Flaw seen in Dr M’s theory on developed-nation status

Sociologist Denison Jayasooria says inequality by itself is not an indicator of whether a country is developed or not.

PETALING JAYA: A sociologist and an economist have rejected Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s theory that the achievement gap between races is among the reasons Malaysia has been unable to become a developed nation.

Speaking to FMT, sociologist Denison Jayasooria said there were great inequalities even in developed countries and economist Ramon Navaratnam said many countries, particularly the highly developed Western nations, had now become multiracial.

They were commenting on a remark Mahathir made on Monday at the monthly assembly of the Prime Minister’s Department’s staff.

Jayasooria, a fellow at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, said social and economic inequalities were in fact a major issue in developed economies.

Even ethnically homogeneous societies such as Japan and South Korea had their share of inequalities, he added.

“So inequality by itself is not an indicator of whether a country is developed or not,” he said. “However, having equal opportunities and reducing inequality are key indicators of outcomes” from efforts in socio-economic upliftment.

He also said there was a need to recognise that the nation had economically well-off people in all communities and to look at variables such as the rural-urban divide, the gap between the affluent and urban poor, income and educational levels, wealth ownership, gender, disability and age.

“Malaysia is too caught up in ethnic and racial indicators and many interventions are being targeted from ethnic approaches,” he said, but added that there must be an independent assessment of all the public sector intervention programmes to assist poor Malays and other indigenous communities.

Navaratnam, who is the director of the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute, said racial diversity would be an asset to any country and Malaysia should allow talented people of all races to flourish to prevent them from seeking opportunities elsewhere.

He noted that the per capita income in Malaysia is currently the equivalent of US$10,000, whereas the World Bank defined a developed country as one with a per capita income of at least US$12,376 in 2018.

“Some Malaysians cannot achieve this income because of the lack of opportunities, education, skills and facilities to improve themselves,” he said.

Abu Sofian Yaacob, an economics lecturer at Universiti Putra Malaysia, said he agreed with Mahathir that there were economic gaps between the Malaysian races.

But he added that the different races were also riven by a gap in social relations and the government needed to address this by getting people to think of themselves as Malaysians.

He said there were many other gaps, such as the gap in basic salaries.

For the nation to move forward, he added, all of these gaps would have to be closed. “Think of a tyre with many punctures. Fixing one won’t solve the problem. The tyre will still lose air.”