PM: Economic inequality remains the 'biggest' challenge

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, seen here at the launch of the National Transformation Programme Annual Report 2013, said it was 'imperative' that the government policies and subsequent growth did not 'marginalise' any group. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, seen here at the launch of the National Transformation Programme Annual Report 2013, said it was 'imperative' that the government policies and subsequent growth did not 'marginalise' any group. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng

PUTRAJAYA, May 26 — Malaysia’s wealth needs to be more “equitably distributed”, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said today, admitting that economic disparity remained the government’s biggest hurdle in its quest to reach high-income nation status.

At the Budget 2015 Consultative Council meeting at the Finance Ministry here, Najib said it was “imperative” that the government policies and subsequent growth did not “marginalise” any group.

“The challenge for equality, as I had mentioned in my recent speech, is the need to ensure equitable growth,” he said, reiterating his keynote address at the Nikkei International Conference in Japan last week.

“Inequality is the biggest challenge facing us and I would like to see that growth in Malaysia is distributed more equitably as we move forward,” he told the hundreds participating in the dialogue today.

In September last year, Najib announced a revised pro-Bumiputera New Economic Model (NEM), despite previously saying the NEM would replace the affirmative action from the now-defunct New Economic Policy (NEP) in favour of meritocracy.

Implemented in 1971, the NEP had an ambitious aim to close the socio-economic gap between the largely-urban Chinese and the rural Malays as well as other indigenous Bumiputera, within the span of two decades.

It ended officially in 1990, but the key aspects of its Malay-Bumiputera preferential plan remains in various forms years later.

Under the revised NEM, the Bumiputeras, predominantly encompassing the Malay community, have access to over RM31 billion in aid and contracts, a move that critics said was a reversal of his promises to roll back race-based policies.

The original NEM that Najib had first announced five years ago — after taking office in 2009 — was aimed at economic reforms and promoting meritocracy, even as Malaysia plans to achieve high-income status by 2020.

But the proposal was swiftly savaged by the conservative factions in Umno and Malay right-wing groups like Perkasa.

Najib also pledged to reduce the fiscal deficit, which currently stands at 3.9 per cent, after rollbacks on the subsidy budget, to 3.5 per cent in six years’ time by 2020.

He added that the Fiscal Policy Committee (FPC) is looking into strategies “to ensure medium and long-term fiscal sustainability”.

Najib is expected to table Budget 2015 in Parliament on October 10.