Malaysian Indian Blueprint, Some Reflections

Author:   Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria
Publisher:   GRFDT

Malaysian Indian Blueprint, Some Reflections

By Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria

 

Prime Minister Najib in tabling the Eleventh Malaysia Plan on May 21, 2015 announced in his parliamentary speech –“for the Indian community, as a way forward, a Blueprint will be formulated to outline their socio-economic development”. The Prime Minister’s office was tasked to undertake this exercise with the support of the Economic Planning Unit (EPU), all the relevant agencies and community stakeholders including academic institutions.

The Prime Minister repeated this promise when he spoke at the Malaysian Indian Congress General Assembly on October 16, 2016 as a year has passed and no separate blue print has been issued. PM promised by Jan 2017 and we have passed this dateline too and there is an indication that PM might launch the new blueprint by April 2017. He openly recognised in this speech that there was a need for a blueprint as the decisions made were not implemented and therefore the government is now resolved to have a secretariat to execute the blueprint effectively.

Policy promises- just political or serious

This blue print is one of the major positive breakthroughs in Malaysian policy development. Malaysia has a very good development planning record through the five years Malaysia plan developments. I have been personally involved since 1999 when I was then appointed as a member of the Second Economic Consultative Council. Over and over again Malaysian Indians have been submitting recommendations and suggestions with little positive results. Some have been this Blueprint drafting seriously but others are sceptical, thinking that this might be another political campaign and exercise to win votes. Those of us from the academic institutions are seeing this as a good opportunity for engagement with the public and political structure which is different previously for a number of reasons.

First, I recollect the speech made by Dato Seri Najib on Feb 3, 2008 in Kuala Lumpur. Here he was addressing the Malaysian Indian community and he spoke on the theme “Future of the Indian Community: outside the BN or within the BN”. He went on in this speech to say what the BN government would do if the community voted for the BN. However we can remember that since the 2008 and 2013 General Elections, the Indian voters have turned their votes towards opposition politics parties especially from among urban voters. After the 2008 General Elections, Dato Seri Najib as Deputy Prime Minister chaired the newly established Cabinet Committee on Indian Concerns. This is the first time such an inter-ministerial cabinet level committee has been established for a minority community. In 2009 when Najib become prime minister he continued as the Chair of this committee. There was clearly a shift in public policy thrust and implementation which now ensures Indians are part of the development process.

Second, since the Tenth Malaysia Plan, the Malaysian government began establishing dedicated special implementation units. One of the criticism of the Ninth Malaysia plan was the lack of a dedicated team and government in the Tenth Malaysia Plan established the Special Implementation Taskforce (SITF) in 2010. Subsequently three other special units were established focused on Tamil schools, micro credit and funds from Indian social organisations. By the time of the Eleventh Malaysia plan (2016-2020) we now have four special units and a Cabinet Committee. This is a major achievement as compared to the pre 2008 situation. There is now a clear understanding that sections of the Malaysian Indian community especially at the Bottom 40% are facing major issues and that Federal government must intervene to resolve them. Critics have said this is just an exercise to win Indian voters back to the BN. Whatever the motives, there is now some special measures with an institutional structure, funds and personal to address them as compared to previously which was undertaken by a foundation associated with a political party.

Third, the public policies of the Eleventh Malaysia Plan has brought out some new thrust which enables greater inclusion for marginal groups. Now the public policy thrust is towards Social inclusion which is based on the theory of inclusive development with as emphasis on social cohesion as well as social mobility. Furthermore it is clear now that all Malaysians must have access to the services so that they can attain a better quality of life. In this context too the Eleventh Malaysia plan widen the poverty definition and indicators. Here the focus now is on relative poverty and the Bottom 40% of the population. It is not just of the very rural poor.

Therefore there is now some attention on the urban poor and ensuring they too experience social mobility and a better quality of life. In this context poverty is refined broader from the concept of the basket of goods and the poverty line income to a multi-dimensional definition. There is now a wider use of indicators moving beyond income to also include education, housing & living conditions and health indicators.

