Never-ending bumi policy dashes hope for ‘New Malaysia’


December 31, 2019

by Dr.Kua Kia Soong 

Never-ending bumi policy dashes hope for ‘New Malaysia’

COMMENT | We will be starting the New Year with our hopes for a New Malaysia dashed by the announcement of Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mahathir that the bumiputera agenda (expiry date 1990) will continue.

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The NEP stays for as long as The Malays have political power. Let us not kid ourselves. It is non-negotiable, although I believe it is a major obstacle to Malay economic advancement. Discrimination on the basis of race is a fact.–Din Merican. 

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As in 1970 when the New Economic Policy started, and again in 1990 when the New Economic Policy was replaced by the National Development Policy which then morphed into the New Economic Model in 2010, we are treated to the same ludicrous doublespeak.

Doublespeak has been defined by some as “the ability to accept two conflicting beliefs, opinions, or facts as valid and correct, simultaneously. Doublespeak may happen because of someone being willfully perverse or as a result of faulty logic.” It is of course a word coined by George Orwell in the novel 1984.

Consider this. In the process of announcing the continuation of this Never-ending Bumiputera Policy, the Prime Minister tells Malays to stand without the ‘tongkat’ that the government is going to continue to provide them.

Even more doublespeak was the Bersatu President Muhyiddin Yassin’s pious wish that the implementation of the new bumiputera agenda as part of the Pakatan Harapan government’s core policy “must contribute towards economic growth with benefits enjoyed by all Malaysians”.

Why is it not possible to have an Affirmative Action Policy for the B40?

I find it remarkable that after more than 60 years of affirmative action for the bumiputera, we still cannot find intellectuals who can devise a race-free affirmative action policy! Our scholars and intellectuals have been schooled in the best universities overseas but they still cannot come up with a policy that does not discriminate on the basis of race.

An exception is economist Dr. Mohamed Ariff, who spoke out against such racially discriminatory policies in 2013:

“The NEP had outlived its usefulness and the government must move affirmative action policies from race-based to needs-based. This policy shift will ultimately benefit the Malays as they form the bulk of 40 percent of households in the lower-income bracket… The government’s policies seem to be populist in nature and not focused… hand-outs should only be given in crises, such as famine, as they remove the incentive to work hard. The Malays would not be able to compete in a globalised environment if they continued to depend on hand-outs.”

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Prof Terence Gomez has often questioned the race-based criteria for wealth distribution:

“Why the continuing fixation with numbers when many Malaysians, among them even members of BN component parties, have questioned the veracity of these government-released ownership figures? Even if bumiputera equity ownership is increased to 30 percent, would this mean that wealth has been more equitably distributed among members of this community or between them and other Malaysians? And, most importantly, should we continue to perpetuate a discourse on equitable wealth distribution among Malaysians along racial lines?”

At the Bersatu general assembly, the Prime Minister has justified the continuation of this racially discriminatory policy on the grounds that more than 70 percent of the B40 are bumiputera. If that is so, why not have an affirmative action policy for the B40, which would be race-free and would be agreeable with our Icerd obligations? Why practise racial discrimination and be noted as one of the few pariah nations in the world community that do not ratify Icerd?

What happened to the slogans for ‘New Malaysia’, ‘Asian Renaissance’, ‘Malaysian Malaysia’? Have these all been empty slogans? The other leaders of Pakatan Harapan – Anwar Ibrahim, Lim Kit Siang, Mohamad Sabu, P Waythmoorthy, who have condemned racial discrimination in the past – have not said a word about the continuation of the bumiputera agenda announced by the prime minister. Does silence signify consent or indifference?

Litany of crony capitalists

Given the Pakatan Harapan manifesto, it was shocking, though sadly not surprising, to hear Bersatu vice-president Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman (photo above) supporting delegates at its general assembly by calling for government resources to help the party. The former Election Commission chief said Bersatu must do all it could to win elections “by hook or by crook”. He said, “Looking at the situation now, we cannot defend our position as the governing party because the division chiefs are being left out of contracts.” Right, so contracts for the boys!

