LAWYER and veteran politician Tan Sri Megat Najmuddin Megat Khas stressed the importance of the people’s economy and wellbeing for any nation to progress.
“Economy, economy, economy,” he said in an interview with the New Straits Times, when asked on the three things that any politician should focus on.
He said political bickering and backbiting between the government and the opposition would only distract Putrajaya from its main focus, which was to eliminate poverty and boost the economy.
Citing the recent United Nation’s report on Malaysia’s poverty rate, he said it was high time the government had a clearer picture of the situation in the country.
“Last Ramadan, I went to visit my village and I was shocked to see that there were poor people there.
“That’s the reality on the ground, and this include Sabah and Sarawak.
“I agree with the UN’s report that we have understated our poverty problem.
“We cannot have Malaysians who do not have enough to eat because it will only give the impression that we are a poor country.
“This (eradicating poverty) should be the focus instead of fighting religious and racial issues.
“How is playing up the drama helping our people?”
In August, UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston, disputed Malaysia’s assertion that it had nearly eliminated poverty, saying that official figures were vastly inaccurate and did not reflect realities on the ground.
Najmuddin, who is Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia disciplinary board chairman, urged the government to resolve the income disparity to elevate the poor into the middle-income earners’ bracket.
Asserting that the poor were mainly the Bumiputeras, he said anyone who spoke up on empowering the Bumiputeras should not be labelled as racists.
“The government must focus on the bigger picture. The macro, not the micro.
“All political parties should work together on eradicating poverty and see it as a problem because it is real and depressing.
“Stop playing the racial card or asking (Prime Minister) Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to step down.”
He said this in response to former PKR deputy president Syed Husin Ali, who recently called for Dr Mahathir’s resignation, allegedly accusing the Bersatu chairman of being power hungry.
Najmuddin said as an older person and experienced politician, Syed Husin should have known better than playing up sentiments that could divide Malaysians.
“We have people who barely have enough to eat and here we are playing divisive politics.
“Are you prioritising politics or helping people to deal with problems?
“You have to have focus. Be patient and let the people in power do their job. Enough with the politicking. You can’t expect Dr Mahathir to perform a miracle in one year.”
Najmuddin said the government should focus on improving food security as a way to boost the economy.
At the moment, he said, efforts being made in the area were underwhelming.
He said a proper plan should be in place to get the younger generation involved in food production, such as farming.
“If you go to villages today, you will see that there are mostly old people around (doing agricultural activities) because the youngsters have migrated to towns and cities to earn a living.
“Our food production is receding because the old people are not able to look after their farms anymore.”
He said initiatives to resolve food production issues should take precedence over short-term economic solutions.
“We import almost everything, including sugar, flour, beef and salt.
“The only things we don’t import are poultry and cooking oil. But you can’t eat cooking oil.”
Najmuddin cautioned that issues surrounding food security needed to be resolved soon, as the people could face a serious problem if any untoward events occurred.
“Imagine a war erupting. What will happen? Will we be starving like how it was during the Japanese Occupation (1941-1945)?”
As the 2020 Budget draws near, he expressed hope that the government would address the people’s issues by providing more jobs instead of handouts.
“It boils down to the adage, ‘if you give a man a fish, he eats for a day, but if you teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime’.
“There must be a workable economic structural model to help them boost their income, because by doing so we can ensure that the people can be proud of earning their own money.
“The begging syndrome (through handouts) is embarrassing. Islam teaches us to stand on our two feet and work hard.”
RACISM AND DISUNITY
During the interview, the former Umno Disciplinary Committee member said his biggest concern was disunity among Malaysians, adding that politicians who continued to play the race card would destroy the country.
Najmuddin billed the recent merging of opposition parties at the Umno-Pas Himpunan Penyatuan Ummah as unhealthy, adding that the alliance of the two strange bedfellows could signal a “dangerous game”.
A week after the event, it was announced that four universities and one non-governmental organisation would hold a congress to promote unity among the Malays, called Kongres Maruah Melayu (Malay Dignity Congress).
With Dr Mahathir scheduled to officiate the event at the Melawati Stadium in Shah Alam this Sunday, Umno leaders had claimed that the congress was an attempt at copying the Umno-Pas initiative.
When asked about this, Najmuddin said: “Let’s not play fire with fire by saying I am more Malay than you.
“Let’s just fight poverty and make that our priority.”
He urged Malaysians to steer clear of racial issues and rejoice in the fact that the nation was built on the tenets of unity.
“We are in this together.”
“I appeal to all politicians and the people to stop playing the race and religious cards because you will doom us all.”
He recalled the May 13, 1969 race riot tragedy, which happened when he was a student.
“The younger generation did not go through May 13, 1969. I remember because I was a student when it happened.
“It was during the semester break.
“During the riots, I was in Ipoh. I remember taking my father’s shotgun to go to sleep at night so that I could protect my family. It was terrifying and we were living in fear.
“Please don’t let this happen again. Stop all the blame game. We are all Malaysians.
“We are polite people and are not racists.