Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Malaysian speed bumps in delivery of Indian wish list

OPINION: Speed bumps in delivery of Indian wish list

The government has addressed many of the concerns of the Indian community, most notably in the Ninth Malaysia Plan, but the implementation of programmes needs to be speeded up, writes CHOK SUAT LING

Datuk Pardip Kumar Kukreja urges a conscious appointment of Indians in the public sector

Datuk N. Siva Subramaniam says many good policies are not translated into action
DATUK Dr Denison Jayasooria has been involved in social research and developing intervention strategies to uplift the welfare of the Indian community for more than a decade.

As executive director of Yayasan Strategik Sosial (YSS), the social arm of the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), Jayasooria has highlighted various issues affecting Indians, especially those at the bottom 30 per cent of the community, since YSS was set up in 1997.

One important exercise, he recalls, was just three years ago when he helped document and forward a report -- a community "wish list" -- to the government for inclusion in the Ninth Malaysia Plan (9MP).

Many of the suggestions made by academics, professionals, the police, senior government officials, association heads and community leaders, including political economist Dr Terence Gomez, National Union of Plantation Workers' A. Navamukundan and activist Charles Santiago, at a forum organised by the MIC on Feb 20, 2005, have since been translated into public policy.

The voluminous report, 251 pages in all, contained 10 key proposals and 67 specific recommendations. It was presented to the government during the MIC's general assembly in May 2005 and posted on its website.

The proposals sought to increase Indian equity and business opportunities, ensure greater participation and opportunities in the civil service, eradicate urban poverty, and aid underachieving students in the school system.

Specifically, the experts ur-ged a 7.5 per cent slice of public university enrolment to be allocated for Indians; introduction of pre-school education in all Tamil schools; RM500 million national unit trust fund managed by a Permodalan Nasional Bhd-type institution for the community; and specific programmes and strategies developed to meet the government's aim of doubling Indian equity to three per cent by 2010.

It may not have been the first time these concerns were aired but it was certainly one of the most concerted attempts by the MIC to highlight existing issues.

Since then, steps have been taken to resolve the challenges faced by certain sections of the community.

"One breakthrough, for instance, has been the clear endorsement of skills training opportunities for Indian youth," says Jayasooria.

"Two institutions -- Giat Mara and Pusat Putra (a new skills training institute) -- were mentioned to ensure delivery."

The provisions in the 9MP show that the government recognises the problems faced by Indian youth, especially those from low-income families and whose school performance is weak.

However, Jayasooria admits that problems remain.

For instance, there is a need for a better policy delivery and monitoring mechanism.

"There are genuine grievan-ces that need to be addressed," he stresses. "We have highlighted them for more than 10 years now but there is concern over the pace with which government agencies implement the policies."

Since they are not attended to quickly, the MIC is accused of not doing enough to alleviate the plight of the Indian community, he contends.

Jayasooria cautions: "If issues are not addressed quickly enough, the moderate voices will grow louder and there may be a backlash. Certain groups will take political advantage of the situation."

As an example, he points out that YSS has had many discussions with the Housing and Local Government Ministry on urban poverty but, he says: "The ministry has been slow in implementing programmes. This area needs a clearer directive as the emphasis on urban poor and low-income families is not given a major thrust in the 9MP as it was in the Eighth. The government has, however, done well in addressing hardcore poverty."

Former unionist Datuk N. Siva Subramaniam agrees that the implementation of policies needs to be improved. Siva Subramaniam, whose ideas on improving educational access and achievement of Indian students were included in the report, notes that although there are many good policies in place, some do not trickle down.

"For instance, there is an allocation for sekolah bantuan modal or partially aided schools but the disbursement of funds is at the discretion of state education department directors. Some have not given out the funds."

A number of other concerns raised at the forum and included in the report continue to demand attention. These issues have also been brought up in past MIC annual congresses.

Social worker Shoba Aiyar, a panellist at the MIC forum on the 9MP, feels that in areas with a large Indian population, an office or service centre catering to their needs should be set up.

"There are such offices in every Felda scheme, and within Kemas (Community Development Department) and Orang Asli communities. The officer will be able to channel 'clients' to relevant departments," she says.

"There should also be Indian government officers in district welfare offices to cater to the community as language and cultural sensitivities can sometimes be an issue."

For NUPW's Navamukundan, the quality of life of plantation workers must be further improved.

He stresses that basic public utilities and healthcare services should be extended to all plantation workers.

"All community development projects implemented by Kemas must be provided to plantation worker communities, especially infant and childcare services and preschool classes, to empower them to participate in the mainstream of national economic and social development programmes."

Malaysian Associated Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Datuk Pardip Kumar Kukreja urges a "conscious appointment" of Indians in the public sector, state executive councils and local councils.

Indians should also be allowed to purchase shares in national trust funds and allocated equitable housing and land by City Hall and other district offices.

Venture capital funds should also be created, and franchises and dealerships secured for the community.

"I don't think there is anything we have not asked," says the business leader, whose proposals were also included in the 2005 report. "We have also asked for licences, permits and loan allocations but there has been no implementation."

Jayasooria notes that under the 9MP, the Indian share of corporate equity had been targeted to increase to three per cent by 2020 and that more opportunities would be provided for them to participate in selected unit trust schemes.

It will also enhance the participation of Indians in the economy; provide financial assistance to encourage them to venture into business; and to make entrepreneur training programmes more accessible.

"But when it comes to deliverables and targets, a lot of issues remain. All have been discussed and written about extensively but somehow they do not translate downwards."

There is also an urgent need to establish a social inclusion unit, perhaps under the Prime Minister's Department, with representation from all communities, says Jayasooria.

"People, especially in urban areas, need an outlet to speak up. Those in rural areas have greater access to the civil service as their communities are more compact. There is less interaction in urban areas."

On the mid-term review for the 9MP, he says: "We hope that the government will focus on enabling greater people participation and see how they can play a part in the entire development process."

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