Breeding contempt between poor and elite Malays
Bumiputeraism works; bumiputeraism is justified. Those are the words of Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Economy), Mustapa Mohamed, who sought to clear up any confusion about the sale of bumiputera shares and companies; but he kept contradicting himself and muddled things further.
Despite 50 years of the New Economic Policy (NEP), Mustapa said that the bumiputera lagged behind in equity ownership, although the NEP was successful. He said the NEP had managed to “transform the bumiputera in the field of education”, but its success was not as huge as in the economic sector.
How do Mustapa and his peers measure bumiputera success in the field of education? Many bumiputera have few technical skills and are in low paying jobs. Is success measured by bumiputera children attending religious classes during the school day and after-school activities?
If some teachers allege that the pass-mark for bumiputera students is lowered to enable more of them to progress to the next stage of education, then how is this manipulation good for them? Why is the Malay mind not allowed to be stretched and exercised?
One hears about bumiputera parents taking their children out of primary and secondary schools to work as cheap labour in their food stalls. These parents see little value in having an education. So, what is the government doing about changing bumiputera parental attitudes to education?
Our education system is exam-oriented, and in higher institutions of learning, including at university level, analytical skill development and problem-based learning have a long way to go.
Our authorities appear to value quantity over quality. Some of our universities are allegedly PhD churning factories. Recently, many graduates claimed that their PhDs are worthless and are not recognised by foreign institutions. Few bumiputera academics dare to criticise government policy because dissent may lead to demotion or a stalled career.
Mustapa also claimed that the NEP had not been able to successfully transform the bumiputera in the economic sector. Despite having a shelf-life of 20 years, the NEP was prolonged, especially as it failed to achieve its objective.
From what we can gather in the Panama Papers and the Pandora Papers, the NEP appears to have been hugely successful for a number of Malays, mostly politicians and the sons of former prime ministers. Does the average bumiputera realise this?
The poverty-stricken Malay stores his spare cash under the mattress, but elite bumiputera have the luxury of hiding their extra cash and assets in offshore accounts.
The irony of the NEP was that it should have narrowed the economic gap between the many races, but in the end, was a policy that caused ethnic division and strife.
It may have successfully reduced poverty in the rural areas, but it gave birth to a new group of bumiputera who grew rich at the expense of their poorer, rural cousins.
Bumiputeraism only helps the wealthy, powerful and politically connected Malay elite. According to them, the NEP works except for the slight flaw of economic disparity. For the elite, life is good and the NEP must be preserved, at all costs and whatever it takes.
Whilst it is true that the NEP has created more professionals amongst the bumiputera, on the whole, the average Malay does not benefit from the NEP in its entirety.
Naturally, the Malay political elite will not want the NEP to end. Coupled with the religious agenda, the NEP becomes a potent mix. You must agree with the NEP or you will be seen as an enemy of the state.
Plead all you want, and cry all you like, but your words will not make any impact. The single-minded selfishness of the NEP is all-consuming. The authorities will not budge, no matter what, because anyone who stands in their way is seen as being anti-Malay.
Whichever way the government wants to mask it, the NEP, bumiputeraism and affirmative action policies only fuel contempt.
First, the non-Malay, when faced with several hurdles, will only stretch himself and work harder to achieve his ambition. He learns from his mistakes, he perfects his technique, remains focused on his goal, and eventually, achieves his target. He may have spent much time and money, but he has gained valuable experience. It makes him tougher and better able to cope with the challenges the world throws at him.
Second, the NEP also breeds contempt between the poor Malays and the elite Malays.
Third, it has also given rise to silent whispers in the community. Few will imagine that able Malays succeeded on their own merits and reached the top because of their hard work, intellect or determination. So, did they succeed because of their strong political connections, or had they bribed their way to the top?
Despite what Ismail Sabri and Mustapa think, the NEP and bumiputeraism have destroyed the reputation of the Malays.