NEP policies keeping Malays ‘poor’ and ‘weak’, say analysts, politicians

By Shazwan Mustafa Kamal, The Malaysian Insider

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 2 — Analysts and politicians have hit out at Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad for wanting an indefinite continuation of pro-Bumiputera New Economic Policy (NEP)-style policies.

They claim that NEP-based policies needed to be replaced with a more “merit-based” policy, saying that a majority of Bumiputeras “have not benefited” from the NEP during Dr Mahathir’s tenure as prime minister.

“I disagree strongly with Tun Dr Mahathir. Under the NEP and during his time as prime minister, a majority of poor Malays have not benefited from the race-based policy. It only served to widen the gap between the poor and a rich elite. Look at the urban poor today where a majority are Bumiputeras as well as Indians,” said economist Dr Subramaniam Pillay.

Dr Mahathir predicted earlier this week that there would be an escalation in racial tension and division should NEP-style policies be removed, likening the situation to the Communist revolution in Europe.

He stressed that the time was not right to introduce any policy which would “disregard the disparities between races in the interest of equity and merit.”

In justifying his arguments, Dr Mahathir said that during his time as prime minister and under the implementation of the NEP, Malaysia had enjoyed stability and good economic growth.

Subramaniam did not agree with Dr Mahathir’s explanation.

“During Dr Mahathir’s time, many countries in Southeast Asia or even Asia did not practise an open economy. There were very few countries which were open to foreign direct investments (FDI). Malaysia was doing relatively well, yes because there was no stiff competition from other countries at the time,” said the Nottingham University lecturer.

Subramaniam told The Malaysian Insider that due to “rising economies” like India and China over the past decade, Malaysia was in urgent need of a policy which would allow the country to escape from the “middle-income” trap.

“In spite of Mahathir’s NEP policies, it had favoured the few rather than improved the economic situation of the poor.

“The country requires a policy where it encourages the acquisition of survival skills. We don’t have that right now. We cannot compete with other countries because we don’t have the skills,” said Subramaniam.

He, however, added that a “needs-based” form of affirmative action was still required to help the poor.

Historian and political analyst Tan Sri Dr Khoo Kay Kim questioned the reason for Dr Mahathir’s “claims of an impending revolution.”

Khoo was doubtful that NEP-like policies would ever be scrapped, until the Malays and Bumiputeras were themselves ready for a change.

“What Mahathir is talking about is impossible. Since when can we remove the NEP? Unless and until the Malays themselves are ready, we cannot do anything,” said Khoo.

UKM lecturer Professor Shamsul Amri said while Dr Mahathir had a right to express his views, the former prime minister was in no position to make any changes to the country’s current economic policies.

“Let Mahathir say whatever it is he has to say. I do not see why he cannot have that opinion. He can no longer do anything, he is no longer in power,” said Shamsul.

He blamed politicians from both sides of the political divide for not doing anything to amend or scrap NEP-based policies.

“If people do not think it is relevant, change it. The opposition as well as Barisan Nasional talk too much but do not take any action.

“If they do not want NEP-based policies, please do something about it in Parliament,” Shamsul told The Malaysian Insider.

The academic claimed that although the actual NEP policy was no longer being used, the “spirit” of the NEP still lived within Article 153 of the Federal Constitution.

“The NEP is dead, but the spirit of the NEP is represented within Article 153 of the Federal Constitution. The spirit of NEP will always be there if Article 153 is there. If you do not want it, change it. Do something about it in Parliament,” said Shamsul.

The NEP, put in place in 1971, officially ended in 1990, but many of its programmes are still being continued.