What is the point of reforming bumiputera policies? - By Commander S THAYAPARAN (Retired) Royal Malaysian Navy
Wednesday, August 22, 2018
Malaysiakini : “Equality is not the empirical claim that all groups of humans are
interchangeable; it is the moral principle that individuals should not
be judged or constrained by the average properties of their group.” ―
Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature.
COMMENT | The spat between the MCA and DAP about the upcoming bumiputera congress comes
at an interesting time. As reported in the press, Daim Zainuddin has
claimed that the Council of Eminent Persons (CEP) has recommended
changes to the bumiputera policy to “get it right this time”.
Of course, if Harapan chooses to make the recommendations from the
CEP public, it would save us a whole lot of time but
strangely, accountability and transparency do not seem to be the goal of
these reform ideas. Who knows? Maybe this bumiputera congress is all about the “positive
mindset change” and change of policy that the council hopes its
recommendations will deliver. But really, the idea of the MCA and
DAP – two Chinese power structures – attempting to outdo each other when
it comes to these issues, is ridiculous.
Each is operating under a specific set of imperatives when it comes
to dealing with Malay power structures. Ketuanan Melayu is still the
bogeyman, and neither party comes out clean in this squabble. If
Umno attempted to have this congress had it retained power, DAP – not
Amanah or PKR – would have been firing salvos at MCA and MIC.
These two dingbats can argue over which non-Malay power
structure spooks the Malays more. However, last year, Wan Saiful Wan Jan
(who is now a Bersatu political operative) had already argued that
affirmative action policies were morally wrong. What I really like about Wan Saiful’s (photo) piece, beyond his candour, is that he stakes no middle ground. He argues against affirmative action as something morally wrong and does not attempt to soften the stance by pandering to the politically correct narrative of a “needs-based” approach.”
But this fight is really a sideshow. Actually, so is the idea of
reforming this policy. It is pointless attempting to define this policy
as anything other than a system of discriminatory practices that is the
foundation of maintaining political and religious power in mainstream
Malay politics. We are not merely talking about a system of rules which
could be reformed but rather a mindset that has not only crippled the
majority but also the non-Malay minorities.
Can there ever be a “positive mindset change” when it comes to
policies which favour a specific ethnic group? What exactly does this
positive mindset entail? Or rather how would reforming these policies
while sustaining its elements of discrimination and bigotry – secular
and religious – increase competitiveness in the economy?
But why stop there? Race and religion are not mutually exclusive in
this country and it follows that any reforms carried out on
bumiputera policies should also include limiting the influences of the
state-sponsored religion on the economy. Has there been any serious
research done on how the religion of the state hampers the economy not
only in terms of its effect on Malay businesses (which includes the
various GLCs and their affiliates) and non-Malay business practices?
How exactly does a government get such a policy right, this time? As
reported in the article, and as I had acknowledged elsewhere, even Najib
attempted to reform these policies for the same reasons but he was met
with resistance by none other than Mahathir and the right-wing elements
of his base.
Could there be a change of mindset in the current incarnation of the
old maverick? Who knows? If anything, the apocalyptic scenario the
Harapan brain trust has painted for this country could be the impetus
for radical reforms. Even more reason for the CEP report to be made
The meaning of being Malay
When right-wing and far-right Malay elements talk about bumiputera
privileges, they are not talking about a system of discriminatory
practices, they are talking about those privileges in terms of
morality, but more importantly, in a definitional sense of what it means
to be Malay. Complete hogwash of course, but this is the reason why the
idea of reforming the system instead of ditching it completely has
always dominated the debate.
We are told that for the Malays, losing their rights and privileges
is the existential threat that non-Malays and their power structures
pose to the community. There is always that caveat that such
reform policies would not be at the expense of the non-Malays. Which
is ludicrous because the non-Malay communities have thrived despite
In this day and age – when the brunt of failed policies is felt by
the Malay community for obvious reasons – this idea that
bumiputera policies would somehow hamper the growth of the non-Malays in
an economic sense is misguided.
This is why these far-right types are always going on about how the
Chinese community is an economic threat. Since studies - which have
demonstrated that the bumiputera equity has suppressed the intended
target of these policies – have been ignored, and mainstream Malay
structures have shown real intention to seek the truth, we have no idea
if the Malay community needs all the help its champions claim it needs.
Just ask Lim Teck Ghee. He quit the Asian Strategy and Leadership
Institute (Asli) because the research group distanced itself from its
own findings because it went against government orthodoxy. From The Sun:
"The centre's report had concluded that the National Economic Policy
target of 30 percent bumiputera equity ownership had already been
exceeded, and said the official methodology inherited from the 1970s to
measure corporate equity distribution was 'narrowly based' and
"According to the ninth Malaysia Plan, bumiputera equity ownership in
2004, as measured by the Economic Planning Unit, stood at 18.9 percent.
The Asli report also said it was clear that "selective patronage" had
resulted in "serious intra-ethnic Malay cleavages", and the continued
promotion of the New Economic Policy would only increase antagonisms
among bumiputeras that some are more favoured than others." Here are some sound bytes from the relevant personalities in the article about the findings –
"Utusan Malaysia also quoted former premier Tun Dr
Mahathir Mohamad as saying the centre's findings
were ‘illogical’ because bumiputera economic control was far below that
of other races."
“Umno vice-president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has described the
report as ‘rubbish’ and challenging the government's authority,
following Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's statement
that the report was ‘baseless’, ‘inaccurate’ and ‘irresponsible’.”
“Opposition leader Lim Kit Siang said Mirzan had failed to explain
how the centre's methodology was flawed, and how the Economic Planning
Unit's methodology was valid. On criticisms of the report, he said: ‘It
is a triumph of brawn over brain and a major setback towards creating a
'first class mentality''."
I suppose the only consolation is that corruption and
the bumiputera policy are mutually exclusive, in the sense that you
could curb corruption within an economic, political and socially
You could do that in such a system, right?