Revamp of affirmative action

Najib said the ‘New Economic Model’ will see more divestments of government holdings in listed companies and the government is still in consultation on the reform of its subsidy policy.

MALAYSIA’S leader on Tuesday unveiled an ambitious economic reform programme to double income levels in the country and overhaul an entrenched affirmative action programme for the majority Malays.

Prime Minister Najib Razak set out a road map to achieve what he called his ‘New Economic Model’, which if implemented would be his boldest policy move since taking office last year to make Malaysia a developed country by 2020. The plan also proposes reducing subsidies and making great strides in raising education levels.

But to achieve all this, Mr Najib, 56, will face enormous political challenges from power brokers within his party, who would be loath to antagonise Malays, especially with elections due in 2013. Malays form 60 per cent of the country’s 28 million people and have long been used to a host of privileges in jobs, government contracts, businesses, education and housing among others.

But critics say the affirmative action programme has become a tool for political patronage and has mostly benefited rich and well-connected Malays. Because of its political connotations, the programme is also seen as discriminatory by the minority Chinese and Indians.

The affirmative action programme’s original objectives are still relevant, ‘but it is time to review its implementation’, Mr Najib said in a speech at an investment conference.

He said it will now be need- and merit-based, rather than race-based. ‘Our first priority must be to eradicate poverty, irrespective of race,’ he said, adding that the programme would target those who form the bottom 40 per cent of the income strata. ‘So there will be a renewed affirmative action policy … It will focus on the needs of all our people,’ he said. Also, the government will no longer tolerate practices that support ‘the behaviour of rent-seeking and patronage’, he said. — AP