And was it surprising that throughout the years of the bumiputera agenda, Malaysia has featured high on The Economist’s crony capitalism index. Uncontrolled rent-seeking has allowed politically well-connected billionaires to double their wealth, thereby posing a threat to the free market, The Economist said. These rent-seeking industries include those easily monopolised, and that involve licensing or heavy state involvement, which it said was “prone to graft”.

This skewed bumiputera agenda is at the heart of the kleptocracy problem the Harapan government claims it wants to fix after the GE14.

From the 80s on, Mahathir’s privatisation of state assets ensured the divestment of state capital into the hands of favoured Malay crony capitalists. The success of the NEP in restructuring capital has, in the process, increased class differentiation within the Malay community. Thus, instead of targeting and providing strategic aid to the poor of all ethnic communities, the Umno ruling elite has continued to use the tried and trusted strategies of race-based cash aid and uplift plans aimed at bumiputeras.

Authoritarian populism of the Malaysian state

Image result for book byas Anne Munro-Kua

The truth is, as Anne Munro-Kua has analysed in her book, the Malay ruling elite in Malaysia has relied on an authoritarian populist style of rule to stem the possibility of the peoples from different ethnic communities uniting into a class-based political force and to simultaneously ensure the continued political domination of the Malay-led coalition.

  • A communal populist approach continues to be used to deflect the economic grievances of the Malay labouring classes against capitalist exploitation into a race-based ideological allegiance to the Malay ruling elite. The results from the GE14 will further ensure Harapan rely on such populist policies to try to capture the Malay rural votes.

While bumiputera policies are intended to benefit all bumiputera, the reality is that these policies have been usurped by the privileged Malay elite whose weak enterprise culture and expertise has had damaging consequences for the economic health of the nation. The bureaucracy has grown in tandem with the populist measures by the state capitalist class to carve out bigger and bigger slices of the rural and urban economic pie.

Institutional obstacles to attaining high-income status

According to an IMF working paper, Malaysia, as compared to other Asian countries, faces a larger risk of slowdown stemming from institutional and macroeconomic factors. A recent Asia Foundation Report also points to a compelling need for Malaysia to shift from a race-based to a needs-based policy in order to address imbalances in society and improve the democratic process to ensure good governance and that the rule of law prevails. It points out that poor institutions could deter innovation, hamper the efficiency of resource allocation and reduce the returns to entrepreneurship.

The report goes on to reason that despite the numerous bold policy measures and long-term plans introduced by the government over the years, Malaysia’s economic progress continues to be plagued by a lack of innovation and skills, a low level of investments in technology, declining standards in education, relatively high labour cost and sluggish growth in productivity. These lagging factors can be traced to the continuation of a backward racial discriminatory policy.

Thus far, Malaysia’s education system has failed to produce the skills and talent required to take the country’s economy to the next level. A key obstacle lies in the government’s failure to promote a fair and open economy. The bumiputera policy and insufficient checks and balances continue to hamper the country’s economy, leading to poor practices in governance. Reforms, especially the replacement of racial discriminatory policies with race-free inclusive policies are critically needed to rally the nation to achieve its economic objectives.

Affirmative action based on need, not race

In Malaysia, since the passing of the deadline for the NEP in 1990, it makes developmental sense to implement a new socially just affirmative action policy based on need or class or sector. Thus, if Malays are predominantly in the rural agricultural sector, the poor Malay farmers would be eligible to benefit from such a needs-based policy while the rich Malay land-owning class would not. Only such a race-free policy can convince the people that the government is socially just, fair and democratic.

The cost and consequences of the racially discriminatory policy in Malaysia have been immense especially since the NEP in 1971. It has caused a crippling polarisation of Malaysian society and a costly brain drain.

