YOUR front-page headline “For the rakyat,” (The Star, Sept 13), says it all.
In essence, Budget 2004 means power to the people in the context of a “bottom-top” perspective.
NGOs, social activists, social researchers and community workers would agree these proposals encapsulate many of their expressed concerns over the years. It is reassuring to know the Government has been listening after all.
What is particularly significant is that the strategy suggested for implementation is structural (institutional).
The emphasis is on providing access to economic and social prerequisites and opportunities for self-advancement rather than bureaucratic ad hoc financial subsidies and handouts.
At the same time there are safety net provisions for the socially disadvantaged where the strategy would also be on rehabilitation rather than mere welfare amelioration.
More significantly, the implementation strategies involve the participation of stakeholders in decision-making, and in ownership and control.
The setting up of a high-level SMI Council, for instance, will hopefully provide the forum to address pressing structural problems such as land allocation and cultivate a greater sensitivity towards a more realistic appraisal of cultural differences among stakeholders.
But the highpoint must surely be the dramatic restructuring of Felda. Enabling settlers to hold equity in the listed company as members, and as settlers, can only be described as “spectacular.”
This is without doubt the most ingenious strategy to break the concentration of bureaucratic power that has been accumulating in some statutory bodies over the years.
In our recent United Nations Development Programme social impact assessment study (2003) of Felda, we noted that because of this power concentration the organisation was beset by internal and external contradictions.
We were quite astonished to note that Felda had itself become a landowner and was managing the land holdings of settlers after they had been issued with land titles. We also had other major concerns because the organisation had established a number of subsidiaries in which the involvement of settlers was unclear.
In this connection, perhaps this exemplary implementation strategy could be a model for the improvement of the century-old grossly neglected plight of the plantation communities.
Indeed, one recalls that there was some mention of a comprehensive restructuring plan involving not only all the statutory bodies operating plantations, but also the smallholders in both rubber and oil palm.
The thinking should also be extended to cover the family smallholdings in all the states, particularly in Sabah and Sarawak.
Finally, I believe all Malaysians would want to show their appreciation to Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad for his last Budget.
He has done well to deliver what is widely recognised as the most comprehensive Budget ever over three hours.
Dr COLLIN ABRAHAM, Kuala Lumpur. (via e-mail)
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