Race-based affirmative action needed for now

In saying this, an academic however adds that its programmes must be made more effective so that they can one day be removed.

(Free Malaysia Today) – An academic believes that while race-based affirmative action has failed in its mission to unify the country, it can never be replaced by need-based considerations.

Lee Hock Aun, a senior lecturer of development studies at the Faculty of Economics and Administration in Universiti Malaya, said that need-based considerations should in fact be enforced within race-based actions so as to achieve the best results.

“Need-based considerations complement measures to redress racial under-representation by targeting the socio-economically needy with the beneficiary group.

“Addressing need-based issues alone isn’t going to engender a change in upward mobility sufficiently or at a politically acceptable pace. And politics are important here for a symbolic and substantial change, ” he added during a talk entitled “Affirmative Action in Malaysia versus Affirmative Action in South Africa” at the LoyarBurok Community Centre here last night.

Lee explained that while need-based considerations would be feasible in the realm of education, it would be a tangled mess where employment and business dealings are concerned.

He pointed out that it is universally acceptable that children should not be denied an education just because they are born into unfortunate circumstances. Need-based considerations, therefore, would seamlessly factor into this situation.

But he questioned whether an employer would then also be expected to give preference to candidates based on their socio-economic background and an assessment of their needs. Or whether a contract should be awarded to the vendor who is deemed to be in greater need of business.

“It’s practically very difficult,” Lee said. “If need-based considerations are replacing race-based actions, then a framework with thorough guidelines is needed.”

“But perhaps more importantly is to make the current race-based actions more effective so that one day it will be no longer needed and can be removed entirely.”

Here the executive director of the Research for Social Enhancement (Refsa), Teh Chi-Chang, interjected with an observation that the implemantation of Article 153 is arguable.

He pointed out that the second provision refers to the reservation of places for the Malays in institutions of higher learning.

“But the approach today has been the establishment of Majlis Amanah Rakyat (Mara) colleges that are strictly for Bumiputeras,” Teh said.

“It’s not reservational any longer since there is now a whole new section that excludes other communities. In a different climate you could challenge that as unconstitutional. ”

Another participant then pointed out that many students from Mara colleges floundered upon entering public universities as their educational foundation proved to be weak.