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Press Statement Charles Santiago in Klang on Tuesday, 10th March 2009:

Eliminate discriminatory policies in addressing economic crisis

A stimulus package worth RM7 billion was announced by Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, last November, to bolster the economy amidst the global downturn.

The package included a micro-credit fund amounting to RM200 million that aimed at assisting entrepreneurs undertaking small businesses, with the government establishing another RM100 million revolving fund for urban micro financing programme.

TEKUN Nasional, an existing entrepreneur development institution which also provides micro-credit fund that operates under the Ministry of Entrepreneur and Co-operative Development.

These might seem a perfect idea. But closer scrutiny reveals the ruling UMNO-led government's continuing streak of implementing race-based policies.

TEKUNís website fundamentally stipulates that the applicants must be ďBumiputera, aged between 18 to 65Ē. Obviously, non-bumiputera citizens are not eligible for the micro credit scheme.

Such blatant discrimination forces the non-bumiputera to turn to banks that require collateral and impose a higher interest rate. Some disillusioned applications seek help from ferocious "ah long" or loan sharks and end up with further debt.

According to TEKUNís managing director, Datuk Abdul Rahim Hassan, the organisation has the capacity to approve loans between RM500 and RM50,000 within 14 days. The agency would also approve loans less than RM3,000 within 48 hours.

According to official statistics, a total of RM1.3 billion has been released by TEKUN to 171,148 borrowers from 1999 to 2008.

Abdul Rahman has also been quoted to say that the scheme makes sense rather than borrowing from loan sharks. But what certainly does not make sense is the race-based requirement as it further alienates the non-bumiputera Chinese and Indians and defeats the purpose of the micro-credit scheme.

Since the global economic crisis started hitting Malaysia, I have had several businessmen visit me in my Klang office, seeking help with urgent micro credit financing to sustain their businesses.

Some of them were forced to close down their factories leading to loss of jobs and livelihoods.

This is certainly not to the time to play archaic racial politics. The economic outlook for the country is bleak.

Given the current grim economic forecast, the current stand of TEKUN will not help save Malaysia businesses. On the contrary, it will exacerbate the strain on ethnic relationships and create further division among the people.

I, therefore, urge the government stop the racial discrimination, especially when our nation is facing the most severe global economic crisis in history.

As the first step, I strongly urge the government to remove TEKUNís discriminatory requirement and ensure the scheme serves all Malaysians.

* Charles Santiago, MP for Klang



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