IT just has to juggle it all, Perkasa pro-tem president Datuk Ibrahim Ali says of the government and its duties. These include protecting Malay Malaysian privileges, maintaining subsidies while managing depleting oil resources, and providing for other poor communities.
In the second of a two-part interview on 9 March 2010 with The Nut Graph in Kuala Lumpur, the independent parliamentarian says he believes in a guided democracy and guided economy which “by hook or by crook” must prioritise Malay Malaysians. He also says Perkasa members can be “scary”, but is so far confident of being able to restrain the group.
TNG: How should meritocracy be introduced in the Malay Malaysian community?
The 30% of projects the government allocates for bumiputera have been given through selected tender. A group of bumiputera contractors will compete among themselves. The problem with this is the lack of transparency. There was still a lot of pilih kasih.
We want the same policy to continue, for 30% to be allocated to bumiputera to compete among themselves. The government must ensure that there is transparency and no favouritism. I don’t know how true this is, but people say some contractors go to Umno leaders who give them the project. This is what people are complaining about.
Do you think the government is more transparent now?
It’s still too early to say. It is trying to be, but bear in mind that this year, the budget is not so big, and so there might not be so much hoo-hah over tenders.
So what does Perkasa want: more allocations, more quotas, or just an improved process?
Retain the 30% quota for bumiputera and let them compete among themselves with transparency, professionalism and without favouritism. And have other instruments, like agencies or funds, to uplift the Malay [Malaysians], the native people, and also the poor of other races.
We just want to close the gap, as stipulated in the NEP (New Economic Policy), to reach the 30% target. Come 2020, let the statistics show that we have achieved this, whatever the non-bumiputera are holding then.
In order to achieve this, affirmative action must continue. They say bumiputera share is now at 18%, but in reality, it’s hardly 4% after you minus GLC (government-linked companies) ownership. Look at property ownership in Kuala Lumpur — few commercial shoplots are owned by Malay [Malaysians]. No way can they buy because the price is too high and they can’t borrow from the bank.
This is another wrong perception, [that] people think Melayu mudah dapat loan dari Mara. Padahal, dapat loan RM2,000 pun susah. Mesti ada guarantor, mesti ada collateral, nak tengok income tax forms … the majority of Malay [Malaysians] cannot afford [it]. For me, property ownership is most important in bumiputera participation. Shareholding is number two.
Isn’t the government in a difficult position and finding it a strain to sustain subsidies?
The people’s welfare is the government’s priority. They have to think, they have all the experts. It could be done in 1997 when our currency was attacked; things were worse then, but we came out from that difficulty. So it can be done.
Things like petrol, rice, sugar, cooking oil, water and electricity are basic to the people, and things like these can cause havoc in the country when prices are raised. The government says it has no money for subsidies, but it is prepared to spend money on bridges, expensive projects and lavish celebrations. It’s crazy. Cut the wastage first.
So you disagree with plans to abolish subsidies?
I don’t completely disagree. It must be structured. I believe in a guided democracy and guided economy. Some elements of subsidy must continue. In the first place, we are making money from oil. We are an oil-producing country. We should be benefiting with some amount of subsidy.
But our oil reserves are depleting, and we may become a net importer in a few years…
That’s just what the government says. Talk about what’s the order of the day first. Like scholarships for bumiputera. It is guaranteed in the constitution for the native people. It is also given to non-bumiputera because they qualify, and that’s fair enough. We’re not saying don’t give to non-Malay [Malaysians]. But it means the places for Malay [Malaysians] are less. If there were 100 places available before, now it is 49 places for non-bumiputera, 51 places for bumiputera. What we want is that by hook or by crook, the government has to give all 100 places to native people.
And for non-bumiputera, the government also has to find money somehow. It’s their responsibility. Find a way. Get those big corporations, those philanthropists to pool their donations together. Even if it’s RM10 million, it’s nothing when they are making millions more. Ask them to pool their donations, then the government tops up with a matching figure. Then use this money to help all the non-Malay [Malaysians]. But don’t take what the majority is still fighting for and give it to others.
Mahathir Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was also critical of the weaknesses of Malay Malaysians. What can Malay Malaysians do to help themselves?
Yes, I agree. I don’t mean that Malay [Malaysians] are perfect. I also feel upset over Malay [Malaysians] who abuse the benefits given to them. There are some who live a lavish life. But that doesn’t mean they represent all Malay [Malaysians].
Every race will have irresponsible people, but you don’t say the entire race is like that. In my speeches wherever I go to launch Perkasa, I say we have to be more responsible and disciplined. We have to work hard, we have to be transparent, we have to be good and true Muslims. Having good race relations is a priority for a Muslim. Islam says we should take care of other people. You get more pahala if you help other races.
Is Perkasa a peaceful group? How far would it go to defend its ideals?
Do you see us taking to the streets? Are our resolutions extreme? We confine ourselves within the laws of the country. And we avoid hurting other races. I try my best. But I am only the president. At the moment I’m able to handle things.
Because if you go to our closed-door meetings and listen to the members talking, I’m also scared. The way they talk, you will be scared, I’m telling you. This I have to control. If non-bumiputera know what I’m doing, I think they will thank me.
What can you do about that?
Of course I talk to them lah. I say, you don’t shout. You also have weaknesses. We are a multiracial society living together for the last 52 years. It’s a difficult job to lead. I will listen to their views, but if it goes against the law and if it’s not good for the country, I will not do it.
When the Barisan Nasional opens itself for direct membership, will Perkasa join?
Personally, I want to see Perkasa remain as an NGO and not belong to any political party. Let Perkasa remain like this, friendly to the government but not a tool of the government. We have to be friendly if we want our opinion to be heard. Without engagement you cannot put across your message.
People say Umno is funding you.
No, tak betul. That’s just perception. It’s not true. I can swear by the name of God, I can take an oath. Umno people know me very well. Not everybody likes me. They’re scared of me. Even if they want to give me money, they are scared of me.
See also: The real deal with Perkasa
Read previous Realpolitiker interviews