Barely three weeks after taking office as Malaysia's sixth Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Abdul Razak has been able to bring into shape, several major reforms which he has promised Malaysians.

He revised several policies and announced the liberalisation of some sectors of the economy to level the playing field of opportunities.

Since taking office on April 3, Najib has announced a series of major policy changes, including the lifting of some regulations designed to benefit bumiputera but had deterred entrepreneurship and foreign investments.

This included scrapping a 30 per cent Bumiputera ownership requirement for investment in some services sector to help boost the country's flagging economy, with immediate effect.

It will benefit part of the services sector, including computer services and health-care sectors.

As part of his first major policy reforms, Najib also announced that five foreign law firms would be allowed to offer services in Islamic finance.

Economists and analysts have been watching closely, whether the government would gradually liberalise more sectors, particularly the more sensitive sectors such as retail and banking, which also have certain ownership requirements but the government is seen as trying to avoid liberalising these sectors to avoid a political backlash.

However, judging from the speed and determination of the new administration, it seems that they are all out for liberalisation in this sector to turn the nation into a more attractive place for investment.

"In fact, we are very encouraged, quite a number of far-sighted decisions are now being undertaken at a very quick pace since he assumed premiership. This is very encouraging. If it follow through, it will have a positive impact on the sentiments, more importantly the investor confidence," said Chief Economist, RAM Consultancy Service Dr Yeah Kean Leng.

"Less than 100 days, there are breathtaking changes. If we can follow through, it can be achieved in less than 100 days," he added.

The New Economic Policy (NEP) was introduced in the 1970s to provide for equitable distribution of the economic wealth, which required businesses to have certain percentage of Bumiputera ownership or quota on the hiring of Bumiputeras.

Foreign investors found this policy to be restrictive, in terms of their businesses.

Political analysts said Najib was smart and bold in continuing this anti- affirmative-action jag, as they said he was aware of its political implications and knew that it was also the only way forward, particularly in the current bad global economic situation.

More importantly, Najib's breathtaking reforms are what the public has been expecting all this while as the way forward for this multi-racial but small country which is still very much dependent on natural resources, plantation and manufacturing as the main sources of income.

"It's a practicality. You have no choice. Either you do something to give it a chance, or you wait till it dies naturally," said James Wong, a former politician and political analyst.

Wong said, since the NEP was announced in 1971, Malaysia's preferential treatment of Bumiputera in education and business was seen as hampering growth.

"If the government can move past these, its economy will benefit most," he added.

Najib took the reform agenda to a new high today when he allowed up to 70 per cent on foreign shareholdings in insurance and investment banking, as part of measures to boost the finance industry under the economic liberalisation package.

His latest move seems to be in tandem with the promises he made during an interview with Financial Times, just before he took over the premiership, that he wanted Malaysia to move away from its dependence on electronics exports and commodities.

Although opposition lawmakers and political parties are expecting wider reforms, DAP member of parliament Tony Pua has described Najib's announcements as a "baby's step forward" to unwind long-standing policies which hindered investments.

In the past, Pua said state agencies and government-linked companies imposed strict guidelines on procurement of goods and services from private firms, requiring them to comply with Bumiputera equity rules and staff quotas.

For instance, he said, some banks engaged only legal firms which have at least 50 per cent Malay equity.

Despite perceptions that the government was unwilling to scrap policies which benefited Bumiputera, for fear of alienating them as they formed the main support of the ruling party, some politicians believe Najib would continue with his reforms even if he faced fiery criticisms from his own party.

As pointed out by UMNO MP for Pulai Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed, the people should not worry too much about Najib's reforms and should play their part in a positive way to accept his challenge.

"We should focus on prospering the economy and commit less politicking, if we love the country and love each other. His (Najib) hard work and Barisan Nasional's efforts will be judged by the people, come the next general election.

"So, let's give the Najib Administration time and space to do its job. As for us, let's get on with making us Malaysians strong as one people without letting any policy divide us," Nur Jazlan wrote in a commentary posted on a website.

-- BERNAMA