Aspirations of Malaysian Indian towards 2020: Dr Denison Jayasooria

Author:   Dr Denison Jayasooria

There is much anticipation for the Eleventh Malaysia Plan which will chart Malaysia’s development agenda for the next five years between 2016 and 2020.

The Institute of Ethnic Studies (KITA), UKM together with Yayasan Pemulihan Sosial (YPS) in collaboration with the Unit for Socio-Economic Development of Indian Community, (SEDIC) under the Prime Minister’s Department hosted a National Symposium on the Eleventh Malaysia Plan on April 16, 2015 at the PWTC KL.

The symposium brought together academics, special officers in the Federal government addressing Indian concerns, community leaders especially NGOs carrying out programs and business leaders in the Indian community. The 100 over participants represented the cross section of the Malaysian Indian community. Among the VIPs who participated were YB Senator Dato Sri Abdul Wahid Omar, the Minister in charge of the Economic Planning Unit, Dato Seri Utama Samy Vellu the YPS Chairman & Prof Shamsul Amri Baharuddin, the Founding Director of KITA-UKM

A report entitled Ensuring Inclusive & Equitable Development: Policy Agenda for Malaysian Indians & the Eleventh Malaysia Plan (2016 -2020) has been prepared and submitted to EPU and the Minister YB Senator Dato Seri Abdul Wahid Omar

This report provides a comprehensive analysis as well as wide range of recommendations. However in this brief summary only a few key points are highlighted for serious consideration as the 11th Malaysia Plan priorities.

Eight key concerns and recommendations

Firstly, we acknowledge that since 2008, the Federal Government especially during the 10th Malaysia Plan period has undertaken various priority programmes to address Indian minority community grievances. Positive Federal initiatives identified are Tamil school development, micro credit loans and business development, skills training opportunities for underachieving Indian youths, securing citizenship and documentation related concerns, as well as funding for NGO direct involvement in the local community.

Secondly, we acknowledge that the Federal Government has established a number of special units in the PM office and PM Department to ensure effective delivery and implementation. This is new and has contributed to better results in the delivery and therefore must be continued and strengthened.

Thirdly, while we recognise that there are achievements, there are also challenges and short comings. The outreach is small, there could be resource leakages that steer away resources from the intended target group (bottom 40 per cent and high risk), and publicity and awareness is not effective, lack of coordination among the 4 special units, lack of policy planning, weak monitoring and no impact assessment. It is noted that there is very weak documentation and analysis, weak community accountability of funds received especially by NGOs and their deliverables. Therefore while the Federal Government has allocated much, there does not seem to be corresponding community confidence in the system. Little feel good factor improvement, as many during the national symposium were not aware of the many initiatives.

Fourthly, during the 11th Malaysia Period it is proposed that the four units work together sharing information and seeing them as being part of the same team for effective delivery and not to operate as independent units. The EPU must review the effectiveness of the 4 units and recommend a tighter KPI on delivery and outcome. It is proposed that they have regular coordinating meetings and set clear KPIs and have an independent monitoring team for impact assessment. Academic researchers from local universities can play a key role in this regard.

In the 11th Plan monitoring and impact assessment must be a key component. There must be a wider community accountability process through Town Hall sessions and Social Dialogues with a more transparent revelation of funds received and the KPI to be delivered. This will enhance greater stakeholder participation and it will reduce intra- community unhappiness of selective delivery. It is important to make these special delivery units more professional and free from political control and manipulation so as to serve all sections of the bottom 40 per cent.

Fifthly, it was felt that two of the four units are not too effective due to scope and structural factors. In the case of the Special Implementation Taskforce (SITF), their work seem to be impacted by lack of support from the agencies especially in resolving the many citizenship and documentation issues, in the recruitment of Indians into the civil service and placements into public sector skills training institutions. There seems weakness in the SITF current system and therefore there must be a review to ensure that it operates professionally. SEED too has some major concerns as they seem to be performing more a channel or postman role rather than direct processing and dispensing of micro credit loans. This inability to secure loans directly has caused lots of unhappiness. It is recommended that SEED processes directly applications below RM20,000. Higher loans could be channelled through other financial institutions.

Sixthly, we recognise a major gap in the current initiatives which must be added and covered in the 11th Malaysia Plan. There is currently very little work is done to strengthen local communities through a neighbourhood based approach. The current approaches are individual focused. We need to build resilient communities and enhance social cohesion among the various ethnic communities especially in urban poor and low income neighbourhoods. A majority of the urban poor and low income families are from displaced plantation communities and experience the breakdown of the social support and social control systems. There must be concerted efforts to address this community building process so that local communities will take greater ownership and greater fostering of self-help process. There must be funds for social preparation and community empowerment for self-help and confidence to plug into the public sector provisions as full citizens of the land.

