Unite to face economic challenges

  • Nation
  • Sunday, 21 Aug 2005

Ong delivering his opening speech at the MCA annual general meeting at Wisma MCA in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday.

ON behalf of the party, we extend out warmest welcome and gratitude to our Prime Minister and Chairman of the Barisan Nasional, YAB Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi who has given us his time to graciously officiate at our 52nd General Assembly. 

I would like to thank the presence of the heads all the BN component parties, past MCA leaders, heads of the various Chinese guilds and associations, delegates, members of the media and guests. 

Ladies and gentlemen: 

1. The Barisan Nasional Consensus 

In 11 days, we will be celebrating our 48th Merdeka Day. The people will be proud to celebrate that day as the country is sovereign, stable, peaceful, safe, harmonious and united, having made numerous milestone achievements as a nation.  

Our political condition is stable, cemented by our last general elections through the support of the rakyat for the Prime Minister whom we trust to be a principled, clean, trustworthy, sincere leader of all the races. We admire and support his determination to make Malaysia reach newer heights in striving for “cemerlang, gemilang dan terbilang”.  

The Prime Minister has not only ensured that the economy is well-managed and driven by strong investment flows, but he has also been working hard to build good relations with other countries. 

The fruits of our achievements are a result of the efforts of the BN as well as the rakyat having experienced many trials together, and stood well in the test of time. As such, we need to continue to be united to face any threats that could undermine the peace and the advancement of our nation. 

MCA, as one of the major component parties, is supportive of the power-sharing concept within the BN, which has always been to emphasise on the rakyat and give it priority in the development of the country, regardless of race. In the spirit of partnership within the BN, all matters can be discussed in depth so that common solutions can be found through consensus, without any parties being disadvantaged. 

2. The Spirit of Rakyat Malaysia 

Even though the MCA is a party that represents the Chinese, the party's approach is to champion all races. 

MCA may be a race-based party but our objectives in national advancements are both universal and inclusive. The party is sensitive to the feelings of other communities as achieving unity for the rakyat is consistent with our political struggles. This has been our political agenda since our establishment in 1949.  

Issues and problems faced by the various races must be seen from a larger and wider perspective. After 48 years, we should already posses a level of maturity in our thinking of Rakyat Malaysia that is free from constrictions and narrowness for the betterment of the country. 

“Unity in Diversity” should become the foundation in the process of nation-building – one that should be implemented and practised. In fact, it should be embraced as a way of life for all Malaysians. 

The BN is a legacy, guardian, and protector of our Federal Constitution. As such, the BN is also the hope and the defender of the rakyat which is made up of many people from diverse cultures and races, practising different religions and speaking different languages.  

At the same time, we all also want to share the economic prosperity of the country, our children provided with opportunities to pursue tertiary education and be awarded government scholarships, to have security and also other rights protected by the laws of the country in a manner that is fair and just.  

Although MCA is a Chinese party due to its historical beginnings, articulating the aspirations of the community and giving our views on polices and implementations on behalf of the Chinese, we also voice the concerns of the rakyat. We continue to hold true to the spirit of the Constitution as well as the accord within the BN. 

MCA seeks to serve all Malaysians regardless of race. We continue to respect the promises, made by our former party leaders especially the founding fathers, which formed the social contract. That contract gave us our independence and has since shaped our nation, Malaysia.  

These were the origins of the spirit of our Constitution and the historical struggles to gain independence. This must be clearly understood especially by the younger generation, who may have differing interpretations of the actual spirit encapsulated in the Constitution when it was first conceived. 

Any rakyat who is born in this country as well as those who were granted citizenship under the Constitution during and after independence, are unquestionably a citizen of Malaysia. This country belongs to every rakyat, and this is where we will live and die. When attacked or threatened, we will surely defend our beloved country till the very last breath.  

(Front row, from left) Veteran MCA leaders Tan Sri Lee Kim Sai, Datuk Seri Lim Ah Lek, Datuk Yeoh Kian Teik and other MCA members responding to Ong's speech during the annual general assembly on Saturday.

When Malaysia was under siege during the financial crisis, the rakyat had to bear the force of an economic slowdown together, and we overcame the situation admirably. 

Rakyat Malaysia donated and contributed generously towards the Tsunami Fund earlier year, and went forth to volunteer our help to all the victims of the disaster. 

When the United States and its allies wanted to attack Iraq, Rakyat Malaysia regardless of their religious backgrounds went to petition and rally under Aman to protest. 

When our Prime Minister called for the people to help stamp out corruption to raise the integrity of the community, Rakyat Malaysia of all races were inspired and lent our full support to Pak Lah for bringing about changes for the betterment of our society. The Spirit of Rakyat Malaysia is spontaneous and is already naturally imbued in us. 

We have lived together for 48 years and have struggled together without realising that the Spirit of Rakyat Malaysia is already within us all. All of us live in a free country practising our own religions, cultures and the like. But within us, we have a lot in common. We already have achieved unity in diversity because we are already what we are. 

The Spirit of Rakyat Malaysia has evolved naturally over time. We already have a common spirit that is uniquely Malaysian; we value other races, we appreciate our common ideals like hard work, mutual respect, courtesy, humanity, civility, good citizenry, goodwill, belief in the principles of the Rukun Negara and so forth. 

Any attempts to force changes to disturb our diversity, which has already been well entrenched in our system, will only upset the stability of our society. 

It is, therefore, time that we forge ahead in the Spirit of Rakyat Malaysia to face the challenges of globalisation and the new economic era. Rakyat Malaysia need to bear the burden together and work as one to achieve the objectives outlined in Vision 2020. 

3. Economic Development  

The MCA is confident, and is placing high hopes on our Prime Minister, as we see him possessing ability, wisdom, and principles that are fair and sensitive. He is also mindful of our historical backgrounds pertaining to the struggles of our former leaders, and fully understands the true spirit of the Constitution. 

The honourable Prime Minister had on numerous occasions gave his assurances whenever there were controversies and disagreements raised by certain quarters. MCA welcomes the statements and assurances given by the Prime Minister during the BN Supreme Council Meeting on Aug 1. 

At that meeting, he reassured us that the Government would be fair in looking after the interests of all the races in the implementation of the Ninth Malaysia Plan and in any economic plans in our goals towards Vision 2020. 

The Prime Minister also stated that no race or community will be restricted in their own advancement while the Government continues to assist the bumiputras, particularly those in the lower income groups. It is to realign some of the weaknesses and leakages in the implementation of the National Economic Policy. 

MCA welcomes any attempts to consider and discuss economic and development policies through forums like the National Consultative Council and MTEN with the involvement of economic experts, representatives of all political parties, the private and public sectors, to draft policies as well as economic action plans that are effective and relevant to globalisation and the new economic era or the “new order economy”. 

The Malaysian Chinese hope to participate meaningfully in the economic development of the country so that the community will not be left behind.  

We hope to be given the opportunities to participate in various fields like automobile, oil and gas, and telecommunications sectors via joint ventures and/or equity participation. We urge the Government, when assisting the bumiputras in achieving the 30% equity, to provide sufficient opportunities to the non-bumiputras so they too can partake in the expansion of the economic pie. 

The non-bumiputras, especially the Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) and the lower-income groups face all kinds of problems and challenges. For example, the SMEs face difficulties in obtaining government contracts or in being a vendor company of a GLC. They find it difficult to deal with government agencies and companies where the Government holds an equity. We also face obstacles and mismanagement in the misinterpretation of government policies by the officers.  

Malaysian Chinese are ever willing to work hand in hand with all our counterparts from all races to find opportunities in international markets like China, India, OIC countries and within Asean. We hope that our partnership forged through GLCs and relevant agencies will help bring all of us success and earn us greater profits for the country. 

MCA recently reached a consensus with the business community as well as the relevant guilds and associations to form the Malaysian Chinese Economic Consultative Council (MCECC) with the intention to study and look for better ways to forge closer co-operation between the bumiputras and non-bumiputras in various fields in the economy. 

Aside from that, the MCECC will also study ways and means to establish new sources and drivers of growth to assist the country in its global competitiveness.  

