should look forward to hearing the outcome of Perkasa monitoring the GLCs and learning the truth about how these bodies are standing in the way of, or seriously implementing, their mission of fulfilling the Malay agenda. 

The importance of GLCs to the Malay agenda can be ascertained from the following facts:

    •         GLCs are major shareholders of corporate equity. They comprise 36% and 54% of the market capitalization of Bursa Malaysia and the benchmark Kuala Lumpur Composite Index.

    •         Seven out of the top 10 listed companies are under majority ownership of the government.

    •         Senior GLC positions are largely determined along ethnic lines. GLC directors, management and staff are largely Bumiputeras.

    •         Non-Malay owners of listed and unlisted companies often have no choice but to work with influential Bumiputera and GLCs to help protect their interests through obtaining sub-contracts or becoming suppliers of goods and services.

    •          Non-Malays may own 40% of corporate equity based on the government’s flawed calculations but GLCs are the major players and have control over the economy.

Because they have done very well for the Malays (including the likes of Ibrahim Ali and many of his supporters who have benefitted from GLC patronage and largesse), it is rather dumb of Ibrahim Ali to expect these GLC leaders to openly attend the meeting and to proclaim to Perkasa members and the world the various ways in which they are protecting and advancing the Malay socio-economic position.

In fact, Ibrahim Ali and many GLC Malay leaders may be on the same wavelength on the issue of enhancing the Malay socio-economic position. However, the main difference might only be that the Perkasa head is a politician using crude racist tactics whilst shouting from the top of his voice at the PWTC while the GLC chiefs are likely to pursue the Malay cause through more subtle means. As corporate figures, they recognize that growth is a prerequisite to fulfillment of long-term Malay and national goals.  

Quite apart from this, many of these GLC leaders also recognize the realities and implications of policies that have contributed to capital flight, the virtual drying up of FDI flows, a sizable brain drain and a general loss of competitiveness. These negatives have been acknowledged by the Second Minister of Finance and are indeed implicit in the call by the Prime Minister to adopt a New Economic Model (NEM).

A New Economic Model devoid of a course correction – via adoption of more market friendly and less racially skewed policies – would be an exercise in futility. Ibrahim Ali’s formula constitutes an abandonment of much needed pro-growth strategies in favour of a discredited policy package that is centered round the distribution of existing wealth. No country in the world in this era of globalization and liberalization has chosen such an economic strategy.

Similarly with the refusal by Umno to respond to Ibrahim Ali’s unfounded charges that the Malays have been marginalized in the country.  All Umno leaders (except perhaps Mukhriz) are aware of the overwhelming dominance of Malay power in the country. Far from Malay constitutional rights being eroded or usurped by other communities, it is the other way round. This is acknowledged by many Malay leaders including Anwar Ibrahim and Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah.   

If one is using a purely racial lens approach it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Malay hegemony has never been so strong or firmly entrenched as it is today. Ibrahim Ali and his cohorts are opportunistically delusional and appear to be living in a cocoon of their own. They fail to factor in the fact that the political and economic model that they espouse will bring irreparable harm to the nation and future generations of Malaysians, including Malays.

Tackling Malay poverty

In the economic sphere whilst there is still much work to be done to uplift the lot of the poor Malays, the task is less formidable than official statistics may make it out to be.  This is because Malay poverty – as distinct from Bumiputera poverty – is likely to be considerably over-estimated by the present statistical practice whereby the Malay figures are lumped together with the figures of recent migrants from Indonesia who have obtained Bumiputera status as well as the other Bumiputera from East Malaysia.

The great majority of the former group – Javanese, Sumatrans, etc – who have now assimilated into the country’s population in very large numbers especially after the 1970s came with virtually nothing in terms of assets or income. Inclusion of these poor “pendatang”, despite their upward mobility after settlement, has had much impact in distorting the racial distribution of household income. Without them (and also Bumiputra communities in Sabah and Sarawak), the ‘native’ or ‘indigenous’ or ‘local’ Malay achievement, as distinct from Bumiputera achievement, will be much higher on all the social and economic indicators used by the Department of Statistics to measure inter-ethnic differences. 

At the same time, Ibrahim Ali and his supporters are wholly mistaken in their view of poverty. The government’s own statistics indicate that poverty, however defined, has been drastically reduced. The stark issue is the unconscionable and widening income disparities that prevail within the Bumiputera community. Ibrahim Ali and his keris waving Umnoputra crowd are totally silent on this aspect of the Malay dilemma.

Malay wealth

Umno leaders are also fully aware that much of the new wealth in the country is in Malay hands. These sources of wealth include the plantation sector which is dominated by Felda and PNB companies;  the smallholding agricultural sector where the Malays are the major group amongst the 112,635 Felda settlers; the hi-tech aerospace industry; the highly lucrative defense industry; the petroleum and gas industry where apart from Petronas and MMC, the Malays have substantial holdings in key MNCs such as Shell, Exxon, BP; the finance and banking sector where eight out of 10 banks are Bumiputera- owned and controlled; the automotive sector where Malay interests are dominant in Proton, Perodua, DRB Hicom, UMW and Naza, and where the system of APs ensures a steady stream of income for select Bumiputeras; as well as the energy and utilities sector where TNB and Malakoff are key players; and so on.  

Perhaps the ace in the pack in Umno’s claim to have successfully stood up for Malay interests (besides its own) is that a key target of the NEP restructuring programme – the building of a strong Malay professional and technical elite class – was attained some years ago. From a very small base of professional and technical workers in 1970 (Bumiputera comprised 4.9% of registered professionals at that time) the Malay component of the country’s professional and technical workers today is the biggest amongst the various racial groups. According to the Malaysian government’s Third Outline Perspective Plan (2001-2010), the Bumiputera community comprised 63.5 percent of the ‘Professional and Technical’ category of employment in 2000.

This growth of a strong Malay professional class within a short period of 30 years is possibly the fastest recorded by any marginalized community anywhere in the world. That this information is not widely known or disseminated is not due to modesty but carefully controlled political spin aimed at under-reporting Malay achievement and emphasizing non-Malay dominance of the economy. 

Meanwhile, the employment pattern in the public sector at all levels is overwhelmingly Malay because of discriminatory policies in hiring and in promotions. If there is any prong of the New Economic Policy that has not been fulfilled, it is the restructuring of the public sector.  

The New Economic Model and the country’s future

In a few days’ time, the Prime Minister will unveil the New Economic Model which is intended to replace the New Economic Policy and its racially divisive policies. At that point, we will be able to see if Perkasa, Dr Mahathir Mohamad and other carpetbaggers have been able to successfully hijack the NEM and set the country up for another round of Malay preference policies that will destroy the promises contained in the Najib Razak vehicle ‘1Malaysia’.  

Were these fears to come to pass, Malaysia will take another step downwards to joining countries such as Burma and Zimbabwe which squandered their prospects for prosperity because of the greed of a small elite group that hijacked national wealth.

It is time for all Malaysians to firmly and clearly reject the strident siren calls of Mahathir and Ibrahim Ali to return to policies that hold no hope of serving the country’s needs. It is also important that the NEM reflects the aspirations of all Malaysians rather than the myopic views of yesterday’s men. Najib has a solemn duty to resist those that would derail moves to put right what has been wrong.