Najib's new pro-Malay plan: Repackaged crony machine?

Najib's new pro-Malay plan: Repackaged crony machine?
Datuk Seri Najib Razak (in the middle smiling) and Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin (in red) arriving at the Bumiputera economic program in Shah Alam.

MALAYSIA - IS PRIME Minister Najib Razak's new Malay economic agenda announced last Saturday a pillar of an "inclusive growth" strategy like Singapore's?

Or does it mark the return of the New Economic Policy (NEP), Malaysia's affirmative action plan turned crony machine, in a new packaging?

The answer, perhaps, is a bit of both and depends on where one chooses to zoom in and on how effectively the government delivers its promise, according to analysts.

For now, at least, Datuk Seri Najib's announcement of his plan - Pemerkasaan Ekonomi Bumiputera (Strengthening the Bumiputera Economy) - should convince Umno leaders that he has heeded their calls to extend more aid to the Malays.

The new measures aim to raise the stake of Malays in the economy, in what is seen as reward for their support of the Umno-led Barisan Nasional in the general election in May and an attempt to secure their loyalty for the next.

The initiatives include creating more entrepreneurs and upgrading the skills of bumiputeras, comprising Malays who form roughly half of the population and other indigenous races.

"Bumiputeras are still far behind in almost all sectors, especially in the corporate sector and business, as well as asset ownership," columnist Awang Selamat wrote in Sunday's Umno-owned Utusan newspaper. Awang Selamat is the collective voice of Utusan's editors.

Still, Mr Najib's plan, announced ahead of Umno party elections next month, raises concerns that it will leave non- bumiputera minorities behind. Worse, it risks alienating the Chinese and Indian communities.

Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam, chairman of the Centre for Public Policy Studies, said the government should include "all Malaysians, since there are large numbers of poor non-bumiputeras as well".

Others see in Mr Najib's new Malay economic agenda strong echoes of the NEP, which Prime Minister Tun Razak Hussein, his late father, launched in 1971 following deadly racial riots in 1969.

Though the NEP ended officially in 1990 and was succeeded by other programmes, the name stuck. Over the years, the policy has come under fire, with critics saying it was being used to cut sweetheart deals for people with ties to government leaders rather than to help needy bumiputeras.

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