Managing Editor of The Star, P. Gunasegaram wrote an article about the NEP. Specifically, what the NEP meant to him. He called for more debate on the NEP and particularly, the real issues of the affirmative action.
He said, “major problem with the NEP is that the 30% equity target for Malays and other bumiputras became the very visible and de facto criterion for measurement of the very success of the NEP.”
I believe he had it wrong on this one. While he was correct in saying that the objectives of the NEP are to eradicate poverty irrespective of race and to eliminate the identification of race with economic function, he was definitely wrong when he said that the measurement of NEP’s success is the quota of 30% equity target.
The quota, for those who don’t know, is stipulated in the Constitution. In fact Article 153 of the Constitution, gives the powers to the Yang DiPertuan Agong to preserve and observe a reasonable reservation of positions of the bumiputras in terms of business, educational scholarships and in the public sector. It is all there to see.
Now the Constitution said all these. But how can the Government act on this particular law?
Before NEP existed, the Government at that time did not seriously pursue the issues on poverty and the absence of economic strength of the bumiputras despite the fact that the Constitution of 1957 clearly stated the need to uphold the survival of the bumiputras.
As the result, by the year 1969, huge gaps existed among the races. The chinese, having cornered the economic pie, remain the wealthiest in the nation. Rural areas are only fit for the Malays. There were less than 2% bumi doctors at that time. Most of the Malays fell into the very low income level.
These are the disadvantages of meritocracy. In a homogeneous country, the benefits of meritocracy outweighs its disadvantages. In a multiracial country of ours, meritocracy may have serious pitfalls if it runs unchecked.
A level playing field must first be achieved if everyone have to compete on equal grounds. Thus NEP, the so called affirmative action, is developed to achieve this.
The biggest achievement of the NEP is the creation of large middle class for all races. In the 60’s, nearly 80% of the people are poor. Now, nearly 90% fall into the middle class category.
This could not have happened if the majority of the kids back in the 60’s and 70’s did not receive scholarships to further their studies. Most of the students who had the chance to pursue their studies came from wealthy family. Not surprising, most of them were chinese and a few sons and daughters of malay aristocrats. The rest, would have received government’s scholarships. But these were given on merit basis. And so, only a sprinkle of Malays got the chance to further their studies. With NEP, opportunities were given to these children to get out from the vicious cycle of poverty. Where their future was stuck to become fishermen, they now can become engineers or accountants.
How come? Because the NEP acted on the Constitution as the vehicle to ensure that the constitutional provisions can be realised.
Hence when P. Gunasegaram said “it will not be seditious if someone questions the 30% bumiputra equity target or says the measurement criteria are seriously flawed.”
I seriously doubt that it is NOT seditious to question one of the pillars of the nation’s code of existence.
What does he want to do? Cancel the quota provisions stated in the Constitution?
I doubt that because he just wanted this target to be reviewed. Let’s review it then.
The success of the NEP certainly does not bound to the 30% equity of the Malays. It is the creation of the middle class bumis. By the way, 30% equity target as benchmark for the wealth of the Malays are very, very low as compared to the population of the bumis here in Malaysia.
Luckily he gave us a bit of a solution when he said, “Let’s take the 30% equity target for instance. It cannot be taken as the sole or even the most important part of NEP achievement because there are other things which are far more important – poverty eradication and racial balance in employment to name just two.”
Correct. Let’s not take it as the sole criteria. Let’s look at the poverty eradication. In Malaysia, the biggest number of people who are poor are of course, the bumiputras. With about 8% of the bumiputras are poor as compared to 0.6% of chinese over their total racial population, no doubt a lot must be done to eradicate this problem*. Affirmative action is needed just to champion this cause.
How about racial imbalance in employment? Yes how about it P. Gunasegaram?
We have roughly 1.2 million civil servants in this country. Minus the army, the police force and teachers, we have only about 600,000 – 700,000 civil servants in this country.
The overall workforce in this country is about 11 million people and we can conclude now that the rest of the working force are in the private sector.
With approximately 10 million people working in the private sector, where is the position of the bumis as prescribed in the Constitution?
We must not be in denial when we say the private sector provides level playing field for the bumis to join there. Let’s face it, even in the so called liberal private sector, racial discrimination does takes place.
And so, when the public sector is now getting liberalised, what is being done to help the bumis get out from their low to middle income levels and achieve per capita income similar to that of the chinese?
Will the more wealthy chinese help the bumis achieve this? Or will they just shout to the face of the bumis – Who cares! It is meritocracy time! You sink or swim!
But how can you swim when certain sectors controlled by the non bumis consciously snuff out any participation of the bumis in their sector?
At the end of his article he stated the obvious – “the time has come for all Malaysians to see beyond these and do what is right for everyone. Help everyone who is needy and if any particular race is more needy than another, it will automatically be helped more too.”
