By Shanti Ayadurai
HOW different is the 12th Malaysia Plan tabled by Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob at the Parliament recently from the previous plans?
While there were many good strategies outlined in the plan – themed Keluarga Malaysia (Malaysian Family): Prosperous, Inclusive, Sustainable – to help all Malaysians recover from the Covid-19 pandemic and the consequent economic impact and become a high-income nation by 2030, there were also some of the same tired, tried-and-failed policies that would have been better off replaced by strategies aimed at heralding a truly united and stronger new chapter in the lives of all Malaysians.
The major bone of contention for many factions following the announcement has been the continued exalted positioning for bumiputeras, with the same underlying reasoning – that the agenda of a 30% equity holding in the country has not been met, the income disparity between the Malays and Chinese has widened and Malays are yet to be on par with other races.
This, after more than 60 years of putting the bumiputera agenda in all the national economic plans since 1970.
Leaving aside the elusive 30% equity share, hasn’t the last 60 years gone by with the continued empowerment and fortification of the bumiputeras, particularly the Malay Muslims, in almost all sectors of the country?
An honest review must be made of all the benefits and positive outcomes that have taken place for bumiputeras, particularly in Peninsular Malaysia. The bumiputeras mired in poverty in Sabah and Sarawak is another story and if any average national figures are to be drawn to indicate poverty levels, employment in civil service, equity ownership, assets ownership of bumiputeras as a whole, they should not include the Sabah and Sarawak components. The results will not be accurate as there are vast differences in the progress made by bumiputeras in the peninsula and Sabah and Sarawak.
What have been the advances made since the first national plan that was engineered and aimed, justifiably, at correcting the imbalance in the economies of the people of Malaysia in 1970 following the May 13 incident. The Malays were still backward economically and were not in the forefront of the country’s growing economic sectors and various incentives were given to help them raise their standard of living.
Pensionable civil servants
More than 90% of civil servants are Malays. There are roughly about 1.7 million government personnel in total. From salaries ranging from RM2,000 plus benefits for the lower rung to superscale salaries amounting to more than RM10,000 a month, the employees are also paid other allowances, such as housing and COLA benefits. During the pandemic last year and this year, their income has been assured, rain or shine, unlike those in the private sector.
Many of them are also deployed in Sabah and Sarawak, with locals there making up the remaining numbers.
Top posts in almost all ministries, government agencies and quasi-government bodies are occupied by Malays. Certain posts remain elusive to other Malaysians. When was the last time the Inspector-General of Police was a non-bumiputera?
A thriving Malay middle class
Without a doubt, there are still many Malays and Sabah and Sarawak bumiputeras still in the lower income category like the rest of Malaysians, but in the last 60 years, a strong middle class, upper middle class, and super rich Malay society has been established firmly.
Thousands of Malay students were sent overseas for studies, returning to occupy top posts in the country, both in government-linked companies as well as in the civil service.
The economic status of the bumiputeras who have been enriched over the years is easily seen at some upmarket shopping centres, where the crowd is mostly Malays with high spending power. Sometimes this is even reflected by the lines of luxury cars parked on the roads next to mosques during Friday prayers.
While bumiputera and non-bumiputera government servants’ perks include housing loans and car loans at competitive rates, government quarters, and regular salaries, the general bumiputera also enjoys special discounts on house prices, while their children are in the lead for scholarships, exclusive residential schools, quotas in public universities and so on.
Perhaps this is what DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng had in mind when he alluded to misinformation in the 12th Malaysia Plan trying to explain a disparity in income between Malay and Chinese households.
Unlike what had been said by the prime minister that the inequality between the two groups is widening, Lim said bumiputera income had actually grown significantly faster in recent years.
“The median Chinese household income in 1989 was RM1,180 while it was RM680 for the bumiputeras, a difference of RM500.
“In 2019, the corresponding figures were RM7,400 for Chinese households and RM5,400 for bumiputera households, the difference being RM2,000.
“While the absolute difference had increased four times, bumiputera household income had actually grown significantly faster,” Lim said.
