Thursday, November 16, 2006
NEP and Malay Rights
For those who had hoped for some of the UMNO Youth leaders to be more sober in making their speeches, they have enough reasons to be disappointed. At the movement’s annual national assembly, its chief Hishammuddin Hussein warned against any intention to question the Malay special rights and the position of Islam.
Hishammuddin said the people should not gamble away the future of the country by championing race politics. The irony is he does not have to look too far for such people. His deputy, Khairy Jamaluddin, in an UMNO Youth divisional meeting said that the Chinese community will take advantage of the Malays when UMNO is weak. His statement was repeated by several UMNO Youth delegates in the recent general assembly.
What Khairy and some of the UMNO Youth leaders did was to champion race politics. They have explicitly acknowledged their intention and saw no wrong in doing so. It is obvious that Hishammudin did not point his finger at his own colleagues for wrecking the future of the country. Instead, he is blaming those who questioned the continuation of racist policies as the major culprits.
The problem here is not because Hishammuddin is wrong to say that we should not become racial champions. He is wrong because he did nothing when his fellow colleagues in UMNO Youth are making all sorts of racist statements. He is wrong when he is equally guilty of doing the same – championing his own race. Being racist is not limited only to those who appeared to be challenging the Malay special privileges but also those who are championing their own race blindly and causing a discomfort to others.
It is better for the UMNO Youth leadership to realise now that the original spirit of the New Economic Policy (NEP) was meant to help the poor and truly marginalised Bumiputera community to catch up with development. The policy was meant to assist them to reach a level playing ground with other communities.
The post-independence government acknowledged that poverty and economic marginalisation involved other communities as well. Hence, the first objective of the NEP was to eradicate absolute poverty regardless of race and later to reduce relative poverty within communities. Since then, absolute poverty was driven down to a mere 5.7 percent.
Based on the first objective of NEP, there is no connection between the policy and the Malay Agenda. On the contrary, when the policy was introduced the language used to frame the policy framework was non-racial e.g. ‘eradication of absolute poverty regardless of race’. It was implied that those who had been successfully alleviated from the poverty line will have to compete like the rest so that limited resources can be generated to help those who are still at the bottom income rung.
Unfortunately, over the years the NEP was manipulated as a tool to breed patronage politics. Patronage politics is the chief cause of corruption. It is the kind of political system which is used by the little ‘Napoleans’ to perpetuate their corrupt practice and their hold on power. A respected analyst wrote, “Often the wealth restructuring policy tool is being used by the ruling capitalists to control even more wealth in order to strengthen their power and control over the society. This selective patronage system created out of the NEP will worsen intra-ethnic cleavage.”
Sadly, at the same time the 30 percent Bumiputera corporate equity target was set and became the fervour on how the equity cake should be divided and allocated. The government and the nation became fixated over the equity target while right under their nose intra-ethnic income disparity continues to widen. As a result, we enriched the well-connected and privileged few but neglected the poorest 40 percent of the society.
The second objective of the NEP was to restructure the society to eradicate identification of an economic function to a particular race. A commendable success was recorded here too. The number of Bumiputera professionals is rising averaging 39 percent of all sectors e.g. accountancy, architecture, medical doctor, engineering, law but excluded teachers and lecturers. However, the number of non-Malay Bumiputera professionals, especially the indigenous people, remained unimpressive.
Again, the implementation of the NEP has created a public sector grossly dominated by the Bumiputera Malays. The situation is so acute that it is no longer possible to reverse the situation in the next 10 years at least. UMNO leaders may not find anything wrong with the Malay dominated public service because the private sector is dominated by the non-Malays. What is wrong is that we are worsening the identification of an economic function to a particular race and not helping to achieve the second objective of the NEP.
Even if the government is trying to do something, it should have realized that this cannot be done through legislation alone. We need to build up the confidence level and comfort level amongst the races and encourage them to forge equal and mutually beneficial partnerships.
It is the distortion of the NEP policy implementation that we criticised. We support special privileges to be given to the poor regardless of race so that those at that socio-economic level can use the extra assistance to make a better a living. Privileges should not accorded to those who are already living comfortably. The NEP is not a privilege to help people of a certain skin colour exclusively.
UMNO President Abdullah Ahmad Badawi outlined 12 key pillars in his policy speech. The first pillar is on an exemplary political leadership which is the prime mover for other types of leadership. He welcomed constructive criticism. He said that leaders are mere mortals and mortals are imperfect. Hence, policies made by mortals are also not perfect.
Therefore, questioning the methodology used by the EPU to calculate the corporate equity ownership is not the same as accusing the government of lying. Neither is it an act of trying to undermine the position of the Malays. A methodology used since 1971 should merit a comprehensive review so that we do not leave out some important but marginalised segments of the society. We need to find out why after 30 years of the NEP the poorest 40 percent of the society are becoming even poorer.
It is precisely the concern for the poorest, who are largely Bumiputeras, that we urged the government to end its obsession with the 30 percent or 70 percent corporate equity ownership for the Bumiputera if it is going to enrich only a selected few. The government should focus on closing the income gap between the poorest and the richest regardless of race. One effective way is to focus on capacity building and enhancing access to economic opportunities and means.
Abdullah told us to work with him and not for him. We should hold him to his words. A good leader is also a good listener. He should be able to differentiate between the constructive criticism and the polemics.