Letter to Editor: MITRA’s focus now must be on core task ahead

Prof Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria (right) with Batu MP Prabakaran (centre) the new chairman of MITRA’s special committee. Photo courtesy of Denison Jayasooria’s FB.

The decision of the government to place MITRA back under the Prime Minister’s Department is welcomed by most Indian organisations. This dramatic move reflects the political realities and the Unity government’s decision to respond positively to the call of the Indian MPs in Parliament.

However, the shift should not be seen as automatically resolving many of the challenges faced by this government agency in addressing the issues and concerns of the Bottom 40 percent of the Indian community, who live in urban poverty and are economically and socially disadvantaged.

As MITRA shifts back to the PM’s Department, there are five major concerns it must address in the near future.

First, the MITRA Special committee must ensure that the Indian concerns are not just ethnic concerns but national concerns requiring the intervention and support of all the major agencies such as education, welfare and urban poverty, health, entrepreneurship development, housing, and most critically, issues pertaining to documentation and citizenship. Building cooperation is most urgent and being in the central agency of the PM’s Department enhances its potential.
MITRA must focus on the major issues of access and participation of the Indian community in programmes run by government agencies, in order to ‘plug into the government machinery’. This is to secure adequate places in matriculation and public universities, and increased opportunities in Institut Latihan Perindustrian (ILP), Institut Kemahiran Belia Negara (IKBN), Maktab Rendah Sains Mara (MRSM), access to TEKUN micro-business loans, participation in Amanah Ikhtiar Malaysia (AIM) and access to the many government initiatives for the socio-economic upliftment of Malaysians.

Second, MITRA must review the policies pertaining to the RM100 million grant disbursement so that the guidelines are clear and the process is transparent with no political interference in the decision-making on who to distribute the funds to. All recipients must meet the criteria. In addition, MITRA must establish strong monitoring and impact evaluation procedures so that there is public disclosure of these information to restore public confidence. More disclosure in the website as well as publication of reports, analysis and best practices are of utmost importance.

Third, there is an urgent need to reintroduce the Cabinet committee or a national council which is chaired by the PM to address many of the unresolved issues and concerns among the Indians. This is most needful and urgent.

Fourth, MITRA staff team and organisational resources must be strengthened. This includes the appointment of more staff with the required qualifications and experience in project management and monitoring as well as policy research and advocacy work. There is also a need for MITRA to have staff at the district level for more effective engagement with the high percentage of underserved Malaysian Indians.

Fifth, the road ahead for Batu MP Prabakaran, the appointed Chairman of the MITRA special committee, is a major task and we all wish him well. There is much value in coming together to learn, unlearn and relearn, and therefore, I urge MITRA’s special committee and all Indian MPs to be open and willing to review the PEMANDU Associates report objectively and take actionable steps.
The findings and recommendations outlined in the report can serve as pointers for the Chair and committee to better serve the Indian community. Moreover, MITRA will benefit from working with PEMANDU who are transformation consultants in many parts of the world.

All the best to MITRA and now that the MPs have secured their wish of MITRA being under the PM’s Department, our prayer is for your unity in working together as MPs in collectively addressing these concerns. Looking forward to reading and hearing about your initiatives and their socio-economic impact towards the transformation of the B40 Indian communities.
Finally, I also take the opportunity to thank the National Unity Minister and his Ministry for their efforts, although short-lived, in strengthening MITRA.

Prof Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria