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 is here. Part 2 takes an incisive look at whether the NEP has achieved its objectives.


In 1971, the Barisan National coalition launched the New Economic Policy (NEP) as a response to the 1969 race riots. They figured that, since economic inequality between the races was so entrenched that resentment would occur between the impoverished Malays and the wealthier Chinese, (another sterotyp: of course there were rich Malays and poor Chinese), more affirmative action policies were needed to accelerate the stake of the Bumiputera in the economic pie. So, new (positive) discriminatory policies were introduced such as the requirement that all initial public offerings (IPOs) set aside a 30% share for Bumiputra investors, the Amanah Saham Bumiputera scheme, Bumiputera housing discounts, more scholarships for Bumiputeras (JPA, Mara, PNB etc.), the establishment of Majlis Amanah Rakyat and ITM (though formed before 1970, it is still outside the bounds of the Federal Constitution) and many more policies. It is a privilege, not a right (a privilege is a special entitlement, whereas a right is an irrevocable entitlement).

Interestingly, the objective of this NEP was to ensure that the Bumiputera would have a 30% stake in the economy by the year 1990 (20 years). It’s 2010 and we’re still far from that ambitious goal of wealth redistribution. We’re still around 18%, and this includes stakes in government linked companies (GLCs). Why oh why? Were we (or they, BN) too ambitious? Were we firing blanks? Did we miscalculate?

First, most Malays do not appreciate the concept of affirmative action. As I said, the reason why affirmative action is implemented is to level the playing field. It gives a fair platform for everyone to compete and play. So, when affirmative action is conferred to a person, it becomes his duty to compete. He has a civil obligation (though I personally believe it should be a legal obligation) to compete with other races who are perceived to have the upper hand. The individual has no reason why he cannot do as well as his peers, or better for that matter. The moment he fails to compete with other races, he fails not only his race but himself. He is perceived to be equal and hence he should contribute to the Malay’s stake in the economic pie. The platform is beautifully set.

The problem is, most Malays are not aware that it is their duty to compete. Since they believe that affirmative action policies are rights (and not privileges) they believe that these policies would always be there not only for them but for their children as well. So we see most Malays taking fewer risks to improve their living conditions. They are content on being wage-earners or attaining a government job when the situation (of achieving 30% stake in the economy) demands them to open up businesses and become national champions. Open up corporations, own corporations and take more risks. Most of them have stakes in GLCs; having the word government with corporation doesn’t demonstrate your ability to compete lah!

Secondly, there is a problem with the implementation of the NEP. The Article 153 policies along with ITM and MARA covers a wide radius of Malays, be they urban or rural, because it is mostly about education and scholarship. And most of us know that these two elements are the key to the economic advancement. As we can see, the policies enshrined under the NEP targets urban Malays. I mean, IPOs or housing discounts in the middle of the city would not benefit those in the rural areas much.

Since most NEP policies target urban Malays what is the harm in that? It means that you’re benefiting those who have already benefitted. Instead of concentrating resources to help the rural Malays (the most prominent stakeholder), you’re advancing the interest of the urbanites. Urbanites become more and more complacent because they have more access to affirmative action status. So this dampens their ability to compete as the government is always there to bail them out.

What makes it worse is that in Malaysia, affirmative action is hereditary! Shocked? Yes it is, and you know it. The father who benefited from affirmative action would ensure that his son would go through the same process. If the father was in ITM, the son would be in ITM (or UiTM) because he can, and it’s cheap. The education fees can be channelled to renovating a house or to build a swimming pool. Or, maybe buy another house with the discount in housing for bumiputeras. What is worse is that a father might have strings (or cables) to pull to ensure that his kids can get a government scholarship to study overseas. Even if you are a smart kid, if your father can afford it, that scholarship is supposed to go to a smart, poor kid. It is presumed that if your father benefited from affirmative action, he can subsidise your tertiary education. This creates a vicious cycle where even when an urban Malay is rich, he would still be dependent on the government because he can, and it is more convenient to do so. As resources are finite, the more deserving rural kid would be deprived of his opportunities to succeed.

As such, the subsidy mentality, the fear of competition and the theft of opportunities prevails among us and prevent the noble goal of equality. The government has given everything to assist you to succeed, yet you still require crutches to thrive in the real world. What I’m saying is just a stark reality that we see in our everyday lives.

Next: Part 3 – Where Are We Heading?

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 intervarsity 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.

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.

4 replies on “Affirmative Action (Part 2): The Value Of Affirmative Action”

  1. Batu 5 its true that things arent like good old days but we can make a change out of it. Mixing around makes me realize that more and more Malays are against this unequal treatment to the other race especially those education system. I have a Malay friend who told me that a lot of his UITM classmates are from rich or of the class of upper middle. This looses the idea of affirmative action as UITM are a subsidize gov uni that is meant for the poors.

    However the other race especially the chinese are partly to be blame as Chinese are always with the mentality of "lets not get ourselves into trouble" this kind of mentality allows the UMNO or more specifically the BNS to take advantage of the situation in ensuring of the special privilege being of a right. However being a chinese i can understand this kind of mentality as May 13 was a blow to most chinese of fear of the killings.

    For us to stop this kind of BN or UMNO control go on and to ensure racial unity among the Malaysia. (we are all Malaysians yes our grandparents might be from china or india but being born in Malaysia makes us a Malaysian. When we go out people don consider us as chinese malay or indian or whatever race. Ppl see us as MALAYSIAN just like in Olympics where Dato Lee Chong Wei got a silver medal for Malaysia, ppl don say "oh that chinese won a silver, ppl say that MALAYSIAN won a silver medal") Batu 5 its time for all of us to stand up regardless of race. We stand up for us being a Malaysian for want of equality among everyone and not let the dominant dominate this country anymore.

  2. Hi everyone,

    Your Part 2 discourse clearly shows that UMNO, especially UMNO Baru, has hijacked the NEP to divide the Malays/Bumiputras into UMNO elitist, other UMNO members and the non-UMNO Malays. At first it may be coincidental, but later it is with intent in the enrichment of UMNOputras, the elitist, at the expense of the other Malays, UMNO members and non-members! Hence, the UMNO elitists are very vocal against people who have the gall to suggest that the 5 – 10% discount on properties above RM500 000 be done away with to cross-subsidise 'lesser' properties purchased by 'poorer' Malays!

    To these elitists, the special positions of Article 153 is now considered to be the birth-rights of the UMNOputras, and the other Malays are not really benefitting from the affirmative action! Affirmative action has benefitted the UMNOputras and is continuing to enrich and benefit the UMNOputras! In the process, their cronies in BN also derive benefits at the expense of the rakyat (Malays included!).

  3. Hello tan, tanjong bungah and everyone,

    Thanks for the comment. Though crony capitalism was not the intention of this article, I must admit and cannot deny that it occurs.

    When a government expands its roles and assumes the ‘big government’ position, naturally, it has more responsibilities. The intentions of the framers of the Federal Constitution on Article 153 was pure. So was the intention of the policy-makers of the NEP. However, the tendency for abuse is also high due to the big responsibilities.With a lack of enforcement on corruption and the lack of independence of the Anti-corruption commission, corruption thrives.

    It’s sad to see that those who needs these provisions (the rural folks) are deprived from it. And an easy ticket to be rich is to join a political party. Haih. Things aren’t like the good old days when we first achieved independence.

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