Najib to boost stake of Malays in economy

MALAYSIA - Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has announced a slew of measures aimed at raising the stake of Malays in the economy, in what is seen as reward for their support of the Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) in the general election in May and an effort to secure their loyalty in the next.

In his first major policy speech since the BN was returned to power four months ago, he said on Saturday that the new economic agenda will include upgrading the skills of Malays and other indigenous races and helping them to own more homes and businesses.

But Datuk Seri Najib said the plan, called Pemerkasaan Ekonomi Bumiputera (Strengthening the Bumiputeras), should not be misconstrued as a move to deny the rights and interests of the non-Malays.

"After the general election, we heard various complaints, many cries for help and unhappiness, raised by the bumiputeras on their fate, future and direction," he said in a speech that was beamed live on radio and television, and streamed over the Internet.

"We hear you. We hear you loud and clear."

The bumiputeras comprise Malays, who form roughly half of the population, the aboriginal Orang Asli, and tribal groups in Sabah and Sarawak. Together, they make up about 68.9 per cent of all Malaysians, he said in a cavernous hall at Universiti Teknologi Mara, a giant college for bumiputeras, in the Selangor capital.

The overtly pro-Malay agenda comes a week before Umno opens nominations for its annual polls. The Premier is seen as having a weak grip on Malaysia's biggest political party, which has grown weary of his wooing of the Chinese and libertarians who rebuffed him in the general election, analysts and party members said.

Though unlikely to face a strong challenger, he needs to come out from the polls and Umno's annual assembly next month with a new set of party leaders who are fully behind him, they said.

He said a RM10 billion (S$4 billion) unit trust will be set up to raise Malay corporate equity stakes.

The government will also ensure that government-linked companies and the national oil firm, Petronas, will dish out more projects to Malay-owned companies, and will inject hundreds of millions of ringgit into agencies that help raise entrepreneurs.

All ministries must also set up a unit to ensure help for companies owned by Malays and other indigenous races. Existing agencies will make sure that more residential, office and industrial projects are developed and made available to bumiputeras.

To Mr Najib's critics, the new Malay economic agenda is a rollback of the reforms that he undertook since assuming office four years ago. These include repealing the Internal Security Act, and allowing for street demonstrations and more transparency in some government tenders.

He also moved to be more amenable to Malaysian Chinese demands such as recognising degrees from China, and helping local Chinese school finances.

But only 16 per cent of Chinese voters backed the BN at the polls, angering Umno members who now want him to get closer to the Malay voters who backed the coalition.

Malay leaders lauded Mr Najib's effort. Bumiputera Contractors Association president Tukiman Radion said: "We were left behind before. Now, we will have the financial help to raise our game."

In his speech, Mr Najib delved into Malaysia's modern history to show how the bumiputera policy of past decades - known as the New Economic Policy (NEP) - had raised bumiputeras' equity stakes in listed companies to 23.5 per cent in 2011, from just 2.4 per cent in the 1970s.

In professions such as law, engineering and medicine, Malays now account for about 50 per cent of the jobs, compared with just a handful in the 1970s.

This proved that the NEP formulated by his father, former prime minister Abdul Razak Hussein, after the 1969 race riots had been successful in narrowing the gap between bumiputeras and the economically and professionally dominant Chinese, he said.

Still, Mr Najib will have to ensure that the government will deliver all the way to the grassroots, as the NEP and its successive policies over the decades were accused of enriching only a select group.

"People have heard all the rhetoric and promises," said Mr Ramli Yunus, secretary at a Kedah Umno division. "They will be sceptical until these are delivered, so we hope this will happen."

RAISING THE STAKES

Highlights of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak's plans to raise the stake of Malays in the economy:

- A RM10 billion (S$4 billion) unit trust to raise Malay corporate equity stakes.

- RM1 billion to support young Malay and women entrepreneurs.

- Government-linked companies, including Petronas, to give more contracts to ethnic Malays on a merit basis.

- Build more affordable homes and speed up Malay real estate development.

- RM1 billion education fund aimed at increasing university enrolment of bumiputera students to 250,000 by 2020.

PM Najib on...

Fairness

"Certainly we are doing what is fair, we are doing what is right and we are doing what is equitable."

The rights of others

"Really, this major initiative, we are doing not to cut out, or by taking away, the rights of other people, or to deny the interests of others."

reme@sph.com.sg


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