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Razak’s NEP was for all races, says ex-civil servant who helped draft it

he man who helped Malaysia's second prime minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein craft the New Economic Policy (NEP) to eradicate poverty and end identification of occupation with race laments that it has now become distorted by race and religion.

Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam, who was the deputy head of the Economic Division in the Treasury under Razak's administration, said the NEP was "a wonderful, noble policy".

"He (Razak) was serious about eradication of poverty regardless of race. Every poor chap, regardless of his ethnicity, was given help.

"Not today, I am afraid. Along the way, it got distorted as race and religion got in the way," Ramon told The Malaysian Insider in an interview to conclude a series commemorating Razak's 39th death anniversary.

Razak died of leukaemia on January 14, 1976, after only six years of leading the country.

He introduced the NEP in 1971 as a measure to steer Malaysia away from potential racial conflict with the affirmative action policy that set out to level the playing field between the Malays and other races, although the policy's approach was targeted at all races.

Like Ramon, others interviewed in this series, who were Razak's contemporaries, said they were supportive of the NEP but noted that over the years, problems arose in its implementation, which allowed abuses to happen.

For that, the NEP has drawn much criticism from other races who blame it for causing rifts among the ethnic groups as its implementation appeared to favour only the Malays.

Razak, as the brains behind the policy, however, was deeply rooted in the values of Malaysia's founding fathers who believed in tolerance and unity among races, Ramon said.

Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam, who helped craft the New Economic Policy, says the NEP has now been distorted by race and religion. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Afif Abd Halim, January 17, 2015. f

"We were encouraged and confident that he would continue the legacy and philosophies of the founding fathers. And he improved on it by giving more attention to the lower-income groups.

"He was a man of the people and had his ear to the ground. He would remember even a promise to build a bridge at a kampung and would follow up with visits to see if things are in order," he added.

Back then, Ramon recalled, the people had faith in the wisdom of politicians, including Umno and the Barisan Nasional (BN), which have been the ruling government until today.

"We had faith in their wisdom, in the wisdom of Umno and the Alliance (which later became BN) at that time. We had faith in their leadership.”

Ramon, 80, said working for Razak was nothing short of "remarkable" as those around him sought to follow his example.

"He was such an honest man. You felt inspired in his presence. And because you knew the man was so dedicated, hardworking and diligent in his work, you would not want to let him down. You would do your best, too."

The economist was 35 when Razak came into power, succeeding the first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, in 1970.

"I never worked directly under Tun Razak but I used to meet him in meetings that he chaired on economic policy, poverty and rural development, when I was working in the Treasury.

"I remember when he first took over as PM. I remember feeling confident that this man will deliver for the country. Why? Because he was second to Tunku Abdul Rahman for many years. In many ways, he was groomed by Tunku.

"Where Tunku brought independence, he (Razak) brought development. There was no point of development if the people were not taken care of and continued to live in poverty," he said.

Ramon, who is now the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute (Asli) director, also recalled Razak being so committed to his work that he did not have much time for his family.

But he had a sense of fun and enjoyed relaxing with his staff. Those were the days when civil servants would hold dance parties to celebrate their hard work.

"I remember once we were celebrating the Budget speech and we had a party at the Finance Ministry that night. We had joget music but no one was dancing.

"And I could tell he didn't like that. He looked around, pointed at me and asked me to dance. So, I went looking for a girl and began dancing," said Ramon, laughing.

Working under Razak was some of the "best days of my life", said Ramon, who is also group corporate adviser in the Sunway Group.

"It was fulfilling. Serving him was fulfilling your own aspirations of quality and excellence. He inspired a strong sense of loyalty to the country.

"He led with honesty, integrity and high standards of management. He felt very strongly all Malaysians. He felt that Malaysia should be proud of its diversity and worked hard for the benefit for all.

"And because of these principles that he had, there was peace and definitely greater unity back then." – January 17, 2015.

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