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Sakmongkol ak 47

Sunday 29 June 2008


During the 2005 UMNO general assembly, we seemed to be moving backwards in our economic thinking. In the 1980’s we liberalised the economy. We encouraged and supported private initiatives to expand the economy. This was in line with the ideas of liberal democracy, where the initiatives of the individual can be counted on to make the country prosper. It was also the time where we saw extensive privatisation of our economy. Government sold its assets to selected few Bumiputeras hoping to give them the platform to launch their businesses further.

Suddenly, we appear to reverse our economic policy. We are ready to adopt what can only be described as collectivist tendencies. We are urging control of assets be brought back and be concentrated in the hands of public companies. We readily blame the failures of the NEP to rapacious business persons who were greedy. We said those individuals who benefited from government largesse, were not bright or were not imbued with the required doses of patriotism and nationalist pride. The failures, the collectivist proponents say, can be solved by expanded government control of the economy.

Many of us who support the idea of liberal democracy are actually advancing collectivist ideas without knowing it. We accepted the basic idea that people and individuals are the real agents of change. In order to create the people, individuals with private initiatives, we need a regime of liberal democracy. We said we intended to build a large stock of human capital, which is good. Because we accept that through individual initiatives, by each pursuing the interests that fancy them, will produce the greatest good for society. The question we ask then, is how do we create such a regime, when we are now advocating a retreat from liberal democratic ideas? Moving towards collectivist ideas is certainly a retreat from liberal democracy.

The flavour of the month word is government linked company. Some have even advocated the word UMNO Linked Company and Politically Linked Company. What these terms mean, is really a call to concentrate wealth generating assets in the hands of government companies. Why? Because then the government can distribute the wealth to deserving Bumiputeras who will add to reducing the wealth gap between the ethnic groups in Malaysia. We are given promises that these companies will be managed efficiently by intelligent and highly skilled and motivated Bumiputera professionals. We are further promised that when these companies become profitable, their wealth will be distributed fairly. So far, we are only given assurances and promises.

We appear to accept the view that we must empower state owned enterprises as the principal agents of Malay economic advancement. We implored the delegates to resuscitate the NEP. We seem to accept as good, the idea to form a secretariat monitoring the performances, regulate or otherwise control the newly re-constituted SOEs. Will technically sound politicians be opted into the secretariat? Or will it be a shadowy organisation ensuring the placement of strategic partners in the economic pie? Let us see where this kind of argument takes us.

A few years down the road, the particular GLC managed by a particular team show good results. At the end of the contractual period, out of gratitude for the good performance, we say let us divest this business to the team. Surprisingly, after a few years of competing in the open market, without the safe government cocoon, our brainy boys fail in their various businesses. Then, it will be back to square one for all of us. The very same outcome of our economic policies implemented in the 1980’s which we decry, are now the fruits of our labour.

We profess to uphold the idea of liberal democracy and the free enterprises system but at the same time become the intellectual proponents of disguised collectivist tendencies. Yet despite the unimpressive record of Malay economic advancement, if measured by corporate equity ownership, we have actually made the right step of carrying out liberal economic ideas. Which, if allowed to continue, will prove to be the only system that could create individualistic Malays and Malaysians capable of pushing the economic frontiers further. Let us stop for a moment and recognise this fact. The Malaysian Chinese economy did not and never depended on protective government policies to grow ever faster and larger. Therefore, why must we Malays have government protection to do well? What we actually need is a New Bumiputera Competitive Policy (NBCP) to create the pool of Bumiputeras who can propel our economy as a whole.

Thus, I am suggesting caution before we accept wholesale, the idea to empower state owned enterprises, now known as GLCs to steer the economy on behalf of the Malays. The outcome, I am afraid will be the same situation of excesses and of crony capitalism which were criticised. The liberal economic policies of the 1980s regarded as being responsible for those excesses appeared to be abandoned by the present leadership at the UMNO General Assembly in 2005.


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