While the Chinese middle and working classes in Malaysia have largely adapted to this public sector discrimination by finding ways to make a living in the private sector, this has not been so easy for working class Indians.

Many Malaysian Indians have found themselves marginalised, much like the African Americans in the US were, especially after the destruction of the traditional plantation economy. The cost of preferential treatment has also seen greater intra-community inequality, with higher class members creaming off the benefits and opportunities.

More potentially dangerous and insidious is the effect this widespread racial discrimination has had on ethnic relations in this country. Unity can only be promoted through an affirmative action policy based on need, sector or class, never on race.


KUA KIA SOONG is adviser to human rights NGO Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram)..

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

11 thoughts on “Never-ending bumi policy dashes hope for ‘New Malaysia’

  1. The NEP stays for as long as The Malays have political power. Let us not kid ourselves. It is non-negotiable, although I believe it is a major obstacle to Malay economic advancement. Discrimination on the basis of race is a fact.–Din Merican.

    • “Discrimination on the basis of race is a fact.”

      It is, indeed. Sadly.

      Interesting article from today:

      https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2018/12/31/no-room-in-penang-man-turned-down-by-landlords-for-not-being-chinese/

      No amount of mouthing platitudes like “New Malaysia”, “Progressive”, “Equality”, “Merit” and the like can mask the sheer hypocrisy of Malaysians – “I can be racist to you, but if you do the same to me, I’ll squeal”.

      Mahathir, being a lot more pragmatic than many of these fake idealists, perhaps knows that when racism is so deeply imbued in all Malaysians (by choice) a restart of the old Alliance model is what is needed. And he’s quite clear that Bersatu is the new Umno.

      The utterly, utterly Chinese DAP are presumably the new MCA (pre-castration?), but then, who are the new MIC? The answer seems to be – any ragtag assortment of random Indian ministers who can hastily convene a press conference.

    • Tun Dr is not pragmatic. He is merely being immature and not grow up, albeit being one who is 93, like what you have suggested. On the case of housing discrimination, if I were Tun Dr, the right approach is to create anti-discrimanation law. STHon, you are truly a racist, arguing a need to perpetuate racism, using a faulty logic of being pragmatic.
      If Malays are more pragmatic, Malays would see how racism had been hurting the Malays the most. After all, this land truly belongs to the Malays. Sad for your kind, indeed.

  2. The Malays especially Mahathir are deluding themselves if they think they can rid corruption without removing NEP. It shows they do not understand corruption. But its true NEP remain so long as Malay are in power.

    But then again, ridding NEP also does not mean ending corruption. What it means is this country will always be lesser to the best- the ultimate verdict of what Malay means.

  3. The Bumi policy can stay but with certain modification and changes to keep up with the times and also the achievement of the Bumis after 60 years. Today we have Bumi professionals in all fields from medicine to engineering, lawyers to accountants and the majority of senior government officers are Bumis incouding the Police and Armed Forces. The Bumis are represented in all industries and vocations.

    They live in big mansions in high cost areas and drive around in luxury cars including Bentleys and Rolls. The Bumi policies should exclude these well to do Bumis and instead be focussed on those in the rural areas as well as those in the lower income segment in the cities. Otherwise the rich Bumis will continue to reap all the benefits while the poor Bumis are deprived. If a Bumi can have RM190 million in Tabung Haji account, how many more have million dollar accounts in TH.

    The PH government should look at the revenue sector and the expenditure sector. Stop the subsidies and instead reduce the taxes and axcise duties for example on petrolium and gas prices. Perhaps ‘subsidy’ have a more positive PR image for the government that play well with voters but end result will be the same.

    • PKL, if you want Malaysia to become one of these nations, it helps if the name of the country starts with alphabets A, B, C, D…….
      Australia
      Botswana
      Chile, Canada
      Denmark

      Maybe we should rename Malaysia as Apanamasia……

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