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LETTER | Can PKR be any different or is it a mere clone of Umno?

What a let-down by PKR secretary-general Saifuddin Nasution when he took a racial position over the awarding of the digital bank licences. It was very unbecoming of him.

Bank Negara Malaysia had granted these licences to five companies after a rigorous and stringent scrutiny of selection based on merit, integrity, competence, experience, etc.

One can safely assume that those who sat on the selection board must have been wholly or mostly Malays. And they chose the most deserving applicants as worthy of digital bank licence holders. In making their choice, they could not have been ignorant of the racial composition of these companies. They were focused and objective in their duty. They should be lauded for acting prudently in the interest of the nation.

But Saifuddin contended that “Out of five companies, only one is bumiputera. I am confident … many bumiputera fintech companies… are more than qualified to be granted a licence," he said in a statement on Facebook.

We must ask Saifuddin regarding those who were successfully awarded the licences, “Aren’t they Malaysians?” Did the “many bumiputera fintech companies that are more than qualified to be granted a licence” – as he claimed – apply for the digital bank licences? If they did, they had gone through the sieve of strict selection and must have been rejected as not qualified enough to deserve the digital licence.

According to Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM), they received 29 applications “which were thoroughly assessed pursuant to section 10 (1) of FSA and IFSA,” which require BNM to consider all factors in Schedule 5 of the Acts and other relevant policy requirements.

The assessment criteria cover the character and integrity of applicants, the nature and sufficiency of financial resources, the soundness and feasibility of business and technology plans as well as the ability to meaningfully address financial inclusion gaps.

BNM further stated that “it has instituted strict governance and evaluation procedures to ensure robust, objective and consistent assessments across all 29 applications received. Four levels of assessment were carried out, supported by a cross-functional technical team, a review team and internal independent observers from BNM’s risk and legal departments.”

The BNM statement added that the final recommendations to the minister were deliberated and endorsed by BNM’s Management Committee.

From the above clarification, it is abundantly clear that only the best and the most qualified have been chosen. What is there to gripe about, Saifuddin?

Saifuddin’s stand is most disappointing as the party he represents – PKR – was touted to be a party for all Malaysians irrespective of ethnicity who deserve to be served through a needs-based policy without excluding any poor of any community. This policy would undoubtedly help the majority of the Malays who are poor without denying help to the deserving poor of the other communities. It is a sharp, pointed and incisive inclusive policy which is commendable.

By veering away from this praise-worthy approach of addressing poverty in our country, he has debunked all that PKR had stood for and championed all these years.

Why he resorted to this biased and despicable approach when the economy is in tatters is puzzling. Has it, by chance, anything to do with the internal PKR election due to take place between 8-13 May 2022 in which he is going for the deputy president’s post against Rafizi Ramli? Is a party position so important that he had to trample upon a decided policy matter?

The fact that no other top PKR leader had rebutted his stand is most disturbing. It gives the impression that PKR is wishy-washy about its own stand on equal treatment for the poor. It should be uncompromisingly firm and clear so that there will be no room to doubt their sincerity about their policy.

‘Shamelessly honest’

When a national leader like Saifuddin turns his back on what is right and proper, without being cautioned by the PKR leadership and the Pakatan Harapan presidential council, what do you expect from the state leaders? It was not surprising that Terengganu PKR chief Azan Ismail had foolishly claimed that “the imbalance in awarding digital bank licences would badly affect bumiputera equity ownership goals.”

Azan had urged Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob and Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz to address the "imbalance" in awarding digital bank licences. In a statement on 1 May 2022, Azan claimed the government's choice of five licence recipients would badly affect bumiputera equity ownership goals.

Little do they care that those bumiputeras appointed to head GLCs, Felda and Tabung Haji, besides others, did not contribute to the development of these entities to assist the economy of the country. In many instances, they looted and squandered and enriched themselves. Is this what he needs repeated?

In this respect Umno is truthful. Umno is shamelessly honest in declaring their biased policies favouring the Malays at the expense of the poor non-Malays. Umno would want to grab as much as possible from the non-Malays and deny them whatever that they can manage. We have no doubt about Umno’s declared stand. It’s crystal clear. It is an exclusivist product of biasness and extreme discrimination that violates justice and fairness.

This is where PKR fails to stand out by being consistent to the policies espoused by it. And many who voted for it are upset and angry that certain PKR leaders have not shed their Umno DNA. The sooner the PKR wakes up and understands the sentiments on the ground level, the better it would be for PKR. Otherwise, it is in for a great shock come GE15.

PKR should not be carried away by its performance at the GE14. They won not because they were PKR; they won because the disillusioned Malaysian voters turned against the BN and cast their protest votes in favour of Harapan.

It was the majority non-Malay votes that ensured victory for Harapan and Saifuddin has conveniently forgotten this truth although he was a beneficiary.

If PKR embarks on this route to woo the Malays with biased policies, they don’t deserve our support. Let that be clear. The sooner the PKR acts to get back on track in defending its original policies and declared statements, the better will it be for PKR.

Failure to act would be seen as a betrayal of the trust of the electorate that voted for Harapan. Be warned, they are in a mood to punish you if you don’t return to the straight path of sanity, sincerity and integrity. They won’t tolerate your nonsense and they won’t forgive your betrayal.

P RAMAKRISHNAN is former president of Aliran.

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