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The speech by the European Commission ambassador on the NEP has raised a predictable firestorm of protest from the Malaysian authorities based on its 'political incorrectness' as well as its alleged lack of factual content. The deputy prime minister stated that 'what was raised can certainly be disputed factually'.

I am sure Malaysians will welcome a detailed a point-by-point rebuttal by our leaders of the speech by ambassador Thierry Rommel. The issues raised by him are serious and warrant an open and objective discussion by all Malaysians, especially by our country's business leaders and policy-makers whom, I hope, will not be mute on this issue.

According to Rommel, the government is using the NEP as an excuse to practice 'significant protectionism of its own market' including the automotive sector, steel, consumer goods, agricultural products, services and government contracts. Malaysia claims these are 'infant' industries that need to be protected but 'in reality it is the Malay-centered bumiputera policy that drives protectionist policies,' Rommel is reported to have said .

In the same report, the director of a Belgium-based forwarding company which has a 51 percent bumiputera partner, and is required to work with local companies on government-related projects, has said that the (NEP) limitations have eroded his profit margin. 'We cannot be as flexible as we want to be and chances that corruption comes into play is higher. It is an interruption to the free market'.

Perhaps Rommel's concerns that an inefficient public service, corruption and questionable practices of Malay preference which have dampened the business environment and economy of the country and discouraged foreign investment could have been communicated differently.

But they are certainly not factually disputable as the deputy prime minister and the foreign minister have described them; neither are these concerns new, irrelevant, tangential or irresponsible. They are the same issues that are being raised by concerned Malaysians all the time over the freer web media and in closed-door business meetings. To continue to be in a state of denial over these issues will only compound the pain and dislocation when these concerns are finally addressed.

I would like to suggest, too, that the Barisan Nasional Youth leaders who have spoken out on the issue not hide behind the wall of political protocol. Instead of issuing veiled threats, they should use the opportunity to refute or rebut these concerns with reasoned and empirically supported data, including feedback from the business community and other major stakeholders in this debate.

It is noticeable that it is Umno leaders who have spoken out so far. Other Barisan Nasional leaders need to find their voices on this important issue which is not going to go away any times soon.

Finally, Rommel deserves a vote of thanks from Malaysians for his warning on how Malaysia is marginalising itself though archaic racial protectionist policies and the consequences on our competitive edge.