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NEP inimical to and marginalizes Vision 2020 of a united nation with one Bangsa Malaysia with strong moral and ethical values, democratic, just and caring, and a competitive and dynamic global economy

by Lim Kit Siang  


(Kuala Lumpur, Tuesday) :  The topic tonight, “NEP vs Vision 2020” is most apposite.  It is not “NEP = Vision 2020” but “NEP vs 2020” because the NEP is inimical to and marginalizes Vision 2020 of a united nation with one Bangsa Malaysia with  strong moral and ethical values, democratic, just and caring, and a competitive and dynamic global economy.


Malaysia suffers from two syndromes – the denial syndrome and the amnesia syndrome.


It is because of amnesia syndrome that the Barisan Nasional government can keep getting two-third parliamentary majority in every general election, even getting 91% of the parliamentary seats in the last general election in March 2004.


Because of this  amnesia syndrome, we can easily forget our national goals and objectives.


We have for instance forgotten the Merdeka “social contract” reached by the forefathers of the major communities when the country achieved Independence in 1957 and formed Malaysia in 1963 that we are a multi-racial, democratic and secular nation with Islam as the official religion but not an Islamic state – to the extent that a Prime Minister can unilaterally, arbitrarily and unconstitutionally declare that Malaysia was an Islamic State in   the “929 Declaration” of Dr. Mahathir Mohamad on Sept. 29, 2001. 


As a result, the mainstream media is now full of  writings which would be completely unthkinkable in the first 45 years of nationhood, like the following

IKIM (Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia) article in the Star of 22nd August 2006, entitled “Debunking multiculturalism”, which throws light of the problem of the marginalization of the constitutional, religious and human rights of Malaysians, which said:


“A secular Malaysia would be an enemy not only to Islam but a common enemy to all religions.”


We easily forget the Reid Constitution Commission Report 1956 on “The Special Position of the Malays”, stating that “with the integration of the various communities into a common nationality which we trust will gradually come about, the need for these preferences will gradually disappear” and recommended that after 15 years, there should be a review of the whole matter and Parliament should then determine to retain or to discontinue them entirely.


Malaysians, including government leaders,  have forgotten the Rukunegara. How many can recite with five principles of the national  ideology – belief in God, loyalty to king and country, supremacy of the Constitution, the rule of law and mutual respect and good social behaviour.  Probably because the  Rukunegara had been violated through and through for over two decades by none other than the government itself.


Can we really remember what is the NEP – the New Economic Policy – about? Its not just about its two prong strategy of eradication of poverty and restructuring society.  They overriding objective and sovereign purpose  of  NEP is the promotion of  national unity.  When we assess the performance and outcomes of the NEP, it must stand or fall solely on whether it  could fulfill one critera – to advance national unity.


At the end of the 20-year NEP in July 1989, I had given the following assessment of NEP in my speech to the  Malaysian Economic Consultative Council ( where two panelists tonight Prof Lim Teck Ghee and Tan Sri Datuk Abdul Khalid Ibrahim were also members) shortly after my release from Kamunting Detention Centre after a second spell as “guest of His Majesty”s Government” under the Internal Security Act:


 “Regardless of our political beliefs or affiliation, I think it is fair to say that there is a strong national consensus transcending race, religion or political beliefs, that racial polarization had never been so serious in Malaysia as today. Two former Prime Ministers, Tunku Abdul Rahman and Tun Hussein Onn, and former Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Musa Hitam, had publicly gone on record to express their concerns on this matter.


“Although there are many causes to explain why racial polarization in Malaysia is so acute and aggravated today, the NEP is undoubtedly one of the main if not the primary cause.


“In the past two decades, ethnic identity, consciousness and distinctiveness have become not only more pronounced, it has permeated so extensively as to influence school children at a very early age. Malaysians think of themselves more as Malays, Chinese, Indians, Kadazans and Ibans rather than as Malaysians, and from a very younger age than before NEP.


“The NEP not only enhanced this ethnic compartmentalization and segregation in the Malaysian thinking and consciousness, it also institutionalized a further division of Malaysians into bumiputras and non-bumiputrafs – a distinction not prevalent before the NEP in 1970.


The testimony of the Deputy Labour Minister, Datuk K. Pathmanaban, is pertinent here.  Datukk Pathmanaban was the director of planning in the social sector in the Economic Planning Unit in the Prime Minister’s Department when the NEP was being formulated in 1969 and 1970, and he told a Star feature writer in an article which appeared on 4th October 1986:


“’In the first place, we in the  EPU in our discussions and in formulating the policy were very careful not to include the words bumiputra and non-bumiputra because there was a general understanding that this would create a dichotomy.


“’So, we used the phrase Malays and other indigenous communities or MOIC, as we used to call it.’


“But what has happened after 19 years NEP? An unintended dichotomy seems to have been set in concrete to become a permanent division of Malaysians, as every Malaysian is now classified either as a bumiputra or non-bumiputrra. Had Malaysian leaders taken pause to consider what this new division of Malaysians has cost the nation in terms of national unity?”


Now the NEP has been extended from a 20-year into a 50-year policy, continuing to be a source of grave national dissension both between bumiputras and non-bumiputras as well as between the bumiputra haves and bumiputra have-nots.


Except that the NEP has now a religious dimension, with Islam Hadhari elevated by the Ninth Malaysia Plan as “a comprehensive and universal development framework for the nation”, reflecting not only diminishing sensitivity, respect and space for Malaysia as a secular and  multi-religious nation but the new and additional  problem of religious polarization.


Finally, Malaysians have also forgotten about the objectives of Vision 2020.  Apart from the talk of a fully developed nation status in 2020, very little is now heard about the objective of creating a Bangsa Malaysia.


