Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s criticism of BR1M is totally unjustified and unacceptable to the millions of BR1M recipients. He needs to take note that it was mainly due to his allegedly unfair socio-economic policies and practices during his long rule that have now necessitated hand-outs and aid schemes like BR1M .
It was during his administration that the rich- poor gap allegedly widened the most in the country and the effects can be seen even today and will not be erased in the near future despite Malaysia’s aim of becoming a developed country by 2020 and also a high-income nation.
During Mahathir’s lengthy tenure, rich communities allegedly became wealthier and poor ones more impoverished and allegedly there were no major efforts and measures by his government to holistically address the issues of socio-economic inequality despite the country’s fast paced progress and development.
Instead he focused more on schemes closer to his heart and that of his friends. His cronies, friends and political lackeys allegedly benefited to the tune of billions of ringgit through privatisation schemes and dubious projects. The billions of ringgit from Petronas were used to conceal or shield various problems and defects in the economy, one of which were the subsidies that benefitted the better-off more than the lower-income group.
He introduced the political patronage system which, together with corruption, allegedly continues to be the bane of the economy. He marginalised certain groups which are now impoverished and have fallen prey to various social problems.
Today the urban poor outnumber the rural ones and one of the reasons for this was the lack of a minimum wage for workers and the influx of millions of foreign workers have further suppressed the wages and income of locals. During the boom years of Mahathir’s administration, various social welfare schemes to help the lower income group, senior citizens and single parents could have been initiated but he ignored their plight.
Instead he went full steam ahead with his programme of privatisation that undervalued national assets for the benefit of a small group and some of the entities he created through allegedly biased contracts and agreements - telcos, highway operators, the independent power producers/Tenaga Nasional Berhad and cable television networks take away a big chunk of the people’s income.
His allegedly lopsided development policies enabled only some of the west coast states such as Selangor, Penang and Kuala Lumpur to prosper but left out the others, especially Sabah and Sarawak, without major progress. His successors have tried to address some of these shortcomings by implementing a more balanced approach nationwide to reduce the disparities and poverty. BR1M is part of such an effort and not corruption.