The issue of poverty in Malaysia must be recognised and addressed by the government without being viewed through a racial lens, said former finance minister Daim Zainuddin.
Speaking a conference held by the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute (Asli) on "Poverty in Malaysia: Reality vs Perception” Daim emphasised that racial and religious diversity was a strength and something to be built on.
“We can eradicate poverty provided we are united and we tell ourselves that we are Malaysians first. Let’s take advantage of our diversity and let us fight those who are against unity," he said, according to a report by The Edge.
He lambasted those who tried to play up divisive issues and distract from building bridges and solving problems.
“Why are we bringing all these unnecessary, emotional (issues) today, which does not help anybody. Let us be proud to be Malaysians, this is our country," he said, citing the experiences of many Malaysians who had died for the country regardless of their ethnic background.
Daim also said he was unsure where the 30 percent figure for bumiputeras under the New Economic Policy (NEP) came from. Under the NEP, bumiputera equity ownership was targeted at 30 percent to increase bumiputera participation in the economy.
“I am not sure if there was a proper study done - and originally, it was only shares," he said.
Daim went on to call for the government to implement its Shared Prosperity Vision 2030 (SPV 2030) policy efficiently and fairly.
His call echoes that of PKR president Anwar Ibrahim PKR president Anwar Ibrahim who has promised that he will accelerate the transition from race-based affirmative action economic plans to one that is needs-based when he becomes the prime minister.
Anwar also said the government should review the poverty rate in Malaysia following a United Nations (UN) report claiming that the national poverty rate is at 15 percent and not at 0.4 percent as reported in 2016.
Like Anwar, Daim stressed that the challenge of overcoming poverty could not be dealt with on a racial basis.
“I want Malaysians to think like Malaysians. Let’s work together because this is a beautiful country. No nation in the world has what we have," said Daim, who is chairperson of the Council of Eminent Persons.