Affirmative Action (Part 3): Where Are We Heading?

LoyarBurok is publishing this 3-part article we received from a law student at a local university who prefers to be known as “Batu 5”. Part 1 looks back on the original intent of Malaysia’s affirmative action policies. Part 2 analyses whether the NEP has achieved its objectives and finally, in the 3rd part, Batu 5 poses the hard questions Malaysia needs to answer to move forward.

Long Live Death: The Pig Monastery, 2010 by Shaifuddin Mamat a.k.a. Poodien

Shaifuddin Mamat a.k.a. Poodien, "Long Live Death: The Pig Monastery", 2010

The affirmative action policies in Malaysia is one of the biggest social experiments in modern history. In trying to socially engineer a nation for social equity, sacrifices have been made. Everyone suffered, but they knew why they were suffering. For a just and equitable cause. During those years, Malaysia has managed to become a prosperous and industrious nation. I give credit to Dr. Mahathir’s leadership and stewardship in bringing the best out of the country. We have had our fair share of economic booms and busts. Our people don’t suffer from frostbite or starvation or any natural catastrophes. We even have a national car. Life is good.

However, with all this progress, I tend to look back and ask myself one question: “What was the price that we paid?” The affirmative action policies under the NEP have created people who are complacent and wish to clutch to these benefits for perpetuity. It looks like it. Vox populi, vox dei. The voice of the people is the voice of god. The people (benefactors) would want these benefits to be there as a right, not privilege. But until when? Malays are already criticised as a race having a subsidy mentality. Should we be proud of that, or strive to prove the doubters wrong?

The other question which I need an answer is “Why do affirmative action policies targets a whole race (no matter if rich or poor), and not target the poor only (regardless of race)? I cannot conjure a jurisprudential answer to this tricky question. What I can say is that this is a political solution. Stereotypes of races are so entrenched that it requires a blanket racial solution. The stereotype that Malays are in the kampongs, Chinese in cities and the Indians are in estates, are so entrenched that that is how these races view each other. Even until today, though we can see that the Malays are catching up thanks to the affirmative action policies. Once these stereotypes can be changed, then I think, we can revert to policies targeting those under the poverty line. If these stereotypes persist, thus I think the backlash would be there from the economically under-represented. It is easier to see policies which target a certain race, than a policy which indiscriminately targets the poor. Thus, it appeases the under-represented politically.

There are also concerns that the NEP causes a brain drain to those that it does not favour. Ever since i was a kid, I had a firm conviction that loyalty is paramount to a nation’s survival. It must be within the volk (people) and must resonate in each and everyone as a volkgeist! I understand that economic opportunities are important, but this nation has given a lot to us, the people. Though it might not offer much, people must understand the struggles that we must go through. It is a unique struggle, different from independence or freedom. It is a struggle for progression, an equitable progression where everyone can develop together. By leaving this country, you are a coward to the cause, to everything this country has given you, to the sacrifices that we made.

However, Malaysia has a long way to go. A few questions need to be asked:

  1. If the Bumiputeras managed to gain 30% of the economic pie, would the government fulfil its promise in lifting the positive discrimination policies under the NEP?
  2. Let’s assume that they do abolish the NEP policies. If the Bumiputeras are unable to compete and their share of the economic pie dwindles to, say, 15%, would the government re-impose the policy, or recognise that Bumiputeras are able to compete?
  3. Would the government impose the NEP style policies to other groups that require their assistance, say to other minorities that require it?

Please bear in mind that there is a difference between NEP style affirmative action policies and the ones under Article 153. My concerns are the ones under NEP, not under Article 153.

This wraps my three-part series on affirmative action. I understand that this is a controversial subject. I offer no apologies. What I have said is said with sincerity. Let the public be the judge of my words, and decide whether my observations are true or not.

Batu 5 is a law student and a debater. He considers himself a full time debater and a part time law student. He believes that inter-varsity debating is the best thing in the world. He also is a dreamer as he plans to establish a company which is too big to fail for Malaysia with his girlfriend. He believes that Malaysia is in a class war, and his class, the learning/student class is losing out.


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Batu 5 is a student in a local university. He writes under a pseudonym for fear of persecution by university administrators. He feels the suffocating grip of the authorities.

Posted on 23 November 2010. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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8 Responses to Affirmative Action (Part 3): Where Are We Heading?

  1. Batu 5

    Perhaps I can add a bit to your post.

