New Straits Times
by Salleh Buang
MY friends in Kedah are wondering whether they should continue to believe anything coming out from the menteri besar's office.
In October 2008, Kedah Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Azizan Abdul Razak announced his administration would increase the Bumiputera housing quota from the 30 per cent level to 50 per cent effective Sept 1, 2009.
To my mind then, he had good reasons for making the move - Malays comprise 1.5 million of the state's total popula-tion of 1.9 million.
That announcement came under heavy fire from several quarters including housing developers, nongovernmental or-ganisations and politicians.
In a response on Nov 13, 2008, Real Estate and Housing Developers' Association (Rehda) president Datuk Ng Seing Liong told reporters it would seek a judicial review of Bumiputera housing quotas "if state governments continue to impose new rulings on developers".
He said such a course of action would be "the last resort" if the issue could not be resolved with the respective state governments.
Senior lawyer and columnist Roger Tan said the Kedah government "should have ruled by law and not by administra-tive policies" when it announced the 50 per cent Bumiputera quota for every housing development in the state.
While acknowledging that such a policy "is not new" as other state governments (including Selangor and Malacca) had that in the past, Tan reiterated "these policies have been implemented haphazardly throughout the country".
Tan also opined that such a policy contravened Article 8 of the Federal Constitution.
Rehda past president Datuk Jeffrey Ng Tiong Lip shared the view that such a policy is unconstitutional. At the Malay-sian Law Conference on Oct 29, 2007, he said the positive discrimination envisaged by Article 153 of the Federal Con-stitution covers only "specific areas" and housing is not included in that list.
In its wishlist for Budget 2009, Rehda hoped the Bumiputera quota policy (which ranges between 30 and 70 per cent in several states) would be revised to not exceed 30 per cent in order to boost the housing sector.
Rehda also hoped the Bumiputera discount would be capped at five per cent and made applicable only for houses priced RM250,000 and below, while the low- and medium-cost units should be excluded from the discount.
Rehda also wanted the Bumiputera quota "release mechanism" to be standardised, structured and transparent.
For reasons which many quarters will continue to speculate, the state government has now deferred the implementation of the 50 per cent Bumiputera quota for new housing projects in the state.
Explaining the sudden about-turn, Housing and Local Government Committee chairman Datuk Phahrolrazi Zawawi said the state does not want to go ahead with the policy because it does not want "the people to be unhappy with any of its policies".
I wonder who are the "unhappy people" he has in mind. The Bumiputera housebuying public, with limited means, would certainly be unhappy with this unexpected abandonment of the new policy. It was targeted to come into effect on Sept 1, 2009.
"We do not want people to claim that a policy is unfair and only favours one group. We will find a more amicable solution," he told reporters at Wisma Darul Aman on Jan 7 this year.
The only "happy people" I could think of are the housing developers and those with their own agendas who shot down Azizan's policy right from the start.
I told my pessimistic friends not to give up hope, reminding them that (as indicated by Phahrolrazi) the state govern-ment is still working on "a more amicable solution" to the problem.