4. The New Order Economy 

I still remember the second half of the decade of the1980s. 

The Malaysian economy was slow and unemployment was rife. Many of my friends and relatives were young, able-bodied and talented men and women but were unable to find jobs, particularly those in the new villages, fishing villages and tin-mining areas. 

These youths had no choice but to look outside for opportunities. They worked as storekeepers, cooks and manual workers in foreign countries, and brought back money for their families. As a result of their hard work, townships like those in Perak, Selangor and Johor have flourished due to foreign exchange brought home by them.  

But those were the old days of what I would call the “old order” economy when there was no Internet or e-mail.  

A lot has changed since Crisis 97/98. While we sought to seek stability within the system, which was much needed at that time, we also awoke to a new surrounding. 

We soon realised that the new economy with its new rules no longer plays the same tune as before. Our neighbours have transformed and got better and smarter. Investor behaviour has also changed. 

Offshoring, business process operations or shared services are now smart partnerships that investors look for. Investor profiles too have changed; most of them now tend to be SMEs rather than big multinationals. 

They do not spend too much on training but are willing to pay extraordinarily high salaries for good talent. They prefer smart partnerships where they can bring in their international expertise and intellectual property but they want local culture, knowledge and understanding to customise their product or service to the local setting.  

Unlike the “old economy”, the “New Order Economy” does not require us to leave the country physically due to availability of technology and connectivity. We can use Malaysia as a base but travel across nations to work and conduct our businesses, without having to leave the country for long periods. This is unlike the situation in the1980s when the people had to leave the country in order to earn a living to support their families back home. 

As a political party, we need to take heed of these trends and devise a well-defined programme to empower our people, particularly the youths, both males and females, so that they can remain in a productive society to cope with changing trends. 

a) Impact of Globalisation on Women 

Some 15.4%-35.4% of women in the new villages (depending on the state they are from) work in the agriculture sector. Meanwhile, 31.8% of them are employed in manufacturing, which is significantly higher than the average for men at 19.3%. 

It is also found that about 80% of factory workers in Malaysia are women. On the other hand, women on average make up only about 40%-55% of the entire staff force in the services sector. 

Besides, the services sector demands higher skill sets and linguistic abilities, which rural women may not possess. On top of that, women who work in the manufacturing sector tend to be low-skilled workers and could soon see their livelihood threatened because of greater mechanisation and use of technology, unless they are also up-skilled in tandem. 

The gender disparities in economic power-sharing are an important contributing factor to national poverty. Therefore, MCA in particular the Wanita wing, must work hard to seek long-term solutions that will increase the productive capacity of women through access to capital, resources, credit, land, technology, information, technical assistance and training so as to raise their income, improve nutrition, education, healthcare and status within the household.  

b) The Impact of Globalisation on Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) 

According to a survey, there are a total of 27 million SMEs in Asia, mostly in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and India. 

SMEs registered in Malaysia make up 92% of the total number of establishments. However, our SMEs only contribute 6% of the GDP, thus showing gross under-representation in the economy compared with Japan (55.3%), Germany (57.0%) and Korea (16.0%).  

Meanwhile, high-tech areas like biotech and ICT, because of the very high risks, high skill sets and large R&D expenses involved, are not yet deeply entrenched in our SMEs. The lack of diverse funding, exposure to the international markets, language and communication skills and fixed mindsets continue to be impediments to progress for our SMEs.  

5. Strategies to Overcome Our Future Challenges 

a) Eradication of Urban Poverty 

The process of urbanisation has contributed to the rapid development in the large cities in Malaysia. However, the same process has also given rise to social problems such as urban poverty, thus, requiring close attention. 

The BN takes the view of urban poverty very seriously. Since a year ago, the Government has been developing the Rancangan Strategik dan Pelan Tindakan (RSPT) programme for the eradication of urban poverty. 

The details of the poverty eradication programme are as follows: 

  • TO FACILITATE a fulfilling life for the poor so that they may be healthy, safe, secure and are given opportunities to improve job skills and their incomes, by increasing their accessibility in education, healthcare, and transportation (public and private) and other conveniences; and 

  • TO HELP achieve greater economic independence through capacity building. 