    In general there are 3 types of affirmative action

    Majority preferences in majority economies

    A system where the dominant majority not only controls the economic and political system but has also instituted racial preferences for its own majority members. Eg: South Afrika Apartheid

    Minority preferences in majority economies

    A system of affirmative action targeted to benefit minority groups in economies dominated by majority members Eg: US, India, current South Afrika

    Majority preferences in minority economies

    A System of Affirmative Action to favor politically dominant (though economically weak) majority groups and to correct continuing group disparities and ethnic stratification Eg: Malaysia, Nigeria

    One must view the "affirmative action" policy from the "Opportunity Curve".

     In general the Opportunity Curve is positively sloped i.e those with more capital/income will generally have greater access to opportunities

    Our very own experiment tries to do 2 things.

    1. To improve the access to opportunity (education, business, etc) to those with lower income and capital by trying to invert the Opportunity curve (make it Downward Sloping)

    2. To reduce the ethnic stratification of our economy by promoting specific participation of the Bumi into sectors dominated by Non Bumis

    You may read in detail here about the opportunity curve and NEP

    One of the biggest stumbling block to the successful implementation of NEP is Social Capital, which is being applied negatively against the Bumiputra communities read more here

    At the same time perhaps I can also add a bit on the Origins of Article 153, rather than cluttering this comment section with an essay like comment please go here and here

    On before i forget…you said

    "The British had a free immigration policy at that time, and a census in the 1930s showed that the non-Malays outnumbered the Malays at one point in time! I hate to stereotype, but I get them facts from our history books."

    Try to imagine a total flow of 9,694,362 foreign workers from Mainland China..

  2. FarFarAway

    Hi Batu 5,

    It was not an assumption regarding poor malay people rejecting msian govt scholarships. We prefer to work our own way up in life – and we did succeed in getting educated (overseas included) and out of poverty! Why, this is not impossible.

    I agree that equity is crucial. In the USA, the minority affirmative action is based on needs. Not all what USA did was or is correct. For example, the Native Americans Land Reserve, like the ones for Aborigines in Australia, unfortunately, perpetuated dependency (alcoholism, unemployment, crime, etc) and…. poverty. There are a lot of credible literature and research studies criticising the socioeconomic aspects of the American natives land reserve concept. Only recently when USA and Canada started recognizing the american natives' right to, and sovereignty over their ancestral land (as opposed to mere Land Reserves), then was there a recognition of equity. But they still have a long way to go.

    I encourage you to read up more on the USA Natives', Australian Aborigines' and NZ Maoris' ongoing struggles to reclaim proper equity and social justice. And Malaysian natives' and aborigines' struggles too – and how Msian policies can help them out? Life is interlinked – e.g. aspects such as law, policies, institutional, socio-economics, history, human psychology, etc. I didn't major in social sciences or humanities but I was very fortunate to be introduced to the Native American issues in elective courses when I was studying in America, … when I was errr, younger…. .

    Yes, gender is nowadays an affirmative action component where there are major skews in employment opportunities. Even in Europe now, a job advertisement will say women applicants are preferred to fulfil their gender affirmative actions.

    I encourage you to apply for overseas scholarships (preferably not from msian govt) because I see potential of a raw diamond polished further. Why all the bristles and putting words in my mouth? Expanded horizon is a good thing, yes?

    Oh, not all poor urban malays are involved with govt contracts, housing discounts, universities, govt jobs etc. Most are not involved at all. Many eke an independent livelihood. Do not forget this 'independent' sector in your analysis.

    So, be open, have a wider perspective, and yes, without strereotypes, prejudices, discriminations, it would be more conducive for a sustainably developed Malaysia.

    Good luck!

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  4. Batu 5

    Hi FarFarAway,

    First, I'm befuddled by your statement on how a poor person would reject scholarships on a matter of principle. On that point, you yourself are assuming that they would. I don't think a poor person would reject scholarships as everyone knows that education is a door to a better quality of life. But even if a poor person would do so, then of course he can reject and continue his life in poverty.

    Secondly, I understand social justice as every member of society receiving a fair share of the economic pie. You concede that gender can be incorporated under social justice but not race. Why? I've explained above why a race-based affirmative action is needed. I've told you that it's a political decision as racial stereotypes are entrenched. The only way to remove these stereotypes is to ensure an equitable stake in the economy for every race. Then these stereotypes would cease to exist. If you disagree on my part, why does USA, a beacon of free market ideals and meritocracy provide race based affirmative action for the African-Americans (minority scholarships) and Native Americans (Land Reserve) as I highlighted in my first article? They seem to agree with me.

    Thank you for your concern on my education. I am planning to apply for overseas scholarships for my post graduate studies.

    However, I think, in your comment, you seem to imply that local graduates are incapable and inept. Isn't this a stereotype on your part?

