When Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad presented his country's 10-year development plan in Parliament last week it was a typically assured performance from the grandmaster of Malaysian politics. Introducing the cumbersomely titled Third Outline Perspective Plan (OPP3), Dr Mahathir's message carried a familiar thrust: Malay advancement would remain in the front and centre of government policy. But the delivery contained one surprising insight into the limits of state intervention in favour of the bumiputra - meaning sons of the soil - community, together with a key refinement to Kuala Lumpur's ethnically attuned priorities. Most headlines latched on to the ambitious goal of 7.5 per cent a year average economic growth through to 2010. If met, that would outstrip the seven per cent rate clocked up in the 1990s, and put Malaysia well on the way towards achieving its ultimate goal of developed-country status. There was also extensive comment on the new bid to double per capita incomes over the coming 10 years, cutting deep into the pockets of poverty that still blight sections of the country's 22 million people. Indeed, the previous 10-year plan was immensely effective in raising incomes: Dr Mahathir told the House that while in 1990 the poverty rate stood at 17 households per 100, it had declined to just 7.5 households in 1999. The real surprise, however, was the lack of change experienced by the Malay community in the 1990s, suggesting the impact of sustained state favouritism was muted even as the economy expanded. Figures contained in the report showed that in 1999 Malays owned 19.1 per cent of the economy, down from the 19.3 per cent they held in 1990. Dr Mahathir said that under OPP3 the Government wanted to raise the figure to 30 per cent, the same target contained in the New Economic Policy (NEP), the first of the Government's grand pro-Malay national development plans unveiled in 1971. Economists said that despite the changes of the past decade, the economic crisis of the late 1990s had set back not just overall economic growth, but simultaneously stymied the cause of Malay advancement. Perhaps tellingly, Dr Mahathir said last week that there were limits to what policymakers could achieve. 'The Government can only go so far in setting the necessary conditions and the enabling environment for the restructuring of society to take place,' he said. 'In the final analysis, it is the bumiputra community that will have to intensify efforts for the realisation and accomplishment of these targets. In the face of challenges ahead, the bumiputra must be prepared to change their mindset, and even value system.' The starting point for the favourable treatment of Malays was the vicious race riots of 1969, which pitted the majority Malays against the more prosperous, but minority, ethnic Chinese and left hundreds dead. In the aftermath of the violence, the Government, through the NEP and its successor plans, including OPP3, has argued that the distribution of wealth should be more in line with the country's demographic realities. Malays, who account for just under 60 per cent of the population, claimed just two per cent of its wealth in 1971. The NEP was designed to change that through aggressive pro-Malay policies, from cheap credit to preferential stock offerings. Taken on its own broad terms, the policy has been a success. The ethnic Chinese, who account for about 25 per cent of the population, claimed 45.5 per cent of the economy by 1990, and saw their holdings shrink to 37.9 per cent by 1999. Perhaps ironically, given Dr Mahathir's sometimes frosty relations with the West, the main beneficiaries over the past 10 years have been foreigners, whose economic holdings rose from 25.4 per cent in 1990 to 32.7 per cent in 1999. Dr Mahathir paid special attention to the Indian community, which accounts for about nine per cent of the population. He said that under OPP3 the Government wanted to double the share of Indian equity ownership to three per cent by 2010. It is the first time the Malaysian Indian community has been targeted for economic advancement. Although OPP3 was drawn up over many months, recent clashes in a poor suburb of the capital between Indians and Malays that left six people dead could have reinforced the Government's desire to bolster the standing of the smallest of the country's three main ethnic groups. 'The share of ownership by the Indian community will be given due consideration,' Dr Mahathir said.