Seventhly, there is also the need to address the family related concerns. The issue of dysfunctional families is a major concern. Life style issues pertaining to food habits, level of alcohol consumption and health issues are very serious. Therefore specific targeting of families and building the family unit is most critical.

Eighthly, high risk youths and youth unemployment are major concerns. While skills training is one approach there need a more effective intervention at primary and lower secondary school level to address concerns of weak academic performance and underachievement issues. Issues pertaining to discipline and thereby being sacked from school are key areas that require special intervention measures.

The five strategic thrust areas proposed

The five strategic thrust areas envision a Transformational Agenda for Malaysian Indians with a specific focus on the bottom 40 per cent and will concentrate on delivery and implementation of programmes in 38 districts from 9 States where 95 per cent of Malaysian Indians reside. These are:

•Neighbourhood community building

•Addressing the concerns of dysfunctional families in those neighbourhoods

•Concerns of high risk youth

•Effective coordination and implementation

•Policy research, analysis and advocacy

Neighbourhood community building

We recognise that due to rural-urban migration and displacement especially of the plantation community from estates into squatters, long houses and eventually into high rise low cost flats, and also recognising that this a recent phenomenon, there is an urgent need to strengthen social support and social control systems in the newly formed local urban poor neighbourhoods.

Many of the low cost high rise flats are densely populated and the size of the Indian population at these neighbourhoods could be very high between 40 per cent to 60 per cent in some cases. There is a need for fostering social cohesion with the Indian community as well as enhance relations between urban poor Indian and other ethnic communities.

Based on the demographic data a majority of Malaysian Indians are located in 38 districts in 9 states of Peninsular Malaysia (Selangor, WP Kuala Lumpur, Johor, Penang, Negeri Sembilan, Kedah, Perak, Malacca and Pahang). It is proposed to identify all the locations of urban poor and low income Indians who are residing in flats, long houses, low cost housing, former unresolved estate lands and squatters. The enclosed two tables provide the demographic details.

Establish Operational Centres or Hubs (like an operations room) in all 38 districts with a staff, team of volunteers cum part timers and voluntary organisations including displaying local map with all the key neighbourhood locations.

Enabling the Indians to form neighbourhood based self-help groups for mutual support and aid is a necessary for their economic and citizens empowerment role in Malaysian society

Establishing strong support networks between the urban poor Indians and other communities is essential and one key institutional mechanism is the RT which is currently under participated by Malaysian Indians.

Addressing the concerns of dysfunctional families

One of the major concerns of urban poor and low income families are the dysfunctional nature of the family unit. There are both structural and personal reasons for this break down. However, we need to recognise that the family unit faces many challenges in fostering a safe, peaceful and happy home environment.

The manifestations of dysfunctional families include domestic violence, alcohol and substance abuse, gang related activities, lack of positive values and unconducive home environment for nurturing children in religious and ethnic values and culture, educational underachievement in children and also their lack of interest in studies.

Establish counseling support, mediation and self-help services for high risk families at the neighbourhood level.

Organise pre-marital, post marital, and marriage/family enhancement courses.

Institute a hand holding process to enable them to identify the root of family problems and intervene in an appropriate way with assistance of trained family mentors/mediators.

Address some of the economic and legal issues through systematically organised income generation, skills training and legal aid activities.

Concerns of high risk youth

One of the major concerns of the Indian community at the bottom 40% especially among the urban poor and low income families are the issues surrounding young people between the ages 13 to 17 (school age) and then those among 18-21 and also among those between 21 to 30 (young adults).

There are sufficient evidences for educational underachievement, social dislocation, anti-social behaviour, crime, violence, drug and alcohol abuse and gang culture, high incidences of youth unemployment. Many have major issue with Police and law enforcement.

The approach taken thus far does not seem to be addressing the root causes, the outreach is not large enough, very ad hoc in response and not holistic in approach addressing both root causes and tough law enforcement.

Therefore there must be a program implementation and coordination team which brings together all the initiatives of the public and voluntary sector in a multi-agency and multi-disciplinary way. There needs to be specific targeting and individual monitoring of young people. This must also include a mentoring program and hand holding process.

Many initiatives pertaining to skills training, character and values formulation, sports and games, music and drama must be made available to these disadvantaged and isolated youths who are now not part of any of the organised youth organisations but are increasingly becoming members of the organised and informal gang groups.

A well-coordinated crime prevention and community policing program must be introduced so that these young people have a positive response to law and order. Grievances and human rights violations must be taken seriously so that the Federal agencies institute an agenda to win hearts and minds of young people.

