By Dato’ Sivarraajh Chandran, Vice President of Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC)
The 11th Malaysian Plan launched 5 years ago by former Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Mohd Najib Razak marked the implementation of Malaysian Indian Blueprint (MIB). The MIB together with the implementation unit, SEDIC later re-branded as MITRA became the designated tool for the Government in “micro-managing” development of Indians in targeted areas with an annual allocation of RM 100 Million.
It has been five years since it’s inception with a total of RM 500 Million spent as we head into the 12th Malaysian Plan (2021 – 2025). Despite the fact that a total RM 500 Million has been spent on the subject matter for the past 5 years, had the Indian masses benefited from it remains unclear till date.
Change of Government in mid 2018 lead to the suspension of MIB which since has no longer been an agenda part of any preceding government despite being clearly marked under the 11th Malaysian Plan.
Both SEDIC and MITRA operated based on the following themes/pillars :
1. Policy & Planning,
2. Education & Training,
3. Social Well being, and
4. Identity & Inclusiveness.
The mechanism used is by giving out funds to “strategic partners”-namely NGOs, Institutions, Foundations and Companies to implement the approved programs. For years this has been the practice.
Whether if such practices made an impact or not, I’ll leave it to the respective beneficiaries to answer, but I personally believe there’s so much more to be done especially in terms of efficient utilisation of the funds.Here is my take for RM 100 Million for 2021.
IMPLEMENTATION OF DIRECT ONE OFF CASH TRANSFER PROGRAM FOR TARGETED GROUP
1. The proposed implementation of a “one off ” direct cash transfer program under MITRA is with the aims of cushioning vulnerable Indian households from the impact of COVID – 19 on our economy. This proposed initiative must focus on target groups such as retrenched workers or underemployed families all over the country. Some might argue that with only 100 Million in hand, how many could be helped ?
2. The answer would be definitely NOT ALL, so let’s target this to those that need it the most. With RM 20 Million (20% of MITRA Funds), a direct one off cash transfer initiative worth RM 1,000 for each recipient could be implemented with 20,000 vulnerable households benefiting from it. RM 1,000 for one household will definitely not change their future for good but it will create a spill over effect that would in return create a positive impact towards the local economy.
3. The Department of Statistics reported that as of September 2020 a total of 738,000 Malaysians are unemployed compared to only 500,000 in early 2020. Besides, 300,000 to 414,000 Malaysians are now “Underemployed”. These are daily paid workers whom are facing work time cut off due to impacts of the pandemic on our economy. Just imagine how much difference an extra RM 1,000 in the pockets of these people will do individually and an additional RM 20 Million as whole in flowing into the economy will do collectively.
IMPLEMENTATION OF “1 STUDENT, 1 LAPTOP” PROGRAM
1. The COVID – 19 pandemic has changed in all ways possible, including higher education. The implementation of online learning, today as the alternative to physical learning has also shown us the disparity among students as those from vulnerable backgrounds couldn’t equip with the needs and tools of online learning.
2. Despite the fact, that it is now almost a year since online learning has been implemented in all Higher Learning Institutions, we still see and read cases of students that could not pursue or face difficulties in pursuing their studies due to inability to buy laptops. With RM 10 Million (10% of MITRA funds) we would be able to directly provide at least 10,000 students from vulnerable backgrounds (without laptop) in our higher learning institutions every year with basic laptop worth of RM 1,000 each.
3. This would be another direct impact program that can implemented by MITRA as by doing so we are not just enabling them to be more equipped for education but also enabling them to be able to participate in the globalized world we all live in today more effectively. For instance with a laptop a student can also venture into online business to generate passive income while studying or attend free upskilling and reskilling courses effectively.
4. If implemented, we can ensure that over the next five years time span at least 50,000 Indian students from vulnerable backgrounds all over the country will own a laptop costing MITRA just RM 50 Million for the next 5 years.
IMPLEMENTATION OF SUBSIDISED INTERNET SERVICES FOR VULNERABLE HOUSEHOLDS
1. Improving the social inclusion of the Indians has always been a “subject on interest” when it comes Indian Development.Why? The common history we all share is such.Years of negligence in estates. Deprived of various rightful opportunities and platforms as well as failure in policy implementation in both micro and macro level has isolated most, if not the whole of our community from the rest.
2. In an attempt to resolve this isolation several attempts were made from time to time in order to achieve a better inclusion for our community under MIB, including the likes of increasing the quota for Indians in our civil service, the public education institutions and etc. Nevertheless the ever changing world we live in today posses a totally different dynamic and requires change from time to time or not be left behind. Staying connected to the “online world” is one such requirement of the social inclusion agenda today.
