The present government remained recalcitrant over its intention to continue with the NEP in its current distorted form. Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said Malaysian maintained its position that the New Economic Policy (NEP) was not a cost to doing business.
It is widely known that the policy is being manipulated by the politically connected few to land government contracts worth billions. The manipulation of the policy has created nepotism, cronyism and corruption in the society. Today, Malaysians are still segregated between non-Bumiputeras and Bumiputeras - an act to identify the privileged group who will be treated differently through the affirmative action. Such categorisation has caused a social isolation of other Malaysians who felt that they are second class citizens in their own country.
I have argued that the original intent of the NEP was non-racial. The two main objectives of the NEP were not targetted at any specific race although it was acknowledged that the indigenous and Malay communities formed the largest segment of the poor.
Abdullah said the objective to dissociate race from occupation or social standing was crucial in ensuring long-term unity for the country – given its legacy and racial structure. On the contrary, today the civil service is largely associated with the Malay community.
What is the government doing to reverse the perception? When asked about this dilemma, the government often gave a familiar answer - the non-Malays are not interested to join the civil sector. Likewise, most Malay graduates have refused to seek jobs in the private sector and preferred to work for the government. It is obvious that the government is being selective in the implementation of the NEP.
He said that racial-based riots raged in neighbouring countries while Malaysia was spared the experience. The expansion of an educated and multi-ethnic middle class, thanks to affirmative action policies, has mitigated the risk of mass unrest. This is a most unscrupulous assumption.
Is the Prime Minister suggesting that a certain community will resort to crime and violence if special privileges are not accorded to them? Often the ones who are capable of rioting are the elites of the community who felt that their share of the economic pie is not enough. Most of these people who started the riots are politically connected with racist parties.
Abdullah added great disparities in income and social mobility still exist between ethnic groups. Whereas this may just be another issue in other countries, ethnic-based disparity strikes at the heart of national unity for Malaysia,” said Abdullah. Disparities in income between communities exist but it is time for the government to acknowledge the intra-community income disparity which is widening. The intra-community income disparity will be the roots of major social riots in the future.
When the NEP was implemented, it was understood that the policy will be reviewed and discontinued once more Malaysians have moved out from poverty. Many component parties' leaders accepted the implementation of the NEP because they genuinely believed that the other communities must sacrifice, at least for the next 15 years, to help alleviate the living standards of Bumiputera communities. Many of them have expressed their disappointment that the NEP is being manipulated and perpetuated without a time limit.
Abdullah is right to observe that the most difficult question we must address is to improve equity without sacrificing competitiveness. Many have come to regard Malaysia’s affirmative action policies, widely described as the NEP, as a cost to doing business.
The only way is to seriously looking into upgrading the knowledge and skills of the bumiputeras so that they can compete on equal footing with the rest.
To continue with the present form of NEP is unacceptable. Malaysians may have no choice but to vote for a regime change if this policy is continued.
UMNO is part of the problem created by the NEP. It is, afterall, the party which has the full control of the use of the affirmative instrument.