Furthermore the Malaysian government has also adopted the United Nations 2030 Agenda of Transformation though the Sustainable Development Goals with the theme “leaving no one behind”. The 17 goals, 169 targets and the 230 indicators provide a human development approach to socio-economic development they by ensuring no one is left behind in any society.

Therefore the Malaysian Indian Socio-economic Blueprint must be set within this context of policy developments in the Najib administration and therefore we can undertake public policy advocacy for socio-economic mobility not just of Malaysian Indians but all B40 communities in Malaysian Society. This Blueprint is being formulated and tabled at a right political time for the Malaysian Indian community. However, there are also challenges we need to recognise and address in due time.

Development Policy Formulation

The Prime Minister’s office has been busy calling for views and suggestions from civil society, government agencies, special units and academics. A number of us were in to the PM office on April 19, 2016 to share our views and findings. This was the first formal discussion I participated in and organised by the PMO. Two other public consultations with the Indian community was hosted on Nov 27, 2016 and more recently on Feb 26, 2017 both hosted by the Minister of Heath who is also MIC President.

The public consultations with Indian based organisations served as a feedback process to the government formulators. This was an open process where participants were given opportunities to speak and share their views. I participated in all three events and provided my views. Feedback from community leaders as well as academic is very necessary. However the drawback is often the discussions are very emotive and many statements and views are perception based lacking solid empirical evidence. This is where academic and objective research is needed. This is however lacking and there needs to be more studies undertaken on contemporary situation including impact assessment of the work already undertaken.

I do not have the liberty to disclose the content of the Blueprint nor its targets and specific programs for the future however I can comment on the comprehensive nature of the document. The blueprint covers the major aspects on human, socio and economic development including religious concerns. A major focus is on education namely preschool, primary, secondary and post-secondary including higher educational opportunities and skills training. There is a brief assessment of the contemporary situation, what is being currently done and projected targets and programs for the future. This is well written and while there are some gaps its is comprehensive encourage and if implemented well we could see major changes over the next 5 to 10 years.

One area left out was health concerns and I alerted this matter as health both physical and mental health issues are major concerns in the Indian community especially heart attacks, obesity, diabetes as well as mental health issues pertaining to stress and suicides 

Earlier in 2015, KITA-UKM hosted two discussions on the Eleventh Malaysia Plan at the PWTC, KL on April 16, 2015 and on May 31, 2015. We also hosted two further discussions as input to the Blueprint on March 3, 2016 entitled “Charting an action plan for community Malaysian Indians” and later on Sept 20, 2016 we hosted a discussion on “Malaysian Indians and socio-economic mobility” with Dr Muhammad Khalid. These served as inputs into the developing planning process as representatives of the PMO were also present.

The government side especially officials from the PMO are open to receive more feedback and this consultative process is in the right direction which will enhance community ownership. There is another parallel work being undertaken by Prof Datuk Dr NS Rajendran who is developing the Tamil School Action Plan. This is a very comprehensive work based on empirical work and extensive grassroots consultation with stakeholders nationwide.

 

Challenges for the Malaysian Indian community

Malaysian are well known for good planning. We are however a little weak on implementation. This is our major problem. There seems to be some good coordinating units at Putrajaya however there is no structures or mechanism at the agency level nor at the district level. The current structure is too centralised and we need some decentralisation. Efforts to organise teams at the district level especially at the 38 districts where 95% of Malaysian Indians live will be the next step. It is also noted that 70% like in 15 districts. The blueprint could enlarge the team to establish operations centres at the district level.

In this context too another major hurdle is the civil service at the district level and their appreciation of the multi ethnic dimension including the demographic trends. There needs to be an increase of Indian civil servants in critical agencies such as health, education, welfare, youth, Police, women related agencies especially in densely populated districts. There also needs to be an orientation course enabling all civil servants to understand the Eleventh Malaysia Plan’s thrust on inclusive development as well as a stronger cultural appreciation of diversity. Ultimately effective delivery cannot be achieved through special units it must be target of the total civil service to address disadvantaged groups irrespective of ethnicity and religion.

