Blaming the West is something that has never change about Dr Mahathir. In his recent blog post, Dr M again blamed the West for the criticism against New Economic Policy. He said in his opening lines:
"When the New Economic Policy began to show some results in the early eighties, the Western Press and local opponents of the Government began to talk about cronyism. Whoever succeeded in a developing country like Malaysia, did so because they were the chosen favourites of the Government, particularly the head of the Government."
Dr M gives an impression that critics of the policy were jealous of its success. What is intriguing is as a head of government Dr M was privy to all information and results of the NEP and yet he decided to ignore the validity of the criticism against the implementation of policy which had created a new class of cronies. These cronies were instrumental in funding politicians and their activities. If not, how is UMNO able to muster a total wealth exceeding billions of ringgit?
Granted, the policy had yielded some successes in the 70's and 80's specifically in poverty eradication and making education more accessible to all Malaysians. However, the success was marred by Mahathir's fervour in creating a new class of Bumiputera entrepreneurs or industry captains.
In his next lines, Mahathir admitted some flaws of this policy diversion from the early 90's under his New Development Policy (rebranded after a shock rejection of all non-UMNO BN parties in the 1990 general election). The objective of poverty eradication and equal distribution of wealth was lost. Today, wealth disparity amongst the bumiputeras remained the worst. This is an obvious outcome of Mahathir's policy diversion in the early 90's.
"While most Bumiputeras who were given shares and opportunities to do business abused these opportunities, a few tried seriously and some of them succeeded. Obviously, these would be the people who should get more opportunities. Those who had abused their rights were also given second and third chances but as they continued to mess up their contracts and projects they were dropped out. Giving them more opportunities would simply be a waste. It would not help correct the economic imbalances."
Having said that most of the Bumiputeras who were given shares and contracts to do business abused these opportunities, nothing much was done during his rule to correct this mindset problem. Instead, during these times a new business term was created, "Ali Baba businessmen", referring to Bumiputera businessmen who had continued to receive contracts and opportunities and would pass these contracts down to their non-Bumi counterparts for execution. Many of these businessmen were given more than just second or third chances. Through political patronage, they continued to enjoy a good run as long as their political masters were still in power.
What did Mahathir do to correct this problem instead of continuing to give out contracts?
He went on to justify why the system had created a few successful entrepreneurs while the remaining bulk of Bumiputeras did not progress much.
"Admittedly some of them failed and were dropped. The numbers who succeeded became smaller. As we cannot risk giving to failures, the few successful people seem to be getting all the Government contracts, privatisation projects and other business opportunities."
The decision to give out contracts to these few successful entrepreneurs had created yet another problem. Most of them were overstretched and overloaded with projects spawning various industries. As a result, come a financial or economic crisis, many of these businessmen dropped like flies. In the aftermath of the 1997 Asian financial crisis, a number of these businessmen had to be bailed out. Among them was Mahathir's own son, Mirzan Mahathir. It is difficult to say if this trend was discontinued because a few businessmen are still getting most of the contracts.
This policy diversion is counter productive. Instead of helping to create more small-medium entrepreneurs, Mahathir had created a few super rich. Most of them were over exposed and susceptible to downturn.
On top of this, a great number of non-Bumiputeras were robbed of a fair access to government contracts and places at the tertiary institutions. Many businessmen, especially those without any political connection, had to explore other markets to develop their business. On a hindsight, many of these businessmen had the government to thank for their successful forays abroad. Today, there are many small-medium successful Malaysian businessmen in China, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore and others.
The accumulated disappointment and disgust of many bright students unable to gain entry into local tertiary institutions to study the course of their choice is huge. Most of these students who went abroad to study with a huge sacrifice from their parents ended up losing their hope for this government.
I was one of them and I can understand why they cannot feel proud or patriotic to this country. The NEP is one of Mahathir's greatest folly and yet he has chosen to blame the West. Many of these Western countries had given out and continue to give out many opportunities to our students to study abroad, including myself. What is this government doing for us?
For someone so smart and shrewed like Mahathir, his argument on NEP is not convincing. Many failures of the NEP are testimony of this.