KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 17 ― Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad today said his Pakatan Harapan (PH) government’s topmost priority is to mend the economic and financial gap among the races and between the urban and rural people.
The prime minister added that it was a potential tinderbox for violence unless dealt with now.
“We noticed that the distribution of wealth in the country is not even or fair. There is a great disparity between the urban and rural areas. We need to correct that. Some states are rich, some are poor. We need to correct that.
“We have a problem with the performance of some ethnic groups, for example the Bumiputera here and in Sabah and Sarawak. They are relatively poor compared to people living elsewhere.
“We need to repair this because if there is a great disparity, there will be antagonism that can lead to violence,” he said in an interview on BFM's morning show the Breakfast Grille while explaining his government's Shared Prosperity Vision policy.
He added that this was part of the social contract agenda and that there are certain parameters that the government needs to reconsider, saying that when PH was the Opposition, it was not aware of the high costs to achieve certain goals.
Dr Mahathir noted that the rich-poor gap can be very big in certain areas and that matters became further complicated because the urban-rural divide was also along racial lines.
He pointed out that there are more Malay and Bumiputera communities in the rural areas with a different set of economic activities that does not net them an equal amount of wealth compared to the Chinese living in an urban environment where they can make more money.
“The disparity is sometimes very big. That isn't easy. There is divide between town and country. That makes things worse because the people in town are made up of different people from the country.
“To correct that, we have to move people from the country to town. If you move town to the country, the people living in the country will suffer more,” said Dr Mahathir.
He also defended the government’s affirmative action policy, saying there have been proven benefits.
However, he admitted that there was room for error due to opportunity being granted to those who were not qualified to manage businesses.
Dr Mahathir believes that the root cause of the problem stemmed from the fact that for some people, they were not culturally suitable to be entrepreneurs and the answer to this problem lies in education.
“We know where weaknesses are. We have to train them in management so they won't make too many mistakes. It is both [an education and cultural issue]. It is an educational issue because in schools we don't train people how to manage things.
“Now have to focus on financing, management and things like that so that when they graduate and leave school they know how to do business. Cultural system is a value system. If your value system isn't suitable for certain kind of activity, you will fail.
“For example, if you are laidback, you won't be a successful as those keen to work hard and want to work hard,” said Dr Mahathir.
The prime minister acknowledged that education is also a sensitive topic for Malaysians, particularly because of the cultural associations in vernacular schools.
Dr Mahathir was critical about vernacular schools, but said he has resigned that he has no choice but to cater to Chinese sensitivity when it comes to the issue or face another political problem.
“The Chinese want Chinese schools. Of course this isn't going to bring people together. This is one of the causes Malaysian don't go to the same school. It's bad. Vernacular school is not what we need in this country. But we also respect the sensitivity of the Chinese, we have to do it in a way to respect them.
“We have suggested three schools in one campus, but even that is rejected by Chinese. They don't want their kids mingling with other races,” he said.