Govt defends 18.9% equity figure
Husna Yusop, Pauline Puah, B. Suresh Ram, S. Tamarai and Foong Li Mei
The SunThe government today continued to defend its 18.9% figure of bumiputra equity ownership despite findings by an independent think tank, using new methodologies and data, that found it could be as high as 45%.However, groups stressed the government’s figure could only be verified if its data, methodology and analysis were publicised.
Referring to the findings of Asli’s Centre for Public Policy Studies, which disputes the official statistics, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak said there was no need for the government to prove the institute wrong.
“We have already explained through public statements the Economic Planning Unit’s (EPU) basis of calculations,” he told reporters after presenting Hari Raya goodies to soldiers in the Defence Ministry.
“The government will continue to insist on the official data. We hope this will be accepted and will not be questioned by anyone.”
The Asli centre had come under attack from Umno leaders and other Malay groups after its findings were publicised.
On Tuesday (Oct 10, 2006), Asli (Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute ) president Mirzan Mahathir withdraw support for the report, saying it could not be “vigorously defended”.
The following day, the centre’s director Dr Lim Teck Ghee resigned in the interest of defending “the integrity of independent and non-partisan scholarship”.
Najib also cautioned non-governmental organisations from raising “sensitive matters” that could be seen as seditious.
“Initially, it could be seen as intellectual discourse but once it touches on sensitive matters, it can incite racial feelings,” he said.
“Rather than making a public statement, it is better for these groups to come to the government first.”
The Writers Alliance for Media Independence (Wami) and the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) said critics of the Asli report must use the “same or a higher level of intellectual rigour” to dispute its findings.
“The best weapon for the government to rebut the centre’s findings would be to publicise its own data and analysis,” they said.
“As the NEP (National Economic Policy) has been central to Malaysia’s political and socio-economic development, all Malaysians have the right to listen to the debates on its achievements and make their own judgments.”
They said the validity of government data used to calculate corporate equity ownership was currently beyond academic scrutiny.
“We believe that releasing important socio-economic data, from equity ownership to poverty incidence, should be a duty and not a discretion of the government,” they said.
“There could be no greater harm to the national interest for national decisions to be made from data only accessible to high-ranking politicians.”
Stressing the need for freedom of information legislation, they also said the attacks on the centre were an assault on academic freedom and freedom of expression.
DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng said Mirzan’s statement and apology had reduced Asli’s credibility and integrity because it was without academic basis or rationale.
“Clearly, Mirzan’s retraction was politically motivated and not driven by any flaws or shortcomings either in the centre’s methodology or research data,” he said.
Opposition Leader Lim Kit Siang also challenged the other Barisan Nasional component parties to speak up on an issue affecting all Malaysians.
Johor Baru MP Datuk Shahrir Abdul Samad questioned the centre’s 45% figure but said it was more important to prevent economic leakages.
“We cannot continue to go through another period of giving opportunities to the Malays and then seeing these wasted through leakages,” he said after chairing a Public Accounts Committee meeting.
He said government policies must be based on accurate and credible statistics.
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