An effective underachiever’s educational, character modification and social preparation program must be introduced within the schools system to keep young people especially those between 13 and 17 in school with an effective program on reading, writing, counting, communications and soft skills development.

Effective coordination and implementation

Review the Terms of Reference (TOR) and Structure including resources (Budget and Manpower) of the current 4 special units (SITF, Tamil School Action Council {PTST}, SEED and SEDIC) and chart out specific KPIs and deliverables for the next 5 years.

Have clear deliverables on all matters the Cabinet Committee on Indian community (CCIC) has already agreed upon; establish special mechanisms for implementation and set specific targets for - (SITF, Tamil School, SEED and SEDIC)

•Tamil School Development (Infrastructure and quality of education)

•Improved access to micro credit and business training and importantly psycho-social preparatory element built within.

•Speedy resolving of documentation and citizenship related issues

•Improved access to skills training institutions run by public and private operators with an effective follow up plan to ensure young people are in employment or business related to their training and out of anti-social behaviour and criminal activities

•Improved access to employment opportunities in public sector at Federal, State and local government and GLCs. That this process of recruitment and promotions be well documented so as to undertake an analysis of inclusion.

•Ease access to public sector scholarships for higher education locally and overseas

•Access to public sector educational opportunities (MRSM, Matriculation, intake to public university and monitoring of number and type of educational opportunities

•Public grants and capacity building of voluntary organisations and community based organisations in the delivery of services which are empowering but not creating a dependency syndrome

Establish an Implementation Coordinating Committee (ICC) with a dedicated staff (for in house coordination and communication) under the Cabinet Committee on Indian community (CCIC) made up of people from the 4 units and a few invited academics and civil society people. Also include the PMO special officers in this coordination so as to ensure the exchange of information is documented well and ensure effective delivery and impact

Enlarge the coordination unit to have operational centres in 38 districts with a visible staff team, volunteers and voluntary organisations working closely with the 4 special units and all relevant Federal government agencies

Institute a monthly ICC meeting which could also include key delivery organisations in the public sector

Ensure effective targeting of the bottom 40% among the urban poor and low income families and avoid leakage so as to ensure effective impact

Enlarge the outreach so as to cast a wider net across the community- that all the programs be extended to communities living in the 38 districts in 9 states.

Ensure effective documentation of all the work- services, programs, macro and micro stories and case studies including qualitative and qualitative data. There must be an effective recoding system which can be reviewed for the independent monitoring research unit.

Create a centralised data base which is engineered and controlled by the Master Hub at the programme Secretariat HQ in order to trace the growth and development of individuals and families that are recipients of service delivery and programme implementation.

Ensure a transparent and accountable process including effective partnership, cooperation and networking with civil society and local community based organisations.

Organise quarterly dialogues with all stakeholders especially the key voluntary sector community organisations and civil society

Organise an annual social dialogue meeting like that of a town hall session open to all NGOs and the Indian community so as ‘to win their hearts and minds’. Provide reports including all finances received over the year, including achievement, challenges and the way forward. Also include case studies of individuals, families and neighbourhoods and models of best practices.

Institute a monitoring and impact assessment unit headed by independent researchers and academics who can do regular socio-economic impact audit/assessment including financial audit.

Policy research, analysis and advocacy

It is important to note that many micro projects and programs have public policy implications. Therefore it is necessary to identify the structural issues and propose new policies and even legislation which might address specific concerns.

A number of examples can be cited. For example in the case of documentation for BC or IC or citizenship, the candidates are unable to produce required supporting documents, then there is a need for policy review. In the case of young people who have been dismissed or prematurely ejected out of the education system from school there might be a need for new policies to provide alternatives or in order to retain within the school system especially if they are between 13 and 17 which is the secondary school age.

In this policy analysis and advocacy role we need to also gather data on a longitudinal or long term basis over the next 5 years. This data collection, feedback analysis and policy review over the next 5 years (2016 – 2020) will enable effective articulation of issues, concerns and the resulting recommendations for the 12th Malaysia Plan.

During this current period in preparation for the Eleventh Malaysian Plan one realises that there are hardly any academic, technical and well written analysis or reviews based on data and past implementation success or achievement, failures or challenges so as to form the basis for charting out further action plans.

Therefore a policy research, analysis and advocacy unit must be established. There is a sizable pool of academics and personal from policy institutes who can play an active role.

Dr Denison Jayasooria is the Principal Research Fellow at the Institute of Ethnic Studies, UKM. His earlier publication is entitled National Development & Indians in Malaysia, A need for comprehensive policies & effective delivery (2011). Together with Prof KS Nathan and a team of academics & activist, a new forthcoming publication is  Contemporary Malaysian Indians (2015)

*The opinions expressed are of the authors.

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