So what is the fuss all about then?
It is actually the greed of the non bumis of not wanting the bumis getting a fair share of the nation’s wealth. In fact, the more they shout and criticise the 30% quota, the more will the bumis realise that even with that 30% target, it is already a very low target. They should get more! No wonder their per capita income is lower than the chinese and indians.
Probably if the target is set higher, with more stringent plans and stern enforcement methods, the bumis will achieve the same playing field much faster.
Now that is a thought that everyone seemed to dismiss. The next time anyone said about the 30% target, just take a quick look at any non bumi companies and count the number of bumi staff in there. Is it 30% of the total manpower?
Out of 10 million workforce in the private sector, who will take care of the bumis’ plight?
I agree with blogger Satd’s suggestion to call for a review or a royal commission on the implementation of article 153 and the corresponding affirmative actions of the NEP and the NDP.
Yes we need more debate. But debate is worthless without this white paper study. The Yang DiPertuan Agong is responsible for the special position of the malays and the bumiputras in this country.
Therefore, it is only proper for the Agong to commission the government to perform this study to review the success of the bumi special position as intended in the Constitution because the economic achievement of the malays is in the ambit of his responsibility.
Is it really true that all the bumis are wealthy rich and they do not want the NEP anymore?
Is it true that there are no discrimination towards the bumis in all areas of the economy?
We all know that the government was too lazy to make a comprehensive study about the real situation of the bumis when formulating the NEM. They had blindly thought we are trapped in a middle income when all this while the nation’s per capita income was not stagnating but was steadily increasing year after year.
It shows us how unfit and unreliable all the economic advisers of the nation are.
All the above are the real issues of the affirmative action. When the government tries to enact a policy to help the bumis in this small sector of the economy, the non bumis shouted that it is unfair but at the same time, they consciously deny the rights of the bumis in their larger sectors. This is why the bumis are stuck in a rut. They only have the government to protect them. The private sectors won’t give them any chances. But these days, even the government seemed to bent over backwards or bending over the demands (depends on how you look at it) to curtail the opportunities given to the bumis.
Therefore, the contention of the NEP is certainly not limited to the 30% equity target and all the incessant barking and howling that comes along with it. It cuts both ways. How the non bumis treat the bumis should be taken seriously. If the economic wealth is monopolised by the minority, one true outcome will emerge. The country will become an Apartheid country – where the minority hold the controlling stakes of the country, especially the economy and politics.
Meritocracy does not favor the weak and the handicapped. It will create something much worse in the form of income gaps. Severe income gaps in a multi ethnic nations are dangerous.
If it is left unmonitored, the situation of 1969 will recur. Shall we then come with another round of policies to eliminate identification of race with economic function once again?
Even in the UK, where meritocracy is known to exist, is plagued with new problems. After a couple of generations immersing themselves of awarding only the best with opportunities, they have come with a new disease. A study was made by the British Government in July 2009 to address the problems of:
– only children from the richest British families can enjoy careers in top professions like law and medicine because of increasingly impenetrable social barriers,
– there was a “closed shop mentality ” in many professions, which excluded young people from low- and middle-income backgrounds,
– there are too many kids out there from average income families who are bright … and who want to go on to get a top professional career but haven’t got the right connections, haven’t necessarily gone to the right school, maybe haven’t had the chance to go to university,
– “birth not worth” had become a greater factor in deciding someone’s chances in life,
– professions had become increasingly socially exclusive / elitist, open to fewer people,
– it found 75 percent of judges, 70 percent of finance directors, 45 percent of all top civil servants and 32 percent of MPs had been to independent schools [for the rich], although just 7 percent of the population was independently educated, and
– those who get professional jobs grow up in a family richer than seven in 10 of all British families, and
– poor children born in 1958 had better prospects than those born five decades on.
Those are the negative aspects of meritocracy. One that will be felt 2 generations down the line. If the UK is now facing a situation similar to what we have before 1969, then we should know better and learn from that painful lesson. If meritocracy favors only the rich, and the rich are made up with people of the highest per capita income or comes from one racial community, then meritocracy is indeed, a racist tool disguised under the cover of a really nice concept we call ‘meritocracy‘.
Why do the rest of the people do not realise this?
A level playing field must be achieved before full meritocracy is implemented. We can impose meritocracy bit by bit but at the same time, action plans must be done to help the bumis be given opportunities in any field and any sector of the economy. Only then we can do away with the 30% target because then we are confident that the bumis can compete with the rest.
It is no use to eliminate quotas but the outcome of that would be the bumis will get smaller and smaller share. Remember, we are not homogeneous. Even the effort to get all of us much closer and integrated are often been ridiculed as ludicrous by certain sectors.
* 2004 figures. Please refer to the table in here.
** please read Hidup Tuah’s article here which he had written more than a year ago about the side effects of unfettered meritocracy.