KUALA LUMPUR, June 3 — Faced with backlash and labelled “racist”, Education Minister Maszlee Malik today defended his remarks about the Chinese community during a town hall session in Universiti Sains Malaysia several weeks ago.
In an interview published in New Straits Times today, the minister explained that he was only responding to questions posed to him over the recently increased matriculation system quota, and denied generalising that there were no Chinese in the bottom 40 percentile of the country’s income-earners, also known as the B40 group.
“The students were dissatisfied that I said the Chinese are well-to-do and they felt that I was generalising and denying there weren’t any Chinese people in the B40 group. I did not mean that.
“To help make this right came the idea of shared prosperity from the prime minister, where all assistance would be given to the B40 group, regardless of their race and background.
“But people refused to see that, and sensationalised the part where I said the Chinese are all rich,” he was quoted as saying.
Maszlee also defended his remarks during the same town hall session about an imbalance in the working world if job opportunities are restricted to one’s ability to converse in Mandarin, which also drew criticism.
“This exists and it isn’t something new.
“Since this was taken out of context, the only thing people could see was that I am racist. In fact, I was labelled an ultra-racist Malay,” Maszlee was quoted as saying.
The PPBM politician drew brickbats again for his comments at the town hall over statements related to the matriculation quota system that was recently increased from 25,000 to 40,000 students per intake.
Criticism flew after the government’s decision to maintain the 90:10 matriculation ratio in favour of Bumiputera students, with Maszlee saying the 4,000 slots offered to non-Bumiputera students was a move never taken by the previous government.
In the NST interview today, Maszlee admitted that student interracial integration is at an all-time low and said more effort is needed to promote camaraderie.
He noted that students with shared interests like online games and sports integrated better and suggested that having extracurricular activities would increase mingling among the different races.
The minister also said that doing away with vernacular and special schools would be ideal but was tricky to implement.
“This is a hot potato, but to have a single stream school system would be the ideal situation.
“But then again, you have to admit that vernacular schools have been there for more than a century.
"Changing this is not impossible, but cannot be done in a short period. A lot of work needs to be done,” he said.
However, he said his current priorities are to encourage greater interracial and intercultural understanding and tolerance, adding that he wishes for a “Malaysian first” perception rather than their respective racial or ethnic background.