The Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) was bound to generate much chatter in the mainstream media, blogosphere and, of course, warungs and kopi tiams. The Government's point-man, Idris Jala, is once again, in the limelight.
There are a few observations that I wish to make. And, no, the observations are not wonky economics analysis (too much work! I'll wait for bloggers like etheorist and hishamh to offer their insights on it).
Here we go.
First, I recall that the whole point of Idris Jala and his Labs was to engender a consultative approach with as many Malaysians as possible, from as many stakeholding clusters as possible, so that a broadbased buy-in from Malaysians can take place.
To the Malaysian Government's credit, this is precisely what Idris Jala and his team has done. All the chatter, good, bad, cynical, positive, effusive and downright rude, reflects precisely this intent. It is a good thing albeit patchy in terms of quality of thought and analysis.
The whole point of the exercise is to set an agenda for discussion on Malaysia's economic future; our collective future. I believe this is being achieved.
Second, the ETP and other economic proposals emanating from Idris Jala's Labs have been accused of being long on rhetoric but short on specifics. I have also made similar observations. That said and, in fairness, Idris Jala's brief was to set the vision and parameters of the Malaysian economy's strategic goals. If we recall de Bono's injunction, there is a big difference between strategic goals and tactical planning.
Strategic goals embodies a clear vision and clear, but, broad objectives. This is the ETP. Tactical planning and implementation takes place within the parameters set by the strategic goals. This is the Tenth Malaysia Plan (10MP). This is why I am non-plussed by comments made at the sidelines of Idris Jala's recent ETP briefing about the lack of details. We should be trying to help Idris Jala and his team fill in the details by our constructive comments and analysis.
Third, and, this is only my observation, the recent excoriation of Perkasa by UMNO leaders points to a clear awareness that the negative sentiments catalysed by crude racialist remarks and, the expected and, equally negative responses, has not done Malaysia's economic investment climate any good at all. The nexus between the two also contradicted the stated policy of inclusiveness that was touted by the Prime Minister himself last year.
I have not really touched on anything Perkasa because there is hardly any real substantive contribution offered by them for consideration, analysis and examination save for generating polemics and emotions. And, in the book of the businessman and investor, emotions are often irrational and unreliable. There may be some votes to be had in it. But, there's no money to be had - investment money, that is.
So, the distancing is a necessary tactical move.
I don't believe for one moment that by distancing itself from Perkasa the UMNO leaders are abandoning or diluting the Bumiputra economic agenda. That will never happen. It will never happen simply because there is a real issue of the Bumiputra being an economic laggard. Any sensible Malaysian economic policy that is soaked in realpolitik must address the challenge of bootstrapping the Bumiputra economic development. That said, the corollary issue is whether UMNO has lost the plot on developing the Bumiputra community due to the myopia caused by greed and corruption.
This is the issue that troubles the Malaysian voter and investors. This is the perception that Idris Jala and the ETP can never, ever deal with. It is something that only UMNO can deal with by way of cleaning UMNO's own Augean stables.
Fourth, and, finally, and this is linked to the third point above, there is a trust deficit between the Malaysian voter and Barisan Nasional. The trust deficit is caused by the disconnect between what the BN-led Federal Government has been doing since March, 8 2008 until today in the form of day-to-day contact between the rakyat and kerajaan, the mega deals and mega scandals that still dogs and, the attractive strategic vision offered by 1Malaysia and the ETP.
How can BN address and eliminate the trust deficit?
That is the challenge.