The Malay Economic Congress

By Yin, Wad 5, Tanjung Rambutan

Let’s get this straight, this is a Malay Economic Congress, the blanket term “Bumiputra” does not give the true picture because what do the Orang Asli of West Malaysia and the Orang Asal of East Malaysia get from this? The word “Bumiputra” is often used so as to make it appear that they are fighting for the minority indigenes when it is almost exclusively about the Malay majority demands.  I am not being racial about it, merely calling it as I see it.

If one were to distil the title further, it should be called the Elite Malays Congress. Ask yourself how much of what is said really benefit the Malay B60. Where are the programmes to lift the poor from poverty? The people who gain are the Malay political and business elite. How does this focus on the Malay business and elite class help the Malay B60?

Focus on the true intent of Article 153

“Those who have the same fate as the disadvantaged Malays and Bumiputeras must also be defended equally. If we manage to implement this, only then can we call Anwar’s unity government a ‘Mandani government” said Hassan Karim. (Malay Mail 04 May 2023)

The Pasir Gudang MP speak for many of us when he explained that if Article 153 was implemented strictly as “affirmative action” – in a “class approach” instead of a “Malay capitalist economic approach” then the Malay poor would be in a better economic position now.

To quote Hassan Karim “What happened during the 66 years since we gained independence was that the dominant Malay party UMNO took a capitalist economic development approach . . .” While this produced a handful of wealthy Malays, millions of Malays remained as lowly paid blue-collar workers, or lower level government servants or small traders, farmers and fishermen eking out a living.

Hear! Hear!

I worry for Hassan Kassim’s political future in PKR.  Here is a Malaysian who tells it like it is, but he should know that in Malaysia we never tell the emperor that he has no clothes.

This brings us to the Bumiputra (Malay) Economic Congress.

1.       Datuk Ameer Ali Mydin called for 70% of purchases of items for official government aid programmes to be sourced from Bumiputra companies.

2.       Other participants called for a policy to promote equitable opportunities in jobs and business.

3.       Another idea is to make it mandatory for companies that deal with the government to disclose the gender and ethnic compositions of their management and top bosses. It was added that if the policy does not get adequate “buy-in” the government should implement an “Equitable Opportunity Act.”

4.       There was a call to “strengthen bumiputra capability by ensuring every child is proficient in three languages – Bahasa Malaysia, English, and a third language of their choice”.

5.       Chairman of Bursa Malaysia, Abdul Wahid Omar suggested that discounts for house purchases be abolished for those buying luxury houses – a figure of rm2 million was mentioned.

6.       Zahid Hamidi’s Bumiputra Land Corporation scheme. According to this scheme 20% of a property will be taken back by the state upon renewal of lease and this will be given to the Corporation.  

The above is some of the proposals made at the Congress.

Before we consider them, let us first deal with Anwar’s pre-emptive  dismissal of Hassan Karim’s suggestion to take another look at Article 153. Surely abuse of Article 153 is the basis of all that has gone wrong since 1957 vis a vis Malay privileges and the erosion of the legitimate rights of the Non-Malays. If, as Hassan Karim suggested, Article 153 had been faithfully implemented and not hijacked and abused by self-serving politicians and the Malay elite, the plight of the Malay poor would not be what it is today. If government efforts and resources had been focused on elevating the Malay poor and not in creating a Malay business elite consisting of cronies and political apparatchiks, the position of the Malay B60 would be very different today. And I would add, the plight of the Non-Malay poor too. It would also have gone some way to address the hurt felt by the Non-Malays. If they can see that their sacrifices helped lift the poor Malays and lead to a more equitable society, not enrich corrupt politicians and their cronies it might have been worth it.

In spirit Article 153 is not racial or racist even though the “special position” of the Malays (the term Bumiputra did not exist until after 1970) was specifically mentioned. In other words, it gives Malays special privileges not because of their ethnicity per se but their socio-economic position in relation to the Indians and Chinese. This is made very clear by the time limit suggested for “special privileges”. Our Constitution is not racist and was never intended to be.

I agree with Hassan Karim that by re-looking at Article 153 we can get back on track concerning lifting the Malay poor and at the same time taking measures to prevent further abuse of the system and the racial discrimination felt by the Non-Malays.

How does Anwar Ibrahim square his put-down of Hassan Karim with the theme of the Mandani Government which as touted by Anwar, is about social and economic justice. 

Now let’s deal with the suggestions listed.

1.       70% of government purchases . . . to be from Bumiputra sources. More handouts? Already certain government contracts are reserved for Bumiputra Contractors and Petronas contracts and petrol stations are for Bumiputras only. There are others.

You cannot demand privileges in perpetuity by claiming that you are not ready to compete even after more than half a century of mollycoddling . “Mollycoddling” that is the problem.

What about the higher costs that “protection” incurs  – we already have that in rice imports, rice milling, sugar etc etc. Why should Malaysians (Malays being the majority) bear the higher prices to benefit the Malay business class. Open competition is the best safeguard for consumers. This proposal reeks of self-interest.