    I understand that there are poor urban Malays. And they are still included under Article 153 which encompasses quotas for universities, work permits and also gov jobs. They don't benefit from the IPO's, government contracts or housing discounts do they?

    Cheers!

  5. FarFarAway

    Hi Batu 5,

    Again, you assume too much. Have you ever come across people who operate on principles? For example, although poor, they still refuse to receive scholarships from the govt.

    As I have written earlier, the way forward is …… that we should all be treated equally and fairly based on meritocracy tempered with social justice – irrespective of race.

    Which part of 'social justice' do you not understand? Thus, govt policies should utilize meritocracy, and at the same time consider other equity factors such as poverty, gender etc. Irrespective of race.

    I encourage you to apply for scholarships from prestigious overseas universities overseas. Improve your understanding of equity, social justice, etc. Good luck!

  6. FarFarAway

    cont. …

    P/s:

    In case it is still not clear to you – equity and social justice should be applicable to ALL who deserve, irrespective of race, location, etc.

    After all, the urban poor exists, people who work from hand to mouth day in day out in the cities. Yes, they exist. And countryside wealth exists too, those millionaires fulfilling their dreams of a kampong life.

    So please do be careful of your criteria and analysis for social justice vis-a-vis the NEP or other policies.

    Hope our little discussion here helps you a bit with writing future analyses somewhat free from harmful stereotypes, prejudices and assumptions.

    All the best!

  7. Batu 5

    Hello FarFarAway,

    First of all, thank you for your comments, inputs and also your personal experience on this issue.

    Secondly,I agree with you that stereotypes are negative things.And personally, I don’t like to do that. There would always be an exceptions to the general rule. That is life. However when a government formulates a policy,especially one with regards to socio-economic conditions, the policies must operate on the conditions that the majority in society are in. In this instance, a majority of Malays are not doing well economically. This is a fact, and without stereotyping, how do you propose we help them out?

    I know that some Malays don’t want to benefit from privileges and rights. But why? Because they are well off. And rightly so, they shouldn’t benefit from those privileges. What about the poor Malays in the kampongs? Without quotas in education or subsidized education like under Uitm, how do you suppose they survive? They’ll get stuck in that vicious cycle.

    I sympathize with your plight. But that was employment discrimination and was done by the private sector. Nothing within the purview of the government nor under the NEP. You should’ve lodged a complaint that that was discrimination. It’s unconstitutional I think.

    Under status quo, socio-economic policies like welfare and basic amenities are still accorded to the poor regardless of race. I too would want to move past stereotypes. That dream can be achieved. That’s why I propose that certain parts of the NEP which caters to the urban Malays and not the rural Malays be done with.

  8. FarFarAway

    If ALL Malaysians do not rise above the general stereotypes, there is no way Malaysia is going to progress. Stereotypes like this, being regurgitated in websites such as this only smear the quality of our local graduates…. .

    Stop the stereotyping, please. Not all Malays (want to) benefit from those Article 153 ‘privileges’ or ‘rights’. Many are Malays who do not use those privileges/rights, who decline scholarships from Msian govt, who took out bank loans etc, who succeed based on their honest toil…. . However, these Malays’ success do not get rocognized, instead their success get categorized as having only been obtained due to the ‘privileges’.
    And I remember an event in the 1980s which really disgusted me. When I applied for work in the Msian private sector, I was offered a pittance as salary despite having a good degree from a prestigious international university. Later I found out a non-Malay with no degree whatsoever was offered a salary triple that of mine (!) for the same job, at the same place, same time. Where is the level playing field? Where is the justice here? I believe that all Malaysians should be equal. No discrimination. And it should work both ways! Meritocracy is meritocracy. That is why I prefer to work overseas where my success is duly recognized. And there are many such honest Malays working in prestigious international companies or universities overseas.
    Indubitably, the way forward is to instil in ALL our youths that we should all be treated equally and fairly based on meritocracy tempered with social justice – irrespective of race. Positive ways on how to foster positive progress. Not further aggravate the situation with such falsch stereotypes.

    On my part, I would like to say that I have good friends from other races and also other nationalities. And we work together for each other’s betterment, we have no qualms to help each other out – profesionally and personally towards success.
    And many times I have also helped complete strangers, non-Malays, mind you. Complete strangers who wanted advice on their poor academic work, or who needed money due to their life circumstances, or whatever. Why? Because they are fellow humans and they needed help and I was in a position to help them. And will continue to do so. And I hope all of you in Malaysia will help each other out, Malaysia’s progress is a common destiny after all.