The New Economic Policy (NEP) was intended to be a "temporary crutch" and abolished when the Malays and bumiputeras are capable of standing on their own two feet, said former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohammad. He said the whole point of the NEP and similar programmes would be lost if the Malay and bumiputera communities continue to rely on it for financial support, a "weakness" which he said is inherent in their culture.
KUALA LUMPUR, April 16 — Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad today berated the Malay community for being rent-seekers, but pressed for the retention of affirmative action to “correct” the country’s wealth imbalance among the races.
In a keynote speech to commemorate the 44th anniversary of Majlis Amanah Rakyat (Mara), a government agency set up boost Bumiputera participation in business and education, the former premier said the Malays must not be proud of always getting aid from the government.
“Aid is like a crutch... to be given when we are weak” he told an attentive Malay audience, which packed the ground floor foyer of Medan MARA, the agency’s headquarters here.
“It is better if we can stand firmly on our own feet,” he added.
“Do not be proud with such aid. In truth, we are not masters because of aid,” he chided, lamenting the general attitude among the Malay community which frequently looked for the easiest way of getting rich.
Dr Mahathir, a strident anti-colonial critic, told the crowd that many of the affirmative action policies they regarded as their natural rights were actually created by the colonial British, who viewed them as a backward race in need of handicaps, drawing parallels to the “Red Indians” who continue to reside in Native American reserves in the US.
The author of “The Malay Dilemma” pointed out that the New Economic Policy (NEP) drawn up 30 years ago was never meant to be a permanent policy.
“The NEP was a temporary crutch,” he reminded the crowd, and added that the real Malay fight was not to preserve affirmative action but to spur the community towards better economic opportunities.
He added that Mara, as a government agency, provided such opportunities and urged them not to waste the chances.
“I think we don’t have to rely on aid forever,” he added.
But Dr Mahathir later told a press conference that he did not think the time had come to fully dismantle NEP-style policies.
“The exact time, I can’t say but we must see the result first. You fix the time, [but] you don’t know what your achievement is like. You have to give it more time, have to be patient,” he said, when quizzed on a suitable timeframe for the policy to be phased out.
Dr Mahathir also said he did not see the other ethnic races as having lost out much in terms of economic opportunities as a result of the government’s policies favouring the Bumiputeras.
“In this country, if you study the distribution of wealth, it is still unequal so we need to correct that. And we have been doing this thing for so many years, for almost 50 years.
“It’s not like it has hampered the growth of this country nor have people run away from this country because of injustice or unfairness from the government,” he said.
Dr Mahathir conceded that there were statistics showing an increase in the number of Malaysians leaving the country, but defended this as a natural process that other countries also faced.
“One has to take the good with the bad,” he explained.
The former prime minister seemed to suggest that the brain drain was not critical and that Malaysia was not losing talents as such.
“Of course there will be people who will leave. They feel they are in this country to enjoy the benefits but not to make the sacrifice.”