    The achievements of the programmes that have been targeted are: 

  • TO ERADICATE hardcore poverty completely in five years, regardless of ethnicity or region both in the urban and rural areas; 

  • TO RAISE the standard of living of the poor so they are at par with the Malaysian Quality of Life Index which takes into account areas like education, health, housing adequacy and recreational facilities. This is to ensure that they are not left behind in the development in the cities; and 

  • TO BRING about a mindset change and instil a positive outlook among the poor. 

    It is certain that, under the Ninth Malaysia Plan, the RSPT will be carried out effectively to eradicate poverty. 

    As the Minister of Housing and Local Government, I have recently visited many of the poor people living in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya. A database has been collected by my ministry, in which the poor have been registered. 

    This has provided us with a better understanding of the actual situation on the ground, and this knowledge will facilitate the officers in mobilising resources more effectively to help them. It also found that most of them live in various states of deprivation; some suffering from illnesses, being left with young children and without proper shelter. 

    I urge all the authorities to work together to help the Government overcome the problem so no sector or groups are marginalised in the development of our country. 

    b) MCA’s Contribution to Higher Education 

    In line with the Government’s efforts to develop Malaysia into a regional, premier education hub to supply the nation with quality human resources, MCA has played a pivotal role to upgrade the prestige and quality of our students. 

    We have provided more opportunities than previously to the younger generation through the development of Kolej Tunku Abdul Rahman (Ktar) and Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (Utar). 

    Ktar was established 36 years ago, having successfully produced about 130,000 graduates possessing professional qualifications especially in accountancy, engineering and ICT. Ktar currently has five branch campuses in Johor, Pahang, Perak, Pulau Pinang and Sabah, with a total student population of over 30,000. 

    Ktar’s success is a result of the very strong support received from all levels of the community – MCA members, parents and students. Additionally, Ktar is also well-supported by a group of dedicated and quality academic staff. 

    MCA has also worked hard to develop Utar. In the space of just three years since its establishment on Aug 13, 2002, Utar has now three temporary campuses located in Petaling Jaya and Bandar Sungai Long in Selangor and in Setapak with a total student population of over 10,000. The construction of the main Utar campus in Kampar, Perak, is estimated to be completed in 2007. 

    This is a historic year for Utar and MCA because we had just held the inaugural convocation on Aug 6-7. The next convocation will be held this Aug 28 where the honourable Prime Minister has agreed to be present as the guest of honour to present the scrolls to Utar graduates. 

    I would like to take this opportunity to record our sincere appreciation in advance to the honourable Prime Minister. This year, a total of 2,083 graduands would have successfully completed their studies at Utar. It is undeniable that the strong support from the Federal Government, the Perak government and members of the community has enabled Utar to develop. MCA and Utar will strive to upgrade the prestige and quality of Utar to develop it into a competitive and premier institution. 

    On behalf of MCA, I would like to record the highest appreciation and gratitude to the Federal Government, especially to the honourable Prime Minister for all the assistance and co-operation accorded to Utar and Ktar throughout this period. 

    c) Problems of Early School-Leavers 

    Our country has a good education system offering many educational opportunities, extending beyond the elite class. 

    Yet, 25% of dropouts are early school-leavers in their teens. They do not possess the qualifications or basic skills to enter the professions. As a consequence, some of them are involved in various social problems like drug addiction, crime and other undesirable activities. 

    MCA is extremely concerned with the problems of early school-leavers and is adopting necessary steps to overcome this issue. One of the ways has been to launch awareness campaigns for parents and students, to deepen their understanding of the importance of education. 

    In future, Kojadi Institute will play a pivotal role to organise technical skills and vocational courses for early school-leavers. The problems of early school-leavers must be seriously addressed because our country stands to lose 25% of the human resources to non-productive activities. 

    d) Life-Long Learning Campaign 

    As a fast-developing nation, our rakyat must be enabled with the education, knowledge and skills to face new challenges in the globalised era. 

