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PRIME Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob barely had one month to make his imprint on the 12th Malaysia Plan (12MP), and it shows. The 530-page tome is complete, with room to insert only his Keluarga Malaysia brand into the preface, introduction and conclusion chapters.

But he had the chance to deliver the 12MP address in Parliament, and of course he took it. This explains a peculiar – and unusually politicised – speech. The equity ownership aspects are being hotly debated, but there is more to it – beginning with subtle, but impactful discrepancies between the 12MP document and the prime minister’s speech.

The tabling of the five-year Malaysia Plans is the pinnacle of policy speechmaking: comprehensive, grand, serious and potentially momentous. Yes, there are grandiosity, self-congratulation and claptrap moments, but, typically, we get a pointed summary of a massive document.

The 12MP contains thirteen chapters aligned with three themes, four “enablers” and 14 “game changers”. Instead of keeping to this laboriously formulated outline and buzzwords, though, the prime minister’s speech reshuffled the contents into nine “focus areas”.

The section on group-targeted policies for ethnic groups, women and others are bundled into Chapter 5 on “Addressing Poverty and Building an Inclusive Society”, which, of course, includes a priority area section on “Achieving an Equitable Outcome for Bumiputeras”.

These contents are repackaged as “Focus Area 6: Enhancing the Bumiputera Agenda and Keluarga Malaysia”.

The speech departs from the document most starkly, and troublingly, in Focus Area 6. The power of the platform is evident; 12MP debates are revolving around the speech, not the document nor its executive summary.

Three discrepancies stand out. The first warrants clarification, the second and third demand answers.

Firstly, the speech magnifies a divisive and misleading statistical note. The Bumiputera agenda, Ismail Sabri asserts, must continue because “the median income gap between Bumiputeras and the Chinese is widening, quadrupling in 2019 compared with the gap in 1989”. This line is taken from the 12MP, but preceded by more important matters that the speech omits.

In fairness, the 11 and 12MPs have improved in specifying where pro-Bumiputera and other group-targeted programmes operate – albeit with major omissions, such as matriculation colleges, higher education, public procurements, as well as public sector and government-linked company employments.

The 12MP’s discussion of “key issues” faced by Bumiputeras begins with the general problems of poverty, inequality and unemployment, followed by a list of specific problems.

At the top of this list is Bumiputera business concentration in micro enterprise and low, value-added activities, and dependency on government assistance. These are, constructively and objectively, the key shortcomings – and ought to be the key premises for Bumiputera policies, which will then establish higher education, small and medium enterprise (SME) development and capacity building as policy drivers.


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