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Liberalisation welcomed with caution

PETALING JAYA, 1 July 2009: The government’s economic liberalisation measures are welcome – as long as they don’t get strangled by red tape, politicians from across the divide and think tanks said today.

These individuals and groups supported the removal of the 30% bumiputera shareholder quota for publicly listed companies, the increase in foreign shareholding limits, and the removal of regulatory guidelines for equity stakes, mergers and takeovers that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak announced on 30 June.

But they also warned of “Little Napoleons” scuttling the government’s new policies unless measures were taken to prevent that from happening.

“The government needs to monitor [that] all the new measures, as announced, be implemented according to the books,” MCA deputy president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek said in his blog today.

“Often, it’s [because of] the deviation of implementation by the ‘Little Napoleons and Little Josephines’ that the rakyat is upset with the government,” he added.

Gerakan vice-president Datuk Mah Siew Keong expressed hope that all government agencies and the civil administration would embrace the new measures.

“Policies of the government are articulated through the performance of the civil administration. Consequently, if they are reluctant to breathe this air of liberalization, then all else will fail,” Mah, who is also Gerakan’s economic development bureau chairperson, said in a statement.

The Centre for Public Policy Studies (CPPS) also called for transparency and accountability for Ekuiti Nasional Bhd (Ekuinas), the agency created to assist bumiputera entrepreneurs.

“We firmly believe that Ekuinas must be fully accountable and should not become an avenue for leakages in the economy. Transparency, integrity and accountability must be at the forefront of the operations of Ekuinas as well as the larger liberalisation move,” CPPS chairperson Tan Sri Ramon V Navaratnam said.

He said CPPS would like to see an independent monitoring commission keep tabs on the implementation of the new policies.

Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim said the government must ensure that Ekuinas’s role did not duplicate those of other investment agencies such as Permodalan Nasional Berhad, Khazanah Nasional, ValueCap and Tabung Haji.

Ekuinas has been given an initial capital investment of RM500 million and is slated to become a RM10 billion fund.

“What is important now is to see whether these new principles…  will be implemented or will remain rhetoric as has happened with many of the BN’s promises,” Centre for Policy Initiatives director Dr Lim Teck Ghee said.

He added that it was important to have full disclosure of the methodology used for measuring corporate equity ownership.

Najib announced these deregulatory changes yesterday at the Invest Malaysia 2009 Conference. The reforms are meant to stimulate the economy by encouraging foreign investment.

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