Another Bumiputera Economic Congress; another round of discriminatory policies
Another Bumiputera Economic Congress is being planned for early next year; part of a big push by PMX to shore up Malay support for his government. Ambitious new targets are being considered to further boost Malay participation in all socio-economic sectors.
The spectre of the Malays falling further and further behind is again being invoked to justify stronger and more extensive measures to “uphold and empower the Bumiputera position.” PMX himself has repeated the claim – contested by several economists – that Bumiputera equity is still below 30%.
How anyone can claim that the Malays are falling behind is, of course, puzzling. The economy today is firmly in Bumiputera hands through GLCs and Malay-owned corporations. Malays also dominate all the key national institutions and all aspects of government; the majority of cabinet ministers and MPs, department heads and vice-chancellors are Malay. On top of that, Malays receive the overwhelming majority of scholarships, university places, budgetary allocations, government contracts and a host of other privileges.
Furthermore, over the span of the last 50 years – 10 Malaysia Plans, 52 national budgets and 9 prime ministers – more than RM2 trillion has been spent via hundreds of federal and state agencies and companies to uplift the Bumiputera community.
And yet, there are those who still moan and groan about the Bumiputeras being left behind and clamour for more money and more policies to help them catch up with the non-Malays; the same non-Malays who, I might add, have been denied, deprived and disadvantaged at every turn. Do they not see how absurd this whole narrative has become? And yet we are all expected to play along with this sacred shibboleth for the sake of peace and harmony.
This is not to say that Malays don’t need help; the majority of people in the B40 group are, after all, Malays. But if they are still lagging behind after all the time, effort and money that has been spent on uplifting them, then clearly something is amiss. Rather than throwing more money into failed programmes – as successive administrations have been doing – shouldn’t there be a full and transparent investigation into what went wrong, where all that money ended up?
In 2019, at a parliamentary symposium on the Malaysian economy, Anwar decried policies that differentiate between races saying that “After 60 years of independence, Malaysians should be seen as one community with equal rights and privileges”. He then went on to call for justice for all Malaysians and the eradication of poverty regardless of race.
But all this appears to have been forgotten; now all he does in pander to the Ketuanan Melayu crowd. His supporters will no doubt argue that he has no choice given his need to try to wrest back Malay support from Perikatan Nasional.
Either way, non-Bumiputeras will continue to be disadvantaged. They pay their fair share of taxes, work hard, contribute to national development and fulfil their obligations as citizens and stakeholders but they don’t get to enjoy their fair share of the benefits. They accepted limited affirmative action policies when it was first introduced as a necessary evil; they never signed up for a system of endless discrimination.
And it could get worse. With less money to throw around now because of the government’s tight fiscal position, the only way to channel greater support to the Bumiputera sector will be to squeeze the non-Bumiputeras further.
The PM’s terse and dismissive response to an ethnic Indian student who wanted to know when the government was going to do away with the racial quota system in favour of meritocracy is a clear indication that discriminatory policies are set to continue under his administration. And when the MTEM CEO complains that “80% of the raw materials come from non-Bumiputeras”, you know further discriminatory measures are being contemplated.
Over the years, successive governments have repeatedly assured non-Malays that they would not be disadvantaged by efforts to uplift the Bumiputera community; it is a promise that has never been kept. Discrimination has become an immutable fact of life in Malaysia; injustice has been normalised. No matter who rules, nothing changes for non-Bumiputeras.
There was a time when the DAP at least used to stand up for the rights of non-Bumiputeras but not anymore. Now they wax lyrical about a new political order – one in which they have effectively replaced the MCA as enablers of the Ketuanan Melayu system. They too spook their base with existential threat narratives and hoodwink them into thinking that reformasi is moving forward when in fact Ketuanan Melayuism is being further entrenched.