I find that the ongoing bipolar advocacy on the statistics of bumiputera equity/wealth in the economy is taking a very predictable 'them versus us' slant. Whilst there are fair-minded opinions calling for more openness and acceptance of intellectual debate on this issue, the majority of people have taken a partisan view when expressing their opinion.
On one side, you have the Asli sympathisers/apologists asserting a need to review EPU's (Economic Planning Unit) methodology of computing the numbers on the grounds that using par value for shares and exclusion of the GLCs (government-linked companies) results is an understatement of the achievement of bumiputera equity targets under the NEP (New Economic Policy).
On the other side, you have the another group (my observation points only to Umno apologists in this group) exclaiming that Asli's (Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute) agenda is suspect when they choose to adopt a methodology that results in a conclusion that differs from the official government numbers.
That both methods are different is a fact. That different methodologies will result in different conclusions is to be expected. That any public debate on economic development and public policies in Malaysia will be politicised is sadly predictable.
As a post-Merdeka Malaysian and an NEP child who commenced formal education one year into the launch of the NEP, I think I deserve more! I need leaders who know their job and will make my country a better place for future generations. Indeed, as Malaysians who operate in a global economy that is increasingly competitive, we all deserve more. I feel there are questions that are not raised that need to be answered if we are to have a chance to prosper and develop as a nation in this fast-changing world.
I must start with the assumption that government formulates its NEP policies based on EPU's numbers which I expect have remain unchanged since the beginning. Therefore, the government's assertion that EPU's numbers are correct must be accepted. If nothing else, at least it serves as common basis and has remained a consistent measure through the years. In fact, it should be viewed as a key KPI (key performance indicators) for the NEP and by extension, the performance of the government and implementors of the policy.
I must also reject any notion or insinuation that these official numbers are fudged by the government to suit its political agenda. A government that does this is bankrupt and its leaders will pay the price for such corruption. I believe my government is honest.
The Asli report makes no suggestion that EPU's statistics are manipulated. It attempts to promote an alternative methodology to invite intellectual debate and highlight the shortcomings of any opaque statistics and the danger of basing national policies on numbers that are not publicly understood. The Asli research team does not hide the fact that they are doing anything other than using a different methodology.
To some extent, its conclusion is favourable to the government as the NEP policy's implementors for the success in achieving one of the main stated goals - to redistribute wealth to the bumiputera. Yet, at the same time, Asli makes some salient observations on the need to do more for the millions of poor Malaysians (bumiputera and non-bumiputera) that remain in the lower income strata of our society.
But I must say the vocal (emotional?) response by the Umno faction of the government is, to put it mildly, a tad puzzling. Top Umno leaders in the BN government have been key stakeholders and custodians of the NEP's implementation for the last 35 years. Instead of claiming glory, they are screaming that they do not deserve any credit for the success. In fact, the arguments can be paraphrased as follows:
"Look, don't you dare suggest we are successful. We have undeniable statistics to prove to you that we as leaders of Umno and the government have failed to deliver on our promises to the people.'
"Our failure is so irrefutable that despite extending the NEP by another 15 years after the initial 20 years, we have still failed to do what we set out to do in the first place."
"Asli's report is malicious, we are not successful, we are failures."
"To suggest that we are anything but failures is stirring racial sentiment and must be rejected."
"We have nothing to hide. We are transparent about our failures".
Such honesty is rare and must be admired. If these statements were uttered by the CEO of any corporation, you can logically expect that the board entrusted to protect shareholders would fire the CEO. On the other hand, if the board on the whole makes these proclamations, you can expect the shareholders to remove the entire board.
In my opinion, the public space for debate on the Asli report is focusing on the wrong issues. It is more relevant for us to ask why should such a group of under-performers and self-declared comprehensive failures be entrusted with the job of delivering on anything anymore? There is no legitimacy to support the claim that an Umno-dominated BN government can deliver on the targets of the NEP.
By clinging on to the veracity of the EPU's numbers, our present leaders are unknowingly digging a bigger hole for themselves. The opposition parties could do well in capitalising on this point in their message to the electorate.
It is unrealistic to expect that everyone can perform and to expect everyone to deliver on promises. Our leaders quite obviously cannot. This is human nature. As a voting Malaysian, I will honour our present leaders and respect their honesty. Let us accept that they cannot deliver, the evidence supports this.