2.        I am all for this as long as it applies to the public sector as well. We all know that government services (civil and uniformed), as well as GLCs, are almost a monopoly of the Malays.

As for the private sector (which I gather is what the person is targeting) there is already a provision for 30% of the workforce and owership to be Bumiputras. But the bottom line for private enterprises is the qualification and suitability of the workers which affect their profitability. Business is cut-throat, it’s survival of the fittest. Unlike government services they cannot afford to carry deadwood. For that reason, they will take the best workers, irrespective of colour, who can add to the profit of the company. Malays who complain about Non-Malay companies discriminating against them should consider their work ethic, their qualifications and language proficiency (in this case English and Chinese) compared to other candidates. As for equal opportunities in business, I am all for it as long as it also includes Petronas and the GlCs.

But will Malays accept this proposal if it is implemented across the board? Already UMNO Kedah Information Chief Shaiful Hazizy has allegedly complained about Anwar encouraging the Chinese to go into public service.

You cannot have it both ways; demanding that the private sector take in more Malays while at the same time keeping the public sector a Malay monopoly.

3.       This is similar to no.2 in which case the answer is the same.

Instead of an “Equitable Opportunity Act” why not a “Racial Discrimination Act”?  This would address the concerns of the proposer about discrimination by Chinese companies.  It will cover every aspect of our life, be it in the work place or socially. If an employer is shown to have been racially discriminatory either in recruitment or in working conditions or promotion it can be prosecuted under this Act. This would ‘open up’ Chinese owned businesses to Malay applicants; the Chinese cannot racially discriminate as alleged by many Malays and neither can Malay owned businesses or the government.

But I would like to remind those who made the suggestion, that it is the Malays who objected to the signing of the ICERD (International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination). You cannot have your cake and eat it!

4.       Strengthening Bumiputra capability by acquiring multi-language proficiency. I take it that the writer is referring to Malays (because most Non-Malays are bilingual).

Many parents are ahead of the government on this. Instead of talking about it or trying to turn deaf ears, they voted with their feet. Even without any coaxing many Malay parents are taking their own initiative to better their children’s education and future employability. Malay students comprise 15.33% of the student enrolment in Chinese schools in 2020 up from 9.5% in 2010, while Indian students rose to 2.75% in 2020 from 1.67% in 2010.  If English medium independent schools were more affordable many parents would have sent their children to them. Parents, whether Malay, Chinese or Indian know what is best for their children. Until the standard of education in government schools improve this trend will continue.

Bear in mind, that although the Malay language nationalists challenge to the constitutional right of vernacular schools failed, they will not stop there. They will resort to political means. This talk of a third language is wishful thinking. This proposal is dead in the water.

5.       Abolish discounts for house purchases for property above rm2 million.

This shows how disconnected rich Malays are from reality. They really have no idea how the poor live. As it is, a poor Malaysian whether Malay or Non-Malay have difficulty buying a rm200,000 house so why talk about abolishing Bumiputra discount only for houses costing rm2 million and above. This suggestion is so obviously self-serving. So, it is acceptable for you to buy any number of houses as long as they are below rm2 million and you are still entitled to the discount?

If the Chairman of Bursa Malaysia, Abdul Wahid Omar (who made the proposal) is really concerned about the B60 then a more helpful proposal is to income-link discounts (taking the annual salary of the average B60 as a marker) and it should be limited to only one purchase. Also, this discount should be available to all B60 irrespective of race. The savings from giving rich Bumiputras the discount should be passed on to the poor in the form of higher discounts. Or used to build more low-cost housing for the poor.

6.       Scheme it is, Zahid has cunningly schemed to exercise what is in effect a land grab. According to Zahid it is to preserve and strengthen Malay land ownership. We already have Malay Reserve land (which cannot be transferred to Non-Malays) but apparently that is not enough. The plan is for 20% of the land to be confiscated by the government upon renewal of a lease. What is the Corporation going to do with all the land it acquires which in some cases are too small to develop. What is there to stop the Corporation from selling back the land and make a quick profit? This is another “something for nothing” scheme like APs – “buta gaji”, a licence to print money for doing nothing. This has serious ramifications and will not just affect the Non-Malays but the economy as a whole.

Sad that all these proposals reflect the racial thinking of the initiators.  Poverty and socio-economic inequality is not exclusively a Malay problem. It is a Malaysian problem, to have a large section of our population in poverty irrespective of ethnicity is everyone’s concern.

What is even more sad is that many Malays do not realise that their leaders and the privileged few are feathering their own nests; not focused on lifting the poor from poverty.

I am all for affirmative action if it is done properly. Affirmative action if implemented wisely would see a gradual reduction in state aid as the economic status of the target sector improves and do not need further help. Instead Malays are demanding more and more and yet the level of poverty has not really decreased significantly and the wealth gap between the poor Malays and their rich cousins has increased.