Many have forgotten that as envisaged by Vision 2020, Malaysia should not be developed only in the economic sense. It must be a nation that is fully developed along all the dimensions: economically, politically, socially, spiritually, psychologically and culturally – and in  terms of national unity and social cohesion, in terms of our economy, in terms of social justice, political stability, system of government, quality of life, social and spiritual values, national pride and confidence.


The NEP, as extended from a 20-year to a 50-year programme, is inimical to and marginalizes  Vision 2020 of a united nation with one   Bangsa Malaysia with strong moral and ethical values, democratic, just  and caring, and a  competitive and dynamic global economy


But Malaysia also  suffers  from a severe case of denial syndrome. I will just mention two cases.


Firstly, denial that  NEP had worsened ethnic polarization rather than contributed to national unity, retarded economic growth and aggravated social and economic inequities.


Secondly, that  2020 has gone off-track as far as fully developed nation status in 2020 is concerned, unless we want to emulate the Selangor example of claiming the first state to be fully developed although it ranks fourth after Kuala Lumpur, Penang, and Malacca in the Development Composite Index by State 2006 (Table 17-1, Ninth Malaysia Plan).


Vision 2020, proclaimed in 1990, is predicated on a strong, resilent, vibrant and competitive economy growing by an annual average rate of growth of 7 per cent until the year 2020. At the average annual growth rate of 7 per cent, Malaysia would have accomplished the goal of doubling its real gross domestic product every ten years between 1990 and 2020 – with the GDP about eight times larger by the year 2020 than it was in 1990.


The economic growth targets of Vision 2020 are however not achievable as the Malaysian economy grew at an average rate of 6.2 per cent per annum in the first 15 years  from 1991-2005 while the Third Industrial Masterplan has targeted 6.3 per cent economic growth for the next 15 years from 2006-2010.


Is the government prepared to come out frankly to admit that the Vision 2020’s economic growth targets are not achievable?


Vision 2020 has not only gone off-track in terms of its economic growth objectives, but also with regard to its nine strategic challenges and objectives, particularly on the creation of a Bangsa Malaysia.


An opinion survey by Merdeka Centre for Opinion Research on ethnic relations early this year found (i) although 90 per cent of the respondents were proud to be Malaysian, only 45 per cent considered themselves as Malaysians first; and (ii) Forty-two per cent viewed themselves as members of their ethnic group first while 12 per cent considered themselves as equally Malaysian and a member of their ethnic group.


In another survey of 1,000 randomly selected Muslims, when asked in terms of identity to choose which defined them most, being Malay, Muslim or Malaysian, 72.7 per cent chose being Muslim as their primary identity.


There is denial about the worsening problem of international competitiveness of the country, whether in terms of more efficient public service delivery, the fight against corruption or achieving educational excellence.


From the World Bank’s latest Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI) 2006 report, Malaysia fared worse as compared to 10 years ago in five of the six good governance indicators – voice and accountability, political stability and absence of violence, government effectiveness, regulatory  quality, rule of law and control of corruption.


The WGI comparative data on the “control of corruption” indicator tells a very sad story, not only of Malaysia losing in the fight against corruption but falling behind more and more countries on this front.


Malaysia’s ranking in the Transprency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI)  plunged from No. 23 in 1995 to No. 37 in 2003 and No. 39 in 2005.  Despite the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s pledge to uphold national integrity and to fight corruption, this plunge has not halted.


From the WGI data Malaysia had lost out to 12 other countries in the Transparency International CPI 2005 ranking – namely Hungary,  Italy, South Korea,  Kuwait,  South Africa, Czech Republic, Greece, Slovakia, Costa Rica, Latvia, Mauritius, Thailand which had ranked from No. 40 (Hungary, Italy and South Korea) to No. 59 (Thailand) in the Transparency International CPI 2005.


In last week’s Parliament, I had specifically asked  the Higher Education Minister, Datuk Mustapha Mohamed to respond to Tunku Abdul Aziz’  article “Be blind in race for educational excellence” in the New Straits Times of 12th September 2006. Tunku Aziz  is special adviser to the UN secretary-general in the Ethics Office.


Writing about the small number of Malaysians in Oxbridge and Ivy League universities, Tunku Aziz had recounted that in his two speeches to undergraduates at Harvard University on corruption and ethics issues, there were large numbers of Chinese students from Singapore, Hong Kong, a sprinkling from Malaysia and even China. He did not see a single Malay.

He wrote:


“In the United States, Mara and other government sponsored students, nearly all Malays, could at best be placed in mediocre state universities which are less fussy about standards.


“The Malays have somehow become the unintended victims of misguisded Malay chauvinism disguised as nationalism, the handiwork of over-zealous politicians with a keen eye on popularity.


“Nationalism of the variety being propagated by the vocal minority is really irrelevant in today’s Malaysia. It has no place in the larger context of the global social and economic order, with excellence as the only legitimate benchmark.


“Malays do not need crutches to get through life, but they, together with other Malaysians of all races, can do with a clear and sensible policy direction in education that will, at least, enable them to make a real contribution to national development”.


Mustapha not unexpectedly avoided the issue in his reply.


Malaysia needs a new national  policy and vision that unites rather divides Malaysians, motivates rather than alienates its citizenry, based on excellence, efficiency, socio-economic needs and justice rather than communalism, cronyism  and corruption.


Tunku Aziz ended his article with the challenge: “We need a world-beater in educational terms. Forget race which is an accident, anyway, and think of the nation and its needs.  Do we have the stomach for this approach?”


This is a question on a larger plane which Malaysians must answer. Do we have the stomach for a world-beater in a new national policy and vision  that can allow Malaysia to take her rightful place internationally in the era of globalization, where the competition is not between Malays and non-Malays but between Malaysians and the rest of the world.



*  Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman

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