PUTRAJAYA, Feb 29 — Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi today called for genuine economic collaboration between Malaysia’s Bumiputera and other communities as he inaugurated the first Bumiputera Economic Congress (KEB) held by the Anwar administration amid volatile political support from the country’s ethnic majority.

Zahid said interracial economic cooperation has existed since the New Economic Policy that was introduced by the second prime minister, the late Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, but suggested “some aspects of the collaboration may have questionable genuineness”.

He expressed hope that the three-day congress would rectify this through resolutions that would cement stronger inter-ethnic economic relationships.

“We must foster genuine economic ties between the Bumiputera and other ethnicities. In the context of inclusivity this relationship existed since the NEP but some aspects of the collaboration may have questionable genuineness,” he said.

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“Through the Bumiputera Economic Transformation (plan), we don’t want economic activities done only in the name of the Bumiputera. We want Ali and Baba to genuinely work together to do business,” the deputy prime minister added in a play on the term “Ali Baba” commonly used to describe rent-seeking.

Pro-Bumiputera economic policies have long been a political flashpoint. Critics of the race-based affirmative action said while the policy may have been noble initially, these interventions eventually morphed into political largesse that nurtured a rent-seeking culture benefitting only a small circle of elites close to top leaders from then ruling Umno.

This year’s convention, which Umno proposed, is the seventh edition since it was first introduced in 1965. In the past, the Bumiputera economic congress often became a platform to court support among Malays, who make up the largest sub-group within the Bumiputera community.

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Today, Zahid delivered an opening speech markedly different in tone to others he made before. The Umno president said the seventh KEB aims to be more “inclusive”, with emphasis on economic collaboration and driving development among native tribes in Sarawak and Sabah.

“Like it or not, willing or not, inter-ethnic dependency is extremely crucial to heal our economy,” he said.

“Beginning with the NEP’s objective that no longer want economic activities to be based on racial identity, that wall is now torn down. The Bumiputera is no longer synonymous with agriculture, the Chinese no longer dominate the trader title and the same can be said about Indians, who are no longer scattered on the fields,” the deputy prime minister added.

“It is in this spirit, three primary objectives will be outlined, and they require all races wanting to develop the country. We must respect fair distribution while accepting that the drive to raise Bumiputera participation in all economic sectors is enshrined in the (Federal) Constitution.”

The seventh KEB will aim to produce a resolution that includes a holistic Bumiputera economic transformation plan, Zahid suggested. Among its objectives are to raise the number of skilled Bumiputera workers and the community’s participation in new potential sectors or technology.

Zahid did not elaborate on how the government plans to achieve the goals, but said existing Bumiputera-based agencies should play the lead role and listed six “determinants” to act as the foundation for the transformation plan.

Most of the determinants appeared to reflect Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s Madani Economic Framework, such as plugging leakages by improving policy execution and recognising the need to bolster economic opportunities for other communities.

Still, Zahid said the government need not be apologetic about wanting to raise Bumiputera economic interests.

“We shouldn’t be apologetic to put forward big Bumiputera agendas because we never deny the economic rights of other communities. In fact the Bumiputera have always respected the social contract that is the foundation for national harmony,” he said.