PETALING JAYA: Efforts must be made to reduce the wealth gap and living standards between races, particularly the Bumiputera community, whose income is not increasing in tandem with the country’s, says Pakatan Harapan (PH) chairman Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
In his weekly policy talk, the former prime minister said although salaries were increasing, the spending power of the Bumiputera community was decreasing due to a weaker ringgit.
“This is why any government must ensure their country’s currency doesn’t weaken and that spending power increases with earning power.”
Mahathir also said many Malays who were poor were selling their land and moving further away from urban areas, resulting in the separation of different races.
He said the government must reduce the wealth gap between the races so that everyone can live together, be it in urban or rural areas.
Saying this was a problem which affected everyone, the opposition leader added that the economy would grow when people had higher spending power, leading to businesses thriving and the government collecting more tax to be spent on the people.
Mahathir said the government must protect the interests of the Bumiputera community and ensure that their assets were not sold off.
“I’m confident if the government pays attention to this problem, we can reduce the sale of Bumiputera assets. We are confident that these assets can increase in value and be used as capital to increase incomes.”
For decades, the government has implemented various policies and initiatives aimed at reducing the wealth gap between the Bumiputeras and other communities. Such policies include the New Economic Policy and the introduction of discounts and quotas for the Bumiputera community in housing and education.
Mahathir also spoke on the importance of education in ensuring bigger incomes, saying more scholarships were needed for the Bumiputera community, as many had insufficient funds for their children to pursue tertiary education.
“This is the government’s responsibility, to the point where Bumiputeras can earn enough to send their children to study.”
But, Mahathir said, having an education but a lack of jobs was also a problem. He claimed many graduates couldn’t secure jobs due to the “mismanagement of the economy”.
“We hear that our country’s gross domestic product (GDP) is growing at a high rate, but this increase in GDP isn’t felt by the man on the street, because there are no jobs and the costs of living are high.”
The Malaysian economy expanded 5.9% in 2017, compared with 4.2% in 2016. Analysts are forecasting that the country’s economy will grow at 5.5% in 2018.
Mahathir also spoke on the need for more affordable housing, saying those with moderate incomes couldn’t afford homes.
“This can be realised through the construction of affordable homes with the help of the government. This is our wish.
“While there are many housing schemes for those with big incomes, we find those with moderate incomes cannot afford homes, and the government must monitor this.”
Mahathir said the provision of affordable homes was the best way to share the wealth in the country.
The matter of affordable homes is a key issue for both Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan. In recent years, the federal and state governments run by both parties have introduced affordable housing schemes.