PETALING JAYA: Some 100 days into his stint as Cabinet Minister, Datuk Dr Wee Ka Siong has had a hectic schedule.
The Minister in the Prime Minister's Department has visited 38 new villages and attended 20 townhall meetings with entrepreneurs of small and medium enterprises (SMEs). And that doesn't include Cabinet meetings.
"I'm losing more hair," Dr Wee joked during a recent interview session with The Star Online, where he spoke candidly of his plans to leverage on the potential of the new villages and business start-ups.
"I've been sleeping four or five hours everyday," he added.
On June 25, the MCA deputy president was appointed a minister whose portfolio is managing the development of the Chinese new villages, SMEs and micro-credit schemes for the Chinese.
Dr Wee's visits to new villages and townhall meetings allow him the opportunity to understand the grouses and demands of the community.
According to Dr Wee, today’s new villages which are home to some two million Malaysians are more diverse, and he dismissed the perception that it was exclusive to the Chinese alone.
"You see, the word Chinese (new villages), but I do not think it is 100% for the Chinese only. Many Indians and Malays also live there and in some cases, the chairman of the Village Development and Security Committee (JKKK) is a Malay or Indian,” he said.
Dr Wee, who reached his 100th day as a Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department on Sunday, has utilised his engineering background to implement cost-saving measures in the development of infrastructure within the new villages.
Besides that, he has introduced a community outreach programme to foster better engagement between the JKKK and villagers.
“Residents want to know why certain projects are being implemented (in their area), and the community outreach programme is a way for them to understand and have a sense of belonging with the development around them,” he said.
Dr Wee has also undertaken a project to reclassify the new villages according to their level of development, the issues they face, and to model the villages around the specific industries they are famous for.
“Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR) is assisting us with the reclassification. Some villages, for example, Seri Kembangan, is known for its shoe-making industry while other areas are famous for handicraft items.
“We wish to compile this information into an inventory so that we can carry out focused development in these areas,” he explained.
On the SME front, Dr Wee has recently set up a Secretariat for the Advancement of Malaysian Entrepreneurs (SAME), which will be operational within two months, in an attempt to bridge the gap between businessmen and government agencies.
This, he believes, is necessary to assist local entrepreneurs with training workshops, troubleshooting their problems, and strengthening their local and international business matching prospects.
“Previously, we had SMECorp, but the Chinese feel that it is stereotyping and not for them. Therefore, we established this centre to serve as a mediator and help them voice out their issues for the relevant authorities to take action,” he said, stressing that SAME would utilise available government funds and not favour one race over the other.
During the 30-minute interview, Dr Wee also voiced his thoughts on the Ah Long problem, with many Chinese businessmen resorting to borrowing money from loan sharks in order to fund their businesses.
This, he pointed out, was because they did not want to go through the troublesome screening process in obtaining bank loans.
“We need to cut down all this red tape. I have already consulted the Cabinet on this,” he says.
He adds that microcredit schemes for SMEs was something the government could offer as an alternative, expressing hope that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak would allocate more funds to help SMEs expand their businesses.
Dr Wee has also made significant progress in convincing Chinese SMEs about the benefits of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), despite considering it an uphill task when he was first appointed minister three months’ ago.
“We need to engage them, and explain to them. Today, we find that the SME community is more accepting and even encouraging their fellow members to register for GST,” he adds.
The three-term Ayer Hitam MP has seen his political career take a 180-degree turn, switching to an economic portfolio after previously being involved in the education sector as deputy education minister.
He was quick to reveal which role he found tougher when asked about his experience in politics so far.
“This is more challenging. As a Cabinet minister, I am involved in the decision-making process, and am required to give constructive input on important issues,” he says.
MCA’s performance in last year’s general election led to the party’s initial decision not to accept any Cabinet posts, despite party president Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai and Dr Wee winning their respective parliamentary seats.
However, the confidence of the Chinese has slowly been restored and Dr Wee says he has seen an improvement during his recent meet-ups with the community.
“I would not say that the situation since GE13 is significantly different, but there’s an improvement. They (the Chinese) are no longer poisoned by the Opposition’s slogans and will treat you as a friend," he says.
"The people in the new villagers are actually very friendly, but also shy. So we must make the effort to go down and meet them. They will be very happy to see us,” he adds.