That feeling of being left out


The speech focused a lot on party loyalty and disputes and the appeal for support for leadership. But the rakyat are concerned with insidious inflation.

Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam

UMNO president Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s speech at the opening of the Umno General Assembly on Dec 11 was interesting, assertive and determined . However, I felt left out like many others, as the speech could have been more balanced and inclusive of all Malaysians. The Umno president is also the prime minister for all Malaysians.

The learned chairman of the Wasatiyyah Institute of Malaysia, Tan Sri Dr Abdullah Md Zin, described Wasatiyyah as “justly balanced, stressing fairness, balance, excellence and moderation”.

But the speech did not adequately fulfil these criteria. From the start, Najib showed his struggle with his own question – who am I speaking as? – “Umno president or prime minister of Malaysia – and of a plural society?”

He also raised the critical questions – “whether the Umno president should be an ultra or pro-Malay only and must be Islamic or not”. This dilemma is disturbing.

Malaysians expect that after 48 years of Merdeka, our prime minister and government should and would think of the wellbeing of all Malaysians. Hence it is depressing to hear our PM say “that we tend to defend the welfare and fate specially of the Malays and bumiputras”.

Where then is the balance and fairness to all Malaysians? We should look after the welfare of the bottom 40% of the income groups. This would remove discrimination and unnecessary divisiveness.

As the PM has rightly stated, “there is also the war of perception through the social media”.

Why not seek to be more transparent? If there are some mistakes, why not own up and let the people judge.

The public concerns regarding the 1MDB and the RM2.6 billion donation, are being slowly explained, but the rakyat want more details, before these critical issues can be put to permanent rest.

The economic issues such as inflation and the weak ringgit and low incomes and productivity and the future competitiveness and education quality, could have been given more balanced attention?

While politicking and state capture to enable the perpetuation of power, are usually the preoccupation of most politicians, the rakyat only ask for a better deal in life. They just want to survive and sustain themselves, hopefully for a higher standard of living and a better quality of life.

But the speech focused a lot on party loyalty and disputes and the appeal for support for leadership.

But the rakyat are concerned with insidious inflation. Please liberalise more and protect less by removing restrictions and undue preferences in tenders and contracts, permits and licences. Do adopt the New Economic Model at a faster pace to benefit the rakyat.

Why can’t the government re-negotiate burdensome toll and rail agreements?

Although the government can be proud of what has been done for the poor, like providing for the BR1M, Klinic Rakyat, affordable housing, the minimum wage and pay rise for civil servants, it will be realised that these are the gains made and given by the government – and not by any one political party.

Another major challenge for the government and Umno is we need to do much more to reduce the widening income inequality and reduce the trust deficit, so as to earn the rakyat’s respect and support.

The high corruption, the wide wastage of public funds and many other inefficiencies aggravate the growing problems of inflation and the weak ringgit. Our weakness in the ringgit is not all due to external factors. We must accept the reality that there are internal causes for the ringgit’s decline.

Education could have received much more attention in the speech. There could have been a resolution to stamp out corruption and money politics and to promote English? The shortage of teachers of English can surely be overcome if there is a stronger will to do so.

A resolution to use more English in schools and especially all government universities would have given a boost to confidence among youth and parents and indeed the whole country.

Although we can quote a few examples of outstanding graduates, we have to admit that our schools and universities generally have low international ratings and rankings. Should not our Umno leaders have taken note of this sad situation and resolved to go all out to overcome our weaknesses, that can keep us caught in the middle-income trap? The majority of Malays and bumis will lose out most from poor English and low quality education.

While the PM says that “we are not apologetic in defending the bumiputra agenda during discussions in the TPP discussions”, it is a pity he did not strongly encourage the bumis to struggle harder to get out of the debilitating effects of continued protectionism. It must have been difficult for Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed and his Miti officials to justify bumi status in international trade and investment negotiations, after so many years of protective policies and practices.

So there is going to be a dual economy in Malaysia even at international level. While non-bumis will have to fight and compete for trade and investment, bumis will enjoy an easier time. But there do not seem to be adequate time limits for this preferential treatment.

How could we then aim to become the top 10 most competitive country by 2030. Let’s not forget that our neighbours are making progress faster than us.

Najib said that “I as Umno president and the prime minister pledge to be fully committed in expanding and upholding the sanctity of Islam”. This aspiration is laudable. But what causes anxiety among most Malaysians would be his assertion that “only then, an Islamic state … will be established in Malaysia, God willing!”

This statement needs full clarification. It can indicate that he wants an Islamic state in Malaysia. We hope it will not be along the lines of the Islamic State in the Middle East?

It appears that our PM has consulted the ulama a great deal. It may be fruitful to also have more consultations with other racial and religious groups?

Umno could have resolved to intensify the fight against extremists.

The G25 of eminent Malays has been attacked for speaking out for wasatiyyah and justice. I am sure most Malaysians will agree that Umno and the government will need to come out more strongly to defend wasatiyyah, justice, peace and harmony that is promoted and yearned for by the G25 and most Malaysians.

Najib has effectively taken on his critics and adversaries. He resolutely resolved and reiterated that, “there shall be no retreat, no surrender”.

However, he also says “I am a gentleman” and “I decided to have a big heart” and “I am magnanimous”. This then is his challenge. The time to demonstrate these noble qualities more distinctly and significantly, is now.

Thus we hope that our prime minister will accept that there are indeed still some outstanding issues that need to be addressed with a stronger political will and with a greater sense of urgency.

Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam
Asli Centre for Public Policy Studies