Almost all housing estates in the city have a bumiputera quota. These units cannot be resold to non-bumiputeras. Then there are housing estates in some states where the residents are exclusively Malays. These do not include public housing quarters occupied by government servants until they retire with a pension.
There is also Malay reserve land, housing schemes only for bumiputeras, and the list goes on.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong in the progress made by the community in the last 60 years. But it opens up the question – what more? Sixty years of economic plans gone wrong? What exactly went wrong and where have all the billions allocated for the well-being of Malay bumiputeras gone? Only a minority of them seem to have gained economically and this disparity between the rich bumiputeras and poor bumiputeras is so much higher than that between a bumiputera and a non-bumiputera.
Malay corporate society and government-linked companies
The Federal Land Development Authority (Felda) was established in 1956 to handle the resettlement of rural Malay poor into newly developed areas to develop smallholder farms growing cash crops. It has grown into an international corporation with its beneficiaries being bumiputeras.
Perbadanan Nasional Bhd (Pernas) was established in November 1969 as a wholly owned government company to carry out the resolutions at the Second Bumiputera Economic Congress. Among the major shareholders were Malaysia’s Ministry of Finance, Bank Negara Malaysia and Bank Bumiputera Malaysia Berhad.
It was established on the premise that there was poor and very low participation of bumiputeras in the private sector and industries at that time, Pernas’ principle mission was to undertake ventures that will bring high economic returns.
It was to also enter into joint ventures as a majority shareholder with controlling interest over operations.
Bumiputeras were to be employed at all levels of operations and undertakings even if it was opened to engaging experts in various fields, from operations to planning.
There were eight subsidiaries to achieve the objective – Malaysia National Insurance Berhad (MNI), Pernas Construction Sdn Bhd, Pernas Engineering Sdn Bhd, Pernas Securities Sdn Bhd, Pernas Mining Sdn Bhd and Pernas Edar Sdn Bhd.
There was also the acquisition of plantation biggies like Sime Darby, Guthrie, Highland and Lowland, as well as banks under its wing, Maybank, and also hotel group Pernas International Hotels and Properties.
Minus a scandal or two, almost all successful companies were passed to Permodalan Nasional Bhd, another government-linked company, under which Amanah Saham Nasional operates.
Some of the successful Pernas companies were also passed to Lembaga Tabung Haji, another GLC.
No doubt, some of the economic plans have shown results, but some plans have failed but the assessments of these failures have not been satisfactorily addressed.
The successful ones like Amanah Saham Nasional, which offers good dividends to bumiputeras, should be commended for good management, but what about other bumiputera companies that have failed or were bailed out with taxpayer money?
What about Perwaja Steel that reportedly lost RM10 billion due to misappropriation? It was set up to push industrialisation involving bumiputera participation, but it was a failure. What about the first banking scandal of Malaysia, Bank Bumiputra Malaysia Bhd, which had been set up also with the bumiputera agenda in mind.
The planners must study why these entities failed and also look at all the successes and track how much of the tangible benefits have been passed on to the masses, particularly the bumiputeras in the urban and rural areas who are still struggling.
The accounting must be done instead of pushing further archaic excuses of racial “parity”. If the whole idea of national economic planning is to put everyone on the same footing, then it must be so. No less. The poor, regardless of race and religion, must be assisted equally. No other agenda based on race should be there.
Many higher learning educational institutions cater for Malays and bumiputeras alone. There are also exclusive residential schools for bumiputeras, while there are higher quotas for Malays in public universities. Several fields also have restricted intake of non-bumiputeras. Until recently, batches of bumiputera students were sent overseas for higher studies.
With all these achievements from the New Economic Policy and successive Malaysia plans for the bumiputeras in Malaysia, could the 12th Malaysia Plan have been more innovative, truly inclusive and taken a break from the bumiputera agenda to make it truly a family affair, where all members of Keluarga Malaysia get a piece of the economic pie to fight an enemy still very much present in our midst – the Covid-19?
Edited by Melissa Duis