(Penang, Wednesday): DAP national and state leaders will meet in Petaling Jaya on Sunday on the national economic crisis and discuss how DAP could help Malaysians tide through the economic crisis.
As a first measure, DAP leaders at all levels are expected to set an example of austerity. For a start, I have decided not to send out greeting cards for the various festivities for this period, including the twin festivities of Qong Xi Raya at the end of next month. I want to thank the artist who has designed the new Qong Xi Raya greeting card and regret that it is not being used. This was in fact the reason why I had also not sent out any Christmas and 1998 New Year greeting cards.
My seasonís greetings to all Malaysians for the various occasions will now be made through the Internet and the mass media. I wish to begin by wishing all Malaysian Muslims "Selamat Berpuasa".
The coming year is going to be a year of pain, hardship and suffering for many Malaysians. It is probably going to be the hardest single year in the 40-year history of Malaysia.
It is not that Malaysia had not gone through a slowdown of economic growth or even recession before, but because such economic crisis had never come so fast and hard as at present.
What has made things worse is that in the first five months of the economic crisis, the government was so engrossed in the "denial syndrome", denying that Malaysia was facing a serious economic crisis or blaming external factors for all the problems faced by the country, that it failed to prepare Malaysians to tighten their belts immediately, as well as taking judicious pre-emptive measures to minimise the damages and ravages of the economic crisis.
It committed a series of missteps and misjudgements which aggravated the economic and financial crisis, plunging confidence from one low point to another lower point, missing many opportunities to stem the free fall of investor confidence - and when actions were taken, they were either too late or too few.
There is not much point in crying over spilt milk, however, as the single most important thing for the country and people at the moment is how to go through the pain and hardship in the coming months in as short a period as possible while ensuring that there is a minimum of avoidable injustice and sufferings, particularly to the more unfortunate sections of our society.
Last week, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim announced that a task force would be set up to expedite the approval of loan applications for the RM1bil small- and medium-scale industry (SMI) fund within two weeks from the first week of January.
However, what has caused considerable unhappiness is that the RM1 billion fund would primarily be for bumiputra SMIs.
A week earlier, the Education Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak announced that students in local universities and selected private institutions can apply for study loans from the RM100 million National Higher Education Fund, but that it was limited to bumiputra students.
I would call on the Cabinet at its first meeting for the new year next Wednesday to take a far-sighted policy decision in keeping with Vision 2020 of Bangsa Malaysia by ending the division of Malaysians into bumiputeras and non-bumiputeras, especially during the period of the national economic crisis.
Whether for purposes of education, SMIs, commerce and industry, the government should extend help to all Malaysians who need them most regardless of race, personal connection or political consideration, but solely on their merits.
This should also apply to the RM700 million Fund for Food Scheme to promote and finance new investments in the food sector.
In order to address the problem of the RM9 billion food import bill, the government has been calling on the people to grow more food including vegetables, as the country imported RM769 million worth of vegetables last year.
The various state governments must be prepared to allow Malaysians who wish to respond to the governmentís call to grow more food to open up land for such a purpose on a TOL basis.
The DAP in the various states and local levels should organise themselves to help the people to take part in the national economic recovery programme, whether in applying for land to grow food and vegetables or to apply for SMI loans and other government facilities to finance productive economic activities.