Malaysia’s ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak kept Malays poor and dependent on handouts for his political gains, says a political watcher in Malaysia.
Ahmad Farouk Musa, the founder of the Islamic Renaissance Front, a think tank advocating reform and renewal in Islam, said this while speaking at a seminar held at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak In Singapore on Monday.
Farouk claims under the previous Barisan Nasional administration headed by Najib, some 40 percent of approximately 12.8 million households have a household income of below RM3,000 (S$990). They are called the B40 and the Malays or Bumiputeras make up the largest portion.
He says the rationale behind the allegations he is making is that non-tax paying citizens are less concerned with government policies and Najib used cash handouts to ‘bribe’ the Bumis.
Poor Malays do not fall in the income bracket for taxpayers as such they are less concerned with government policies.
He adds that most of them are more inclined to talk about whether certain foods contain porcine morsels, as opposed to “this man swindling the country of millions of dollars.”
He was referring to the sovereign fund scandal involving Najib.
Farouk says the BN also used cash handouts to “bribe” the poor Malays into voting for them, likening this dependency on handouts to how an addict is hooked to morphine.
Under Najib’s rule, the BN started to give handouts in various forms, calling them BR1M (1Malaysia People’s Aid) while taxi drivers were given cash handouts and car parts (tires etc) as part of a programme to assist the needy.
Najib also started the Kedai Rakyat. A number of shops selling cheap items grew around Malaysia in a bid to get the public to buy those items at cheaper rates than existing outlets.
This flopped, but the BR1M became the political tool that could undermine the Pakatan Harapan government after Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir decided not to pursue a policy of handouts.
Najib himself is campaigning for the return of the BR1M in its original form after Pakatan revived but not on the same scale as it was under the BN.
The opposition is campaigning against Pakatan saying they failed to fulfil their campaign promises. It keeps the B40 segment of the population within Najib’s reach.
On the other hand, United Nations human rights expert, Philip Alston says Malaysia’s claim to having the world’s lowest national poverty rate is inaccurate.
He says the official figure vastly undercounts poverty.
The UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights says Malaysia uses an unduly low poverty line that does not reflect the cost of living.
This excludes vulnerable populations from its official figures.
“While Malaysia has achieved undeniably impressive growth in reducing poverty in the last 50 years, the official claim that poverty has been eradicated, or exists merely in small pockets in rural areas, is incorrect and has crippled policymaking,” he said.-/TISG