Friday, 27 August 2010

The NEP vs. the dangers of meritocracy in a multiracial Malaysia

This is a thought provoking write up in TheStar by P. GUNASEGARAM entitled "What the NEP meant and means"


We need more debate and less rhetoric in ironing out the real issues of affirmative action.

WITH all the brouhaha over Malay and non-Malay rights and the relentless rhetoric of race-based politics coming to the fore in the economic arena yet again, it is time to revisit the tenets of the original New Economic Policy (NEP) and separate fact from fiction.

Sadly, the major problem with the NEP is that the 30% equity target for Malays and other bumiputras became the very visible and de facto criterion for measurement of the very success of the NEP.

The other contentious part was quotas for all manner of things and preference given to bumiputra companies and individuals when it is related to procurements and contracts from the Government, often as a means to achieve that 30% target.

Both of these were administrative measures and targets and did not even form part of the policy aims of the NEP.

Very few people, if any, are likely to disagree that the broad twin aims of the NEP, formulated in the wake of the racial riots of 1969, were to eradicate poverty irrespective of race and to eliminate the identification of race with economic function.

The first aim, according to government figures, was very much achieved with hardcore poverty being virtually eradicated. And there have been major strides made in terms of Malays and bumiputras, and jobs with them making major inroads into all areas.

continue reading

The article in TheStar drew an immediate response from intellectual blogger Jebatmustdie in his latest post "Questioning the NEP?"


Managing Editor of The Star, P. Gunasegaram wrote an article about the NEP. Specifically, what the NEP meant to him. He called for more debate on the NEP and particularly, the real issues of the affirmative action.

He said, “major problem with the NEP is that the 30% equity target for Malays and other bumiputras became the very visible and de facto criterion for measurement of the very success of the NEP.”

I believe he had got it wrong on this one. While he was correct in saying that the objectives of the NEP are to eradicate poverty irrespective of race and to eliminate the identification of race with economic function, he was definitely wrong when he said that the measurement of NEP’s success is the quota of 30% equity target.

The quota, for those who don’t know, is stipulated in the Constitution. In fact Article 153 of the Constitution, gives the powers to the Yang DiPertuan Agong to preserve and observe a reasonable reservation of positions of the bumiputras in terms of business, educational scholarships and in the public sector. It is all there to see.

Now the Constitution said all these. But how can the Government act on this particular law?

Before NEP existed, the Government at that time did not seriously pursue the issues on poverty and the absence of economic strength of the bumiputras despite the fact that the Constitution of 1957 clearly stated the need to uphold the survival of the bumiputras.

As the result, by the year 1969, huge gaps existed among the races. The chinese, having cornered the economic pie, remain the wealthiest in the nation. Rural areas are only fit for the Malays. There were less than 2% bumi doctors at that time. Most of the Malays fell into the very low income level.

These are the disadvantages of meritocracy. In a homogeneous country, the benefits of meritocracy outweighs its disadvantages. In a multiracial country of ours, meritocracy may have serious pitfalls if it runs unchecked.

A level playing field must first be achieved if everyone have to compete on equal grounds. Thus NEP, the so called affirmative action, is developed to achieve this.

The biggest achievement of the NEP is the creation of large middle class for all races. In the 60′s, nearly 80% of the people are poor. Now, nearly 90% fall into the middle class category.

This could not have happened if the majority of the kids back in the 60′s and 70′s did not receive scholarships to further their studies. Most of the students who had the chance to pursue their studies came from wealthy family. Not surprising, most of them were chinese and a few sons and daughters of malay aristocrats. The rest, would have received government’s scholarships. But these were given on merit basis. And so, only a sprinkle of Malays got the chance to further their studies. With NEP, opportunities were given to these children to get out from the vicious cycle of poverty. Where their future was stuck to become fishermen, they now can become engineers or accountants.

Must read more

Jebatmustdie also highlighted a great post by blogger Hidup Tuah in his post of one year ago titled "Malaysia must avoid British Disease"



The Policy’s architect was the revered and greatly respected statesman in TUN HJ. ABD RAZAK HUSSEIN, our beloved second Prime Minister.

8.The policy was widely acknowledged as successful though its implementation was heavily criticized. Some of the significant achievements were drastic poverty eradication, improving income levels, bridging income gap, producing more professionals and creating the BCCI. The economy did not suffer and FDI continued to pour in.

9.The bottom line was that ALL races, including foreigners, had benefited from the said Policy. It was not ala-Robin Hood.

10.DS Najib, TS Muhyiddin, DSAI, Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim, Dato’ Zaid Ibrahim. DS Hadi Awang, Datuk Kamaruddin Jaafar, Dr Mujahit, TS Sidek (KSN), TS Ismail Adam (KPPA), DS Ong Tee Kiat, Dr Koh Tsu Koon, Dr Subramanim, Datuk Devamany, Lim Guan Eng, Gobin Singh Deo, myself and my family, to name a few, admittedly, are the products and beneficiaries of the NEP through the mechanics of distribution with growth. Hence, these beneficiaries cannot afford to be NEP- and poor-blind.

11.One thing that must be specifically mentioned in the context of this article, tho‘. It is the NEP that successfully broke the monopoly enjoyed by the products of MCKK, Penang Free School, VI, St. John, KGV and Melaka High Schools since the colonial era. They were the children of the royal and rich families. They monopolised the top posts in the legal, judiciary, police, military and the government service.

12.Thanks to Tun Razak and the NEP. One can find the children of poor farmers and fishermen occupying top positions in those sectors now, including TS Sidek, the KSN and Zaid Ibrahim who won’t become rich if not because of the NEP.

13.Unfortunately, all these socio-economic engineering efforts will probably be destroyed. The socio-economic landscape of pre-NEP period, ipso facto, will then be revisited if the present government under the leadership of DS Najib is pursuing vigorously to liberalise the economy, adopting meritocracy, practicing free competition, abolishing the quota system, prematurely diluting affirmative actions, etc in the name of rejuvenating and resuscitating the economy and globalisation.

read more of the persuasive post

And lastly a straight forward post by the Grand Old Man of Malaysia himself "IS MERITROCACY RACIST?"


8. When the Malays, understanding the implications, protest against meritocracy, they were condemned as racists. Faced with being labelled as such, most Malays dared not support even the NEP. Some, perhaps due to mistaken pride have begun to support meritocracy, undermining the Malay position further.

9. Today we see a lot of Malay NGOs trying to defend the Malay position. Invariably they have been labelled racists. The unfortunate truth is that those who labelled them are equally racists because of their advocacy of meritocracy.

13. What we are seeing today is not a campaign against racism but a campaign by racists against racists. The meritocrats are as much racists as the Malay NGOs, and Perkasa.

read the whole of Dr Mahathir's post

I am a proud product of the NEP, I am convinced that in this Malaysian multiracial environment, the call for meritocracy is nothing but a call by those who have crossed the bridge but now wants to burn the bridge so others are not able to follow or compete with them.

I agree with Jebatmustdie that "if meritocracy favors only the rich, and the rich are made up with people of the highest per capita income or comes from one racial community, then meritocracy is indeed, a racist tool disguised under the cover of a really nice concept we call ‘meritocracy‘".

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