Malaysia’s hitherto politically unstable undercurrents are witnessing a sea-change this week, with the unveiling of the Ninth Malaysia Plan (2006 – 2010) on 31 March.
Much more is at stake here, as tensions over race and religion coupled with tempers over the fuel price hike from the past months simmered in deference to a sober account of the nation’s future and the Abdullah administration’s reconciliatory efforts.
Pak Lah’s behind-the-scene planning for the Ninth Malaysia Plan (9MP) – with his deputy, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, and Second Finance Minister Nor Mohamed Yakcop at his side – has demonstrated the current administration’s ability to weather the storm of public unrest and speculation over its political leadership.
The RM200 billion (S$88 billion) 9MP attempts to reconcile pressures from the different factions of political parties, community leaders, professional bodies and interest groups by building an ‘equitable nation’ with “progress that is enjoyed by all, regardless of religion or ethnicity.”
In his one hour-40 minute speech, PM Abdullah outlined the five thrusts of the National Mission which would be implemented to realise Malaysia’s vision of attaining developed country status by 2020. They are:
- To increase the value add of the national economy through existing economic sectors, privatisation and new knowledge-intensive activities (ICT, biotechnology, and nanotechnology);
- To raise the country's capacity for knowledge, creativity and innovation and nurture "first class mentality" through educational and R&D reforms;
- To address persistent socio-economic inequalities constructively and productively through generating more balanced growth and equitable distribution of its benefits;
- To improve the standard and sustainability of the quality of life through provision of basic needs and efficient resource management; and
- To strengthen the institutional and implementation capacity of the country through improving the public services delivery system and removing corruption in the public and people sectors.
The 559 pages represented Pak Lah’s first economic blueprint and political vision since he took office, and marked a separate development ideology from Mahathir’s previous technocratic emphases to focus on the traditional, albeit re-envisioned, backbones of education, agriculture and rural development.
Of note is the new lease of life (with a 70 percent increase in budget) given to the agriculture sector as the “third engine of economic growth through the ‘New Agriculture’ programmes that aim to transform Malaysia into a net exporter of food by 2010. As Abdullah explains, “The agriculture sector needs to be viewed through a new lens, infused with fresh conviction, developed with a new spirit - a new agenda.”
The most contentious issue in the 9MP – and whose outcome remains to be played out – comes from the challenge of raising the bumiputera stake (from 18.9 percent in 2004 to 30 percent by 2020) without upsetting the minority communities, as epitomised in the following sentiment: “The Chinese would say, ‘You Malays don't have to worry, the government will bail you out.’ The Malays say, ‘You Chinese (have) towkays to help you in business.’”
Former PM Mahathir, a harsh critic of the current administration in recent months, was considerably measured: “...I heard that Penang will have a monorail, a secondPenang bridge will be built and there is allocation for villages. I hope all these can be implemented and will help in the development of our country and assist the unfortunate ones.” Elsewhere, minority groups such as the Malaysian Indian Congress and non-governmental organisations such as the National Council of Women's Organisation also endorsed Abdullah’s 9MP.
Overlooking the 9MP fanfare, Pak Lah seems determined to leave an indelible signature on Malaysia’s political and economic future. On Tuesday and Wednesday alone last week, he has met more than 180 senior civil servants and briefed the chief ministers for 3 hours to ensure quick and efficient implementation of the 9MP.
Malaysia economic blueprint out today (The Star [reproduced in The Straits Times], 31 March 2006)
PM unveils RM220bil Ninth Malaysia Plan (The Star, 31 March 2006)
Mission To Achieve Developed Nation Status By 2020 (Bernama, 31 March 2006)
Abdullah's delicate balancing of often opposing interests (The Straits times, 1 April 2006)
Spreading the wealth (The Star, 1 April 2006)
9MP, Wake Up Call For All, Say Panelists At Bernama Roundtable (Bernama, 1 April 2006)
9MP "Women Friendly", Say NGOs (Bernama, 1 April 2006)
Samy Vellu Happy With 9MP Initiatives For Indians (Bernama, 1 April 2006)