The effect of the NEP on the national psyche

Mariam Mokhtar

Which prime minister is brave enough to bell the cat and remove the New Economic Policy (NEP) especially as the Malay elite are known to be its main beneficiaries?

How much longer will Malaysia’s affirmative action policies be retained? Five, 15 or 50 more years?

When will Malays be taught how to be independent? Will non-Malays be forced to be second best for the same length of time?

During his recent visit to New York, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim met members of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and a Malaysian asked, “What is the fate of the NEP?”

After giving a short summary of the NEP’s origins to address the social and economic imbalance among the races and eradicate abject poverty among the Malays, he then confirmed that the NEP would be needs-based to help all Malaysians.

However, he then appeared to contradict himself when he said that the Bumiputera agenda would continue because many Malays still feel marginalised.

Is Anwar aware that the NEP is a euphemism for institutionalised racism?

The real cost to the country is incompetence, corruption and widespread racial discrimination which has damaged ethnic relations.

Politicians use affirmative action policies to cultivate a culture of fear and insecurity, with different sections of the community being affected differently.

The NEP has robbed Malays of their dignity, like the lowering of standards for colleges and universities and graduates being rejected by businesses because they fall short of the required criteria.

The NEP has polarised society with the ‘them’ and ‘us’ culture. The country’s weak foundation pits the privileged against the not-so-privileged.

In the countryside, the Malay farmer should benefit, but not the rich landowners. Those at the bottom of the economic and social ladder should get help, but not those who are already wealthy.

Children of single mothers who secured places in residential boarding schools for bumiputras, or who entered university, were shocked to find that many bumiputras who were fully funded by the state, did not share a similar social background as they were children of rich, well-educated, upper-class Malays, whose fathers were bankers or other professionals.

The NEP created a highly entitled Malay race. They fear change because this may lead to a loss of their benefits. They lord it over the other races and weaken racial harmony. A huge wealth gap exists between the poor Malay and the wealthy Malay.

The non-Malays have to accept being second best. They feel unwanted and unappreciated, are labelled ‘pendatang’ or immigrants and are treated as second-class citizens.

Ninth-generation Chinese friends are treated as illegal immigrants despite their ancestors building early Malaya. A country cannot unite its people when discrimination is rife.

Underlying racism

Most non-Malays join the brain drain and the nation has lost a lot of its best talent. When scholarships are denied to the non-Malays, other nations, like Singapore, Taiwan or America have snapped them up.

We failed to hold on to the best people who could have made a huge difference to the nation.

Those who are left behind, who are aware of what is happening, feel powerless about their predicament and are demotivated. That cannot be good for the nation’s psyche.

How do you explain to a child who is good at sports, that the school sports team cannot accept him because the quota for his particular race is full?

How do you explain to a teenager that he cannot get a place at a local public university because of the quota system? The young will then realise that it is not meritocracy that matters, but the colour of his skin.

Non-Malay children want to know why their Malay friend at school, with the one ‘A’ was awarded a scholarship or a place at university, whilst top-scoring non-Malays with a string of As were rejected.

How is that fair? It will only cause them to feel resentment, not loyalty to their birth nation.

Unfair opportunities

Many Malays are aware of the destructive effects of this discrimination on the nation but they simply keep quiet. To be vocal may invite criticisms of biting the hand that feeds them.

At the same time, there are also many shameless Malays who wrongfully accuse the non-Malays of taking away their jobs and opportunities.

Unsurprisingly, many non-Malays are fearful about voicing out their true feelings because they do not want to attract the wrong kind of attention to themselves.

Malaysia cannot continue like this. The bumiputra privileges are long past their shelf life and due date. Or are these privileges a lifelong policy?

The NEP also appears to reward incompetence. In an effort to push many Malays into higher education, some standards were allowed to drop or lowered to accommodate the less academic Malay students.

We appear to encourage poorer quality professionals and like an assembly production line, mass produce thousands of graduates and those with a PhD. We then complain about a brain drain when we lose our best talent to other nations.

So, isn’t it time we drop the neverending privileges, rebuild Malaysia and install a just, fair, equitable and democratic government?