Many raised concerns that the liberally-driven ETP would sideline Bumiputera businesses.
Bumiputera corporate figures today raised concerns at a dialogue on the ETP here that the economic blueprint’s strong emphasis on merits to qualify for government aid would leave Bumiputera businesses out of the programme.
This strengthens the perception that Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s reforms remain unpopular among the ethnic majority’s business community, which could put his liberalisation plans at risk.
Many pointed out at the ETP Update Dialogue with Idris Jala, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of the programme, the “income disparity” in reference to the alleged preferential treatment given to some Bumiputera companies.
The term was used to describe Bumiputera small and medium enterprises (SMEs) who were allegedly overlooked in the ETP due to their inability to compete with the bigger players, notably, the non-Bumiputera companies.
“It is a wonderful project and all but I am worried that the income disparity between the rich and poor will widen.
“So despite the figures showing success, my question is, is this the figures we want?” asked one of the participants at the forum held for players in the energy industry.
Another said the strict and high standards set by the government for Bumiputera companies to partake in projects under the ETP saw many of them being left out.
As an example, he cited the stringent requirements laid out for the multi-billion ringgit massive rail transit project.
Bumiputera must work
One participant claimed that government-linked companies – the ETP’s major catalysts tasked with helping Bumiputera SMEs grow under the programme – had also refused to provide contracts to them despite the government’s promise that these businesses would profit from the project’s spillover effects.
Most of the criticisms were levelled at Teraju – the Bumiputera economic development unit set up under the programme – which they said had failed to do its job of increasing Bumiputera economic participation.
Jala admitted that the complaints were among the many problems facing the economic blueprint, but said the Bumiputera businesses must also do their part to bolster their own abilities to compete at a global level.
“I understand your frustration and I agree with what you say… but we can’t keep on talking about them… we must begin to work on them,” he said.
The ETP was introduced just shortly after Najib took office in 2009 and was aimed at turning Malaysia’s ailing economic fortune around, with liberalisation being its key component.
But the Bumiputera business community has since opposed the idea on grounds that the sector is still weak and remains in need of government help.
Najib had since delayed opening up the economy and vowed to continue protecting Bumiputera interests under the race-based affirmative action policies for fear of a potential backlash.
Local and international economists, however, said the protectionist policies are often exploited to fatten well-linked Bumiputeras and had diminished Malaysia’s commercial appeal.