DESPITE her meteoric rise to success as the first female minister of the Rural Development Ministry and first-time Titiwangsa lawmaker, Rina Harun steps away from the limelight and glamour, preferring instead to talk less, work more.
A self-proclaimed city girl, Rina now shoulders huge responsibilities including bridging the economic gap between rural and urban areas; tackling little white elephants in Sabah and Sarawak; ensuring the success of Majlis Amanah Rakyat (Mara) under the purview of her big-budget ministry and developing the country’s rural areas, which cover 70% of the total land size.
In a recent interview with The Star, the warm, friendly Minister, who started the conversation with “Just call me Rina”, talks about her main focus: improving the infrastructure and economic standing of the rural folks.
“Of course we cannot achieve everything in one term but we want to build up the people in rural areas in order to eliminate the gap between them and urban area in terms of education and infrastructure.
“We are focusing more on roads, treated water supply and electricity because these are the basic needs needed by all Malaysians,” she says.
Tackling the issue of uneven distribution between rural and urban population is also one of the Ministry’s focus.
“Around 24% of the population in Malaysia are living in rural areas but the land area is 70% of the total land area in the country.”
“A lot must be done in rural areas so that it’s not necessary for them to go to cities to get employment, better housing and successes,” she says.
The move by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to put Mara under her ministry’s purview was good news to Rina, who says that the institution has a significant role to play in uplifting the bumiputra.
“Having Mara under my ministry will help me to help rural people in terms of education and entrepreneurship. With Mara, because it is a complete ecosystem, it will help people in rural areas to have a better life,” she says, adding that with Mara under her ministry, she hopes to carve out more entrepreneurship opportunities.
“I believe that Mara has done their role to bring up the bumiputra, but there are other initiatives to help them also. We are not spoon-feeding the bumiputra, but giving them skills to develop themselves so they can be good entrepreneurs that can face challenges in business.
“Mara has a lot of work to do not only in giving out allocations but to monitor them (entrepreneurs) and follow through on the development of their business. Entrepreneurs cannot easily give up and I always tell the agencies that we should encourage people to venture into entrepreneurship and give them assistance,” she says.
Rina is also putting her touch into transforming other similar agencies under her ministry responsible for helping the people such as Kemas (Community Development Department) and also the Jakoa (Orang Asli Development Department).
“For Kemas, we are reviewing the syllabus and we are going to retrain the teachers.
“We want the teachers to focus on teaching the children and not to do other things like political work, as seen under the previous government. They have go to back to the basics because they are appointed to teach children,” she says.
Kemas is also breaking the stereotype that its teachers have low academic qualifications as currently, more than 7,000 of its teachers are diploma holders, with more than 1,000 on the way to earn their certificate in early childhood education, says Rina.
For Jakoa, Rina says she is “not giving up” on trying to get more Orang Asli – who make up 0.5% out of Malaysia’s 32 million population, or approximate 178,000 – to become entrepreneurs.
“So far, there are only 1,000 Orang Asli entrepreneurs who have registered under Jakoa but the number is still small compared to the total number of Orang Asli,” says Rina.
“We are not giving up, we will try our level best to facilitate them to have a better life.”
“We want to provide at least basic infrastructure such as houses, education, water and electricity.”
“We also want to improve their lives by providing entrepreneurship skills. They are good in craft and also skilled in traditional medicine, so we have to provide the facilities for them,” she said.
Rina also wants to decrease the number of school dropouts among Orang Asli and will be working with the Education Ministry towards this end.
“The school dropout rate among Orang Asli from Standard 6 to secondary school is at 17%, that’s why we are providing buses to take them from home to school.”
“I believe that with education, they can come out of poverty,” she says.
Acknowledging that the modern job market no longer requires solely strong academic qualifications, Rina said that was why the educational institutions under her ministry such as GiatMara and UniKL (Universiti Kuala Lumpur) are focusing on equipping the youth with skills.
“In UniKL we have programmes such as aerospace engineering but our target is not only in academic, we also have a bachelor programme specifically in welding because we know that it’s not about academic anymore, but also about skills and training for the students.
“Currently we have 231 GiatMara all over Malaysia and there are 295 TVET (Technical Vocational Education and Training) including GiatMara under the ministry which offers courses from beauty to welding.
“To me, it doesn’t matter if you don’t excel in academics but you can still have an opportunity to have lifelong learning,” she says.
A firm believer in engaging with the people, Rina said her Ministry is in the midst of setting up a special programme to engage with the youth.
“They want to be heard and we want to get new ideas from them,” she says.
The previous Barisan Nasional government had allocated billions of ringgit for rural roads, electricity and water projects for Sabah and Sarawak but these two states are still lacking in basic infrastructure.
Rina said the delays in delivering development in these rural areas stems from a lack of communication between the state and federal government and has recently set up a joint committee between the state and federal governments.
“Some 52% of the ministry’s development budget allocation is for the two states. But previously, sorry to say, there was a lack of communication between the federal and state government.”
“We are going to strengthen the joint committee between the federal government, Sabah and Sarawak state.
“Everything will be finalised there and this committee will also eliminate redundancy and time taken to construct the infrastructure.
“Previously there are misunderstanding between State and Fedaral Government, and this has affected the development projects” she says, adding that the committee will have next meeting in December.
Rina also wants to ensure infrastructure projects in Sabah or Sarawak is value for money and beneficial to the people.
Her ministry is now practicing a bottom-up approach to identify what kind of projects or to avoid any issues of contractors driven project infrastructure that are needed by the people.
“Now we are practicing from bottom to up where we get state and parliament representatives to engage with the people to identify what kind of projects that they need.
“The people would know if they need a bridge or a road, they themselves know better than us,” she says.
We're sorry, this article is unavailable at the moment. If you wish to read this article, kindly contact our Customer Service team at 1-300-88-7827. Thank you for your patience - we're bringing you a new and improved experience soon!