Dr Collin Abraham
THE ASLI-EPU CONTROVERSY
It is perhaps not ironical that the first foray of Asli as a Think Tank into a mainstream Five-Year Development Planing debate should have invited, and indeed become embroiled in controversy. This was precisely what Think Tanks are supposed to do, which is why I managed to persuade the Asli CEO to re-invent the organisation from a benign seminar/forum into a movement that assesses and evaluates political economic and social issues with a view to providing guidelines for Government policies and implementation. In fact it can be argued that the main reason for the Asli’s report sticking out like a ‘sore thumb’ is because none of the other so-called Think Tanks have ever publicly come out with reports that question the ‘status quo” let alone being critical of government policies and therefore the Asli stand has been open to questions even as to the motives or agendas for the evaluation exercise itself!
It is important to recognise in the first instance is that the Asli Report was intended to focus on the improvement of 9th Malaysia Plan implementation strategies, in the process of which it was discovered that there seemed to be a vast disparity in the figures computing the distribution of equity stock along lines of ethnicity. There has therefore been considerable attention given in the debate to what is essentially a matter of methodology in computation and distribution such that, as pointed out by Terrence Gomez, the EPU calculation appeared to be an underestimation of wealth attributable to the Bumiputras. Apparently the “market capitalization of equity method” would have been a more reliable method. But this is exactly what is to be expected from a Think Tank evaluation namely to assess the different methodologies and to “plug the loopholes”.
Indeed foremost among these should be that of intra-ethnic leakages. As succinctly pointed out by Terrence in the EPU data “At no point has any attention to a key concern that the pattern of implementation of affirmative action had contributed to serious wealth and income disparities within the community” Without stretching the argument, one also needs to seek an explanation as to why, while there is an affirmative action policy (NEP) to help the Malays, the vast majority of among those afflicted by social ills such as drug abuse, HIV/Aids ( almost 80%) and even the highest incidence of incest should be among this community.
The MP for Johor Bahru YB Shaharir Samad has assessed the overall situation correctly in saying that “They (Government agencies the EPU and the Statistics Department) should have sorted themselves out a long time ago instead of getting into a public debate and getting everybody upset”. He added that statistics must be credible as they were used as the basis to form government policies. I believe that herein lies the root of this problem with which we are now confronted that is, of the departments concerned being unable to ‘sort themselves out’. To anyone having a serious discourse with the EPU or attempting to obtain data from the Statistics Department today, it becomes quickly clear that these agencies are no longer what they used to be when Tun Razak was Minister for Rural Development and Prime Minister.
Indeed in a UN follow-up research project on FELDA I was amazed to be told that the EPU now mainly “coordinates” government projects. Likewise it is also clear that the Statistics Department has been much ‘watered down” since Tun Razak’s time. The reason is not too difficult to find. These Departments or Units do not necessarily offer the best promotion prospects to senior civil servants who themselves are not necessarily economists or statisticians and therefore the turn-over rate among these officers is likely to be high. In fact this lackadaisical attitude can even be traced to Universities where, according to Professor Khoo Kay Kim (14th October/Malaysiakini) the University of Malays does not even have a Professor of Economics!).
I am confident that the comment of the MP for JB really sums up what seems to be at issue. “Everybody was upset with the leakages, Malay or non-Malay. We cannot go through another period of seeing these opportunities wasted again. If we miss the point and talk about whose statistics are correct we may miss the whole thing”
Published with the permission of Dr Collin Abraham, sociologist, co-founder of USM.