3. Despite statistics proving a sharp rise in the ability to access internet (90.1% as of late last year), the reality is that this sharp rise is due to increased access to smart phones and not due to access to proper Internet Services. Fact is connectivity still remains as privilege, not a need in many vulnerable households, and this serves as a major factor is leaving ordinary Indians, specially from vulnerable backgrounds further behind others.
4. As such MITRA can also consider to provide subsidized Internet services through MOU with Telekom Malaysia or other service providers for vulnerable Indian households all over Malaysia as a strategic attempt to encourage Indians to participate actively in today’s globalised world. A basic UniFI plan will cost RM 149 monthly. Assuming MITRA takes up 50%, it will only cost RM 75 monthly for every household. Assuming each recipient in to be subsidised for 24 month it will cost RM 1800 only per household in total.
5. If 10,000 households are to participate every batch (24 Months) it’ll only cost – RM 18 Million per batch /RM 9 Million per year (9% of MITRA funds). If implemented, a total of 30,000 Indian households from vulnerable backgrounds within the 5 years will have access to stable internet access. This connectivity with proper mentoring program to assist recipients obtain knowledge / skills and generate income through the Internet will come in hand to provide them social mobility.
REVAMPING PRE SCHOOL SUPPORT SYSTEM.
1. MITRA subsidises Pre – School Programs run by organisations all over the country for kids of vulnerable backgrounds.This is part of MITRA’s continuous attempt to ensuring Indian children from vulnerable family backgrounds gets equal early education opportunity. How the existing system works is MITRA will provide subsidies for registered Pre Schools all over Malaysia to help them run and support the administration of these Pre Schools.
2. With this subsidy, MITRA managed to ensure prices for Pre – School Programs are within the limitations of any Malaysians especially for the vulnerable backgrounds. Nevertheless, prior discussions with Pre Schools administrators implies that the existing system has flaws, especially in terms of delivering the funds as it is delayed and delivered unsystematically. This remains as major concern among most MITRA registered Pre Schools administrators. Why?
3. Without systematic funds delivering system, most of the Pre School operators could not pay salaries/allowance to their respective workers which includes their teachers, van drivers and at times even rentals. Without an efficient delivery system, most of these Pre Schools could not sustain. They can’t be depending much on fees paid by parent only as there are many constraints such as delayed payments and etc.
4. I believe that the MITRA Pre Schools Subsidy Program a very important support program and it is important to MITRA to revamp the existing delivery mechanism immediately to ensure the program can be optimised and be benefited by more people.
DIGITALISATION OF TAMIL SCHOOLS
1. Digitalisation of Tamil Schools also remains as a matter of major concern among the Tamil educationist groups as most other schools are already being able to bring in element of digital education to their respective schools but Tamil schools can’t due to lack of support system. It’s very important for MITRA to consider this as a major program under the 2021 Budget and also as a major development agenda under the upcoming 12th Malaysian Plan.
2. Till date we have around 500+ Tamil Schools in Malaysia and all, if not most does not have a proper support system – PIBG or LPS that could support the needs of the schools entirely. Some well established schools might have a strong or influential PIBG but not all and this is where actually MITRA can play the role of creating a support system to help assist these schools in achieving better standards.
3. I feel that the the Tamil School Digitalisation agenda is one of them. Let’s say for a start, we identify 100 Schools per year to fund them with a minimal amount from MITRA to assist them to initiate the digitalisation process. How much will it cost? Assuming RM 30,000 for each school it will cost RM 3 Million for 100 schools each year. That’s around 3% of MITRA’s annual budget.
4. If implemented, over the 5 years to cover all 500 plus schools, it will be only be RM 15 Million plus. With only 3% of MITRA’s funds every year, we would be able to at least have Tamil Schools all over the country to introduce digital learning in our schools within the next 5 year time without being dependent on any other external funds.
All of the suggestions that I’ve wrote down here will only cost MITRA an estimated 40% – 50% of their annual budget of RM 100 Million but have direct impact on atleast hundred thousands of Indians all over the country. Assuming RM 50 Million has to be spent on all of these, there will be another 50 Million left in MITRA’s coffers to be utilised for other existing programs, especially those pertaining the basic issues faced by Indians.
Every other year SEDIC or MITRA has been reportedly returning millions worth of unused funds to the government which clearly indicates the lack of a comprehensive plan to utilise the fund. Hence, why don’t we come up with a proper plan now to ensure we can set a better direction for the 12th Malaysian Plan.
If we can do this for 2021 I strongly believe we can set a totally new direction for the 12th Malaysian Plan and leverage the impact of these programs to obtain more funds from the government for Indian affairs in the following years.