The Blueprint must have a stronger link and connection with both the Global Sustainable Development Goals, targets and indicators which is the 2030 agenda, as well as the national development planning process such as the Eleventh Malaysia Plan. Not just conceptual thrust but also the time fame.

Another challenge in the consultation process is not sufficiently consultative with all sections of the Indian community as predominant leaders from opposition and component BN friendly political parties were not part of this process. At the dimension of public perception there will be some negative comments. This blueprint could have been a by-partisan effort and a bridge building process in the community especially among other elected officials in parliament and state governments. ‘Winning hearts and minds’ is imperative and rising above party politics is essential in community transformation and social mobility.

Some reflections for the way forward

One major consideration in the way forward is the implementation mechanism and structure. The coordinating committee must comprise of members from a cross section of society namely politicians, civil society leaders and representatives from the private sector and academic community. At the full time secretariat staff level,appointments must not be political appointees but professionally recruited and employed based on clear terms of reference, job descriptions and transparent interview process. A very good computerised data based system needs to be developed especially on urban poor families, stateless and undocumented people, and youth in crime. This monitoring must be over a period of time to ascertain the progress made through the socio-economic interventions

It is also important to note that at the delivery level we need to strengthen the ‘hand holding process’ of the B40 communities. This the social preparation and support including mind set and values formation. This aspect can be undertaken by voluntary organisations at the grassroots but we need to organise funds not on an ad hoc basis but over a number of years with stronger capacity building program

There must be a declared commitment to continuous public dialogue as well as full disclosure of information especially grants received and dispensed. This effort must win back confidence of the community. In this context too there must be effective monitoring and evaluation including social impact assessment carried out by independent parties. Therefore social audit and financial audit is imperative. These information must be publicly disclosed and accessible to all.

Malaysia has not been active in this aspect of by-partisan parliamentary teams. This is a very useful strategy for community solidarity. While there might be differences politically, however on socio-economic matters all sides of the political divide must stop pointing fingers and start working together to resolve community issues especially joint cooperation of politicians in public positions at the federal, state and local government levels.

We must set a new political culture of openness and networking will all for the better of the community and society. This is a challenge but we must set a new agenda for all in Malaysian society.

 

 

References

Denison Jayasooria & KS Nathan, Ed (2016) Contemporary Malaysian Indians: History, Issues, Challenges & Prospects (2016), KITA-UKM:Bangi

Denison Jayasooria, Ed (2015a) Ensuring Inclusive & Equitable Development: Policy Agenda for Malaysian Indians & the Eleventh Malaysia Plan (2016 -2020): KITA-UKM:Bangi

Denison Jayasooria, Ed (2015b) Tapping the Opportunities & Plugging in: Malaysian Indians & the Eleventh Malaysia Plan (2016-2020): KITA-UKM:Bangi

Denison Jayasooria (2011) National Development Plans & Indians in Malaysia, A need for comprehensive policies & effective delivery. Kuala Lumpur: JJ Resources

Najib Bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak (2015),The 11th Malaysia Plan Speech by the Prime Minister in the Dewan Rakyat on 21 May 2015 http://www.pmo.gov.my/home.php?menu=speech&news_id=808&page=1676&speech_cat=2

Najib Tun Abdul Razak (2008) Future of the Indian community: outside the BN or within the BN IN Denison Jayasooria (2011) National Development Plans & Indians in Malaysia, A need for comprehensive policies and effective delivery. Kuala Lumpur: JJ Resources. (Pages 332-337)

Najib Tun Abdul Razak (2016) Blueprint to help Indians out in January. Free Malaysia Today Oct 16, 2016. http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2016/10/16/blueprint-to-help-indians-out-in-january/

 

Publication Date:   Monday, Apr 03, 2017
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