Wednesday, July 28, 2010

MCA: Between largesse and being intellectual

May 20, 2010

MAY 20 — The media on May 18 quoted the MCA president, Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek, as saying that the Chinese community is no longer concerned with bread-and-butter issues, but with “intellectual” issues such as fair implementation of policies.

The Malaysian Insider news portal headlined it “Soi Lek says Chinese drawn to fair policies, not largesse.” Largesse is defined as (1) generous giving, as from a patron, (2) a gift or gifts given in a generous, or sometimes showy or patronising, way and (3) nobility of spirit.

From the outset, I agree with him on the part about fair implementation of policies. Had government policies been implemented fairly and effectively, there would not have been the gaping income gaps among the races, states and regions.

The Bumiputeras would have achieved their modest 30 per cent wealth ownership target and our society would have been more equal and egalitarian. The top 20 per cent would not continue to suck up the wealth.

Unfortunately, the opposite might be the case. Poverty is creeping back and the income gaps among the races have widened. Official statistics that accompanied the launching of the New Economic Model show that 60 per cent of households earn below RM3,000 a month, and 80 per cent of them are Bumiputera households.

Thanks to their stronger economic position at the outset of the NEP and their monopoly of the economic supply chain, the Chinese were able to beat all the targets set for them but the Bumiputeras and the Indians lag behind.

While the Bumiputeras and the poor Chinese and Indians benefited modestly from official largesse, the Chinese mercantile and professional classes benefited more substantially.

With one stroke of the pen by the finance minister allowing football betting, tycoon Tan Sri Vincent Tan is richer by RM525 million. His Ascot Sports sold 70 per cent of the business to his corporate vehicle Berjaya Group. If that’s not gargantuan largesse, I don’t know what.

The Chinese enjoyed official largesse by way of large monopolies, concessions, contracts and subsidies — anything from sugar monopoly to large timber concessions, gaming franchises, IPP licences, massive contracts and billion ringgit worth of direct and indirect subsidies.

In fact, official largesse not only helped to prosper the well-connected Malay-, Chinese- and Indian-controlled conglomerates, but also in some instances saved them from bankruptcies.

The YTL official website tells of the company nearly going bankrupt in the 1970s, forcing family members to chip in to rescue it. By the 1980s, the YTL Group took off on a grand scale on account of large government contracts to build schools and modular hospitals and later on privatisation of railway land and the award of the first independent power producer (IPP) licence.

Vincent Tan’s Berjaya Group took off when it was awarded the privatisation of Sports Toto in the 1980s while Ananda Krishnan became an overnight sensation when he was awarded the super-lucrative privatisation of the Jalan Ampang race course and a series of gaming and telecommunications franchises plus considerable seed capital from state-owned funds.

He is survivor, always enjoying the patronage of powerful Malay political figures. Today he is a master market maker known for taking his prized assets private only to re-quote them at handsome premiums.

It’s fine with me if the new MCA under Dr Chua no longer wants the bread-and-butter-type largesse for the Chinese, but is instead more concerned with intellectual matters such as good governance, accessibility to education, scholarships, promotions, the judiciary and crime.

If I can speak for the Malays, the Orang Asli and other Bumiputeras, I think we too are concerned about good governance. Without good governance, the poor are more likely to be marginalised because they cannot afford to give fat ang pow, duit kopi, sponsorships and cuti-cuti to the ruling elite.

The Malays, the Orang Asli and other Bumiputeras too want accessibility to education and scholarships, not only to attend public universities, but also to enrol in private universities and colleges.

The Malays, the Orang Asli and other Bumiputeras too want better promotion opportunities in the Chinese- and Indian-controlled conglomerates, especially those that enjoy massive government largesse apart from the GLCs.

The Malays, the Orang Asli and other Bumiputeras too want an independent judiciary and a reduction in crime because they too want justice and they too are victims of rising crime rates.

The MCA cannot pull wool over people’s eyes by blaming its declining support among the Chinese to the implementation of government policies. The MCA is part and parcel of the policies and their implementation. The MCA should instead thank the government and claim the credit that the NEP had given the Chinese a much larger slice of the expanded cake than the Bumiputeras and the Indians.

Also, it is not as if whenever or wherever the MIC is in the driving seat, things are better. The Port Klang Free Zone fiasco is a case in point.

And in Sarawak, where the BN had just been ousted from the Sibu parliamentary seat by the DAP on account of Chinese support, who benefited from the massive timber concessions and infrastructure contracts if not a handful of Chinese tycoons?

The Star newspaper in a report on March 27 listed them as Tiong Hiew King, Ting Pek Khiing, the Lau brothers (Henry Lau Lee Kong, Stephen Lau Lee Kiong and Vincent Lau Lee Ming), Hii Yii Chiong, Ding Jack Sung, Ling Chiong Ho, Wong Kie Nai, and Yaw Teck Seng. It labelled them the “Sarawak Shakers”.

The MCA, especially its new president, cannot continue to pin the blame for the party’s poor rating among the Chinese on others. More so when the few seats it won in the 2008 general election were mostly on account of Malay votes.

I am all for the MCA being concerned with intellectual issues so that the party will be better able to relate to the everyday things like morality, infidelity, the evil of gambling and alcoholism, the along menace, prostitution, human trafficking, illegal wildlife trade, drug trade, profiteering and many more issues plaguing our multi-religious and multi-racial society. —

— A. Kadir Jasin

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