Dump the NEP
MARCH 13 — In 1970, Bumiputras held 1.5 per cent of the country’s wealth. Today they hold 19 per cent, out of which 16 per cent is held by trust institutions and funds.
This means that over the life of the NEP, despite everything, individual Bumiputra wealth has grown from 1.5 to 3 per cent.
Hardly anything to be proud of. And what has been the costs of this meagre achievement?
Well there is of course the actual cost of making all of these opportunities available in the first place, whether in relation to business and entrepreneurship, education and scholarships, concessions, discounts, pink-slips, property ownership, etc. But that is not all.
Think of the cost to the country for retaining a feudalistic patronage based system that enlarges the socio-economic divide between rich and poor, because the former are the ones who mostly profit from this arrangement.
Think of the sickening and crippling effect that Ketuanan Melayu has had on the mentality and attitudes of many Malays who are conditioned to be dependent on crutches and to embrace short-termism, and who now struggle with issues of self-confidence and self-reliance in a challenging global market place.
What about the cost of having countless businessmen (many of whom were Malays, I might add) who have been wiped out, not by non-Malay competition, but by other Malay businessmen who so happens to have the right ‘connections’ to those in power and pedigree. What about the costs associated with having hundreds of thousands of Malay graduates who have a degree but can’t get good jobs because their qualifications have no market or industry value.
All of these things have a cost to the Malays and everyone in Malaysia.
Let’s not forget the costs associated with the fact that millions of poor and needy non-Malay Malaysians have had no effective social welfare net to rely on so that they remain in squalor. Think also of the costs associated with how disunited we as are, by splitting society into those who are ‘princes of the soil’, and those who aren’t.
We would need to add to this, the costs of having weakened and ineffective institutions of government, across all of its branches, whether it is the legislature, the judiciary or the executive. That would of course include the costs of a bloated and inefficient government beauracracy which has had to absorb countless numbers of Malay graduates that might not find employment elsewhere.
We would also need to take account of the substandard education that our children are getting, and the cost that propaganda and brainwashing has had on making Malays inept to take on the challenges to survive in a meritocratic environment.
The total costs of the NEP would also need to include the very high cost of bailouts and fixing things that have gone wrong because of misused opportunities.
What about the cost of market distortions from lost productivity and competitiveness when competing for business, talent and foreign direct investment and the consequential cost (including for example, brain drain) that follows?
And what of the cost of corruption, that is a necessary bi-product of maintaining a system that lives off of patronage? All these costs must be computed and added to the total NEP bill.
If you try to monetize the aggregate cost of the NEP (or whatever its current incarnation is called), it must run into the hundreds of billions of ringgits, if not more. The NEP has cost the country a mountain of money, and its achievements are at best shoddy and patchy, especially for the Malays themselves.
On top of that, it has created a warped sense of values that are totally inconsistent with universal and Islamic values. With depleted financial resources not being replaced, the socio-economic landscape not changing in the way it was intended, and value systems remaining warped, it is only a matter of time before we become like Zimbabwe.
And there are those who have the audacity to ask that it remains in place?
It’s time to dump the NEP. But that’s not to say that we no longer need affirmative action programmes. We do. But we need these programmes to undergo a ‘game-changing’ re-design to become much more effective.
For the sake of the Malays and everyone else. And to do this we need to take some bold changes.
Firstly, affirmative action programmes must be designed to benefit those who need such support across all races. By definition this means that those who can now stand on their own two feet to realise the opportunity being offered, regardless of what race they are, must be excluded.
But determining who needs what support must however take account, not just of how smart, how financially needy, and how hard working the person seeking such support is, but his/her background and social circumstances. The more such a person is unaccustomed to the rigours of operating in a free market, the more deserving should he be of the programme.
The more that help offered to him is likely to have a major positive impact on him and those around him, the more deserving should he be of the program.
Secondly, the programme cannot be limited to giving opportunities alone. It needs to deliver a life-transforming behavioural change. It needs the beneficiary to come away from having being given this opportunity with the willingness to embrace the challenges of an open and competitive society. This is true whether it relates to opening or building a new business, furthering his education, or sharpening his professional skills.
Finally such programmes must be run professionally, independently and free from political interference. The programmes must not be run by those who are beholden to any set of political beliefs or party system. This is because that would create an irreconcilable conflict of interest as a result of which the program will suffer from the ill effects of poor governance, as has been the case with the NEP.
By developing colour-blind affirmative action programmes along this philosophy, you immediately remove the notion that opportunities are associated with the race to which you belong, even though the bulk of the beneficiaries, given the demographics and their social condition, are likely to still be Malays anyway. A beneficiary is given this break, not because it is his right, but because he is proven to have a need, and society desires to help him meet that need, both for his own sake and for the sake of society itself.
And because of this, the beneficiary is less likely to abuse this gift.
In addition, you remove from the potential list of beneficiaries, anyone that ought to be able to get on without any crutches. By having these programmes run independently and professionally, you also stop rewarding those who are linked to a party or a leader with opportunities.
It is this group that is the biggest strain on the system. It is this group’s greed that keeps elitism and cronyism alive and kicking. We need to stop letting this lot drain the system. By doing so, all the wonton wastage can be put to better use where it is really needed.
Focus on those that are disadvantaged, and leave those who have their own means to get on to compete on their own two feet. With such a shift in emphasis, we are more likely to sustain such effective social engineering programmes over a much longer time horizon, focus on alleviating the conditions of those who are in the most need for help (the bulk of whom, as I said, will remain the Malays), whilst creating a society that is built on the sharing of common universal values of integrity, hard work, respect, tolerance, and compassion.
The only thing that is preventing the above approach from being supported and succeeding is the middle-class Malay’s fear of failure, and the voices of the ultra-Malays.
To the latter I say, we must quell them for being criminally or recklessly irresponsible and ignorant. They are the ones who are causing the Malays to remain backward. To the former I can only quote FDR’s saying, ‘The only thing we have to fear is Fear itself’.
If we can overcome this fear, then God-willing, we can deliver our own salvation and turn this country around to fulfil all of its promises, for everyone.
If you wish to contribute your ideas on how we can help develop a Malay mindset that is built on universal and Islamic values, without having to rely on any concept of Malay supremacy or dominance, or Ketuanan Melayu, or you support this objective, please join and participate in the Facebook Group Tabung Idea Mengukuh Martabat Melayu.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.