One result of the quota system implementation of Article 153 is the increase in the number of Malay professionals. On the surface this may seem commendable, but has the quality improved? We must accept that not everyone is suited for university (whatever the race). No point pushing someone to university just to fill a quota. By all means give all the help necessary to those who qualify but don’t lower the standard just to accommodate those who are not university material to begin with just so we can boast that we have created so many thousand more “qualified” Malays. This is unfair to those Malays who made it on merit but get tarred with the same brush as those who qualified because of race. There must minimum standards for entry into our public universities comparable to those in developed countries. In such an environment those who graduate will be true assets to the community and to themselves. They know they can compete with the best. They can hold their head high. Those who miss out on university, the government can find other opportunities more suited to their ability. Instead, we are churning out graduates industry will not accept and degrees not worth the paper they are printed on. The powers-that be are more concerned about quantity than quality.

The same applies to business. You cannot legislate businessmen or artificially incubate them in petri dishes. Although it may look like every Chinese is in business, the fact is most are wage earners – clerks, salesmen, teachers, tradesmen. Not all of us are made to be entrepreneurs. You can give opportunities and preferences for aspiring entrepreneurs to start their enterprise but only for a limited time. At some point they must stand on their own. Ultimately the market decides whether one survives or not. To keep throwing money at them and bailing them out when they fail is to throw good money after bad. What is worse is that it is those politically connected, cronies and the elite who get the opportunities while the ordinary honest hardworking Ahmads cannot even get a bank loan.  For Malay businesses to keep demanding preferential treatment after 60 years is testament that they have learned little; precisely because they have been mollycoddled. After more than half a century one would have thought they would have learned something, but apparently not – people who own supermarket chains or hold multiple monopolies are still asking for more special privileges.

In the real world many enterprises fail within two years.  Statistically, eight out of ten businesses fail. Let them.  Only when they don’t get bailed out by the government will they learn the price of failure. When the government keep bailing out Malay businesses the lesson is lost. It’s always easy to do business when you keep the profits and the public bear your losses. If Malay businessmen are not allowed to be tested in the heat of the market place; if they are bailed out every time they fail, how will they learn? When will they learn fiscal responsibility when they will even not pay back their study loans and the government bail them out by making them ‘super graduates’. Mahathir and Badawi and others scold the Malays for their ‘dependency mentality’ but keep giving them crutches. This continues even now.

This cannot go on because at some point someone must pay the piper and it looks like it is the future generation of Malaysians who will have to bear the profligacy of their parents.

Malays have missed the chance to seriously talk about the elephant in the room. Instead they have used the Congress to ask for more.  More protection, more quotas, cunning schemes to enrich themselves further.

Meanwhile Outside of the Tempurong

A CNBC piece (CNBC Tue Feb 20 -2024) predicts that Vietnam is positioned to see the sharpest increase in wealth growth in the world in the next decade. When I showed this article to a friend, his response was:THEY HAVE NO RACIAL ISSUES.

Vietnamese work hard, they get their priorities right, instead of talking about the length of one’s skirt or fight over whether Bakut Teh should be allowed as a heritage food. Or about being confused by anything thatresembles a cross. They don’t have institutional racism.

There is a TikTok video which has gone viral showing 160 Lamborghinis (allegedly owned by scions of the Malay superrich) gathering in Genting. How proud we are to flaunt our wealth in obscene consumption when in the same breath we talk about the Malay poor. Just like owning a hundred Hermes Birkin bags and telling the poor to eat kangkong when they complain about food prices. These are the same people who demand more privileges and protection.  Are the rich Malays concerned about their poor cousins? They have no idea how the other 60% live.

The Elephant has overstayed.

The government must address the elephant in the room rather play populist politics. Malays complain about their loss of dignity (hence the Malay Dignity Congress) but they only have themselves to blame. How can you expect respect from others when you exploit your skin colour to get where you are rather than get ahead on your ability. I am not for one minute suggesting that there be no affirmative action, I am saying that we need to fine tune how we deliver affirmative action. We should target those deserving of it and can benefit from the opportunities offered, not broadcast privileges like feeding pigeons in the market square.  This is a more responsible way to use public funds – investing in the future and not fattening those who are already rich or expending it on those who do not have the basics to benefit from it. Select who we invest in based on merit not colour.

The Congress could have discussed solutions that will make a real difference to the Malay socio- economic position – that offer real long-term solutions. It could have revisited Article 153 to see where we went wrong in implementing it; plugging leaks which are exploited by vested interests. Instead, we get the same old, same old. . .  The Congress could have seriously focused on the needs of the B60, to encourage genuine solutions even if they are radical. It is time we took the bull by the horns.

This Bumiputra Economic Congress is a missed opportunity to lift the Malay poor (and others) from poverty. A missed opportunity to make ourselves more competitive in the face of emerging Tigers like Vietnam. Instead it’s all about how to further enrich the privileged few.

(The views expressed are those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views of Rebuilding Malaysia.)

By Yin, Letters from Ward 5, The Happy Place, Tanjong Rambutan

Rebuilding Malaysia
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