    In this respect, efforts are required to encourage continual learning and innovation among the rakyat to upgrade the nation’s competitiveness in all areas. 

    MCA officially launched the Life-Long Learning Campaign last October which covers seven pillars: Education Revitalisation, Caring Society, Moral Building, Living Skills, Economic Competitiveness, Culture and Art, Youth Development and National Integration. 

    The objective of this campaign is to assist the Government in moulding a society that is competitive, advanced, harmonious, caring and possessing the right attitude to acquire new knowledge and new skills.  

    This campaign has received encouraging support from the rakyat. In less than a year, MCA has organised many projects and activities with the co-operation of Chinese associations and non-government organisations for all levels of the community. 

    I am happy that this life-long learning concept has not only received support from the community, but it has been identified by the Government as one of the important mainstays in the nation’s higher-education system to produce quality and competitive human resource to meet the demands of the new era. 

    Since the last six months, many short courses have been organised by Kolej Tuanku Abdul Rahman, University Tunku Abdul Rahman and private colleges for all levels of society. The people’s response has been very encouraging. 

    Kolej Tunku Abdul Rahman has even established a learning centre at the ground floor of Wisma MCA to enable the public to enrol in the various courses after office hours. 

    Similar campaigns have been actively launched in developed countries which have brought very positive results for their citizens. As such, the Life-Long Learning Campaign is an important part of MCA’s political struggles. 

    e) Rancangan Integrasi Murid Murid Untuk Perpaduan (RIMUP) 

    Unity of the rakyat should be commended given the short time we have as a nation. The best place to promote interaction among the races is where students of different streams can be at the same place, involved in the same activities. 

    MCA supports the efforts of the Education Ministry in the RIMUP programme which was the brainchild of the Prime Minister when he was the Minister of Education 20 years earlier.  

    This programme will help bring about a new generation of students who are understanding of each other and are able to work as a team. This is the way our national unity could be enhanced. 

    MCA and our wakil-wakil rakyat (people's representatives) as well as division leaders can play a positive role in assisting the schools in organising suitable activities for students of different races in order to make this programme a success. 

    f) The Ninth Malaysia Plan 

    The Eighth Malaysia Plan will expire by year-end, and the Ninth Malaysia Plan will begin in early 2006 and will run until 2010. This five-year Ninth Plan is critical in raising the pace of development for our country. 

    In recognising this, MCA has drafted a memorandum on the Ninth Malaysia Plan, which was submitted to the Prime Minister. The memorandum contains a comprehensive insight into the relevant outlook, issues and suggestions for consideration by the Government for policy implementation and strategies for development.  

    MCA believes that the Government will give our memorandum due consideration so that the policies and their implementations will be truly reflective and inclusive of the aspirations of the rakyat

    6. Party Elections 

    I am happy that our party elections have been so smoothly carried out with no untoward incidents. 

    I see all our candidates continue to uphold the spirit of sportsmanship and respect for each other. The election process has been well run, and the election procedures have been democratic and fair. 

    This is indeed a healthy culture that has already won a lot of praise in the public arena as well as among other political parties. This culture will determine and enhance the strength of the party in future.  

    I wish to iterate the need to use your wisdom to pick a good team. Choose candidates who are committed, effective, possessing integrity and those who are willing to carry out agendas for the party. Our struggles can only be successful if we have a combination line-up that has complementary talents and abilities. As such, I am confident that the party results will reflect the objectivity of the delegates. 

    7. Conclusion 

    As a developing country made up of different races, there are obviously many issues and challenges that the rakyat and the Government need to overcome. 

    The spirit of independence that has united the races in the past should remain with us so that we can face the future with its far-reaching prospects. 

    MCA is confident that the honourable Prime Minister will overcome our future challenges ably and help us move at a faster pace because of the patriotism of the rakyat. It is also the wish of the rakyat to strive for a more successful and advanced nation. 

    Lastly, I wish to thank our YAB Prime Minister for officiating at the general assembly today. I offer my sincere thanks also to all our special guests who have made this gathering a success. 

    Thank you. 

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