Subdivide Bumiputera entitlements to warp speed the catch-up

MAY 2 — The self-appointed defenders of race and religion claim they incessantly work overtime to elevate the Malay race to parity in an unforgiving world.

Incredulities aside, the arguments are versions of fusions of two elements: to protect constitutional rights in the face of the migrant hordes with the temerity to challenge them; and their sacred responsibility to ensure the community is not left behind.

In Labour Day solidarity, I’ve decided to roll up my sleeves and give them a hand. Or at least proffer a correction.

Which is?

Allow prosperous Malays to opt out of all state-engineered benefits.

Let’s be clear: the proposal retains Malay/Bumiputera dispensations, it only allows Malays with wealth to forfeit their share of bounty in order to increase opportunities for other Malays not as lucky as them. To voluntarily remove themselves from the beneficiaries’ list.

For example, factor this to the new “up the total but keep the ratio” policy for matriculation admission. As such, the ministry still retains the 90 per cent admission for Bumiputeras, however it won’t consider all Bumiputeras for the spots as the privileged have voluntarily withdrawn.

The basic premise being, the affluent can opt out and permit the disadvantaged Malays/Bumiputeras to move up the queue.

After all, Gabungan Pelajar-Pelajar Melayu Semenanjung (GPMS) president Alif Anas Md Noor did say Bumiputera students require another decade at least to catch up with their non-Bumiputera peers. Alif failed to mention not all Bumiputeras needed to catch up. The majority of Bumiputeras yes, but not the Bumiputera elite.

Perhaps if these richer Malays bar themselves, the most wanting Malays/Bumiputeras benefit quicker, therefore the catch-up is sped up.

I mean, Malay Brahmins do not need Universiti Teknologi Mara’s premier programmes like law, so deprived Bumiputeras can substitute them. Same goes for government-sponsored foreign degrees. 

Statistically, families rise when they have their first graduate, a breaking the glass ceiling moment. So, if offspring from foreign-graduated parents opt out then poorer Bumiputera applicants with no uncle or auntie lawyers and doctors improve radically their chances to rewrite their families’ histories.

The elites can pay their own pay to Oxford.

Meanwhile, these new Bumiputera graduates lift whole families from PPRs (low-cost flats) to the stratosphere.

Surely, that’s apex social engineering.

Principal approach

Two terms demand further exploration to avoid misconceptions: what is voluntary retraction of rights and how to distinguish Malays by their economic stature?

For example, these days both the Mahathir clan and Najib clan are in a public spat, while the Hussein Onn clan watch on — like son, Hishammuddin Hussein, the former Umno vice-president.

While the ups and downs of power and family ties effortlessly draw interest and produce memes, the characters — bruised as they may be — are not poor. The children or grandchildren float in Nirvana on earth: attend good schools, enjoy great neighbourhoods, use English at home and have college funds.

And Christmas holidays.

They experience none of the setbacks outlined by Mahathir Mohamad in The Malay Dilemma, and therefore should really step back and let others have a go in their stead.

It won’t be limited to only political dynasties with extended family deeply entrenched in business. Industry captains, exporters and contractors, for instance, can opt in.

Individuals self assess and volunteer-in. The names enter a register.

How the register applies to education applications, business grants, contract awards and other disbursements in actuality has to be developed further, but the principal objective is clear.

Those who enter are still Bumiputeras, but they are conscientious Bumiputeras who know their cup runneth over a bit too much and don’t want to drown in the shame of over-entitlement.

Open the tap for the rest first, they say. For this altruism they can be called the Independent Bumiputera, a class of people who can hack it on their own. And now choose to do so.

Of course, the overall Bumiputera benefits are all encompassing and far more substantial than just matriculation admissions. Which also renders the proposal far more valuable even if there are various areas of contention.

Like promotions in the civil service would be unaffected, but IPOs should naturally be.

Presently, X amount of new listings are set aside for Bumiputeras. With Independent Bumiputera excluded by choice, other modest-earning Bumiputeras can own equity in the stock exchange. 

Issues of affordability must be factored via possible flexible financing. Then perhaps the elusive dream of 30 per cent ownership of Bursa would not only be numerical but actually advantageous to the larger Malay population.

Social mobility is associated with equity, as capital enables wealth creation. This is the right wingers’ constant argument, however the ideal’s true worth is about who benefits, the poorer Malays with little experience with capital or richer Malays who pile this capital on top of the capital they already possess?

What next?

Housing. The independent Bumiputera do not require any discounts to buy their RM5 million townhouses, and therefore should be able to pass the savings to Bumiputeras who buy medium- and low-cost housing. 

The total discounts for poorer Bumiputeras can be upped if the savings can be transferred from the luxury homes.

Independent Bumiputera

Is it mad to opt out of wealth?

The question is flawed. Reword it.

Should those extensively wealthy still require state support?

Billionaires like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg do one better, they give up a portion of their accrued wealth. It begins to embarrass to have too much.  

There is self-interest in this too for our local actors. For decades so many Bumiputera champions are doubted because they’ve received the state’s largesse. 

By listing as independents, they can push on and not have their successes tainted as a product of the Malay card indefinitely.

Again, the whole process will be voluntary. If millionaire Bumiputera entrepreneurs still rely on race-exclusive leg-ups to stay up, there would be serious questions about their wealth sustainability and even extends to questions about the quality of their wealth.

Only Bumiputera

Any proposals to alter Bumiputera arrangements prompt right wingers to suggest a non-Bumiputera putsch. This request has zero benefits for non-Bumiputeras in the short term, so no self-interest arguments. 

Right wingers usually ignore practicality and instead shout about communal fragilities to avoid change or valid arguments. They don’t get their convenient bogeyman this time.

This is about rationalising the Bumiputera programme for the Bumiputeras.

In the long term, all Malaysians gain when most of the assistance to Bumiputeras uplift many without growing the inequal wealth distribution.

It can answer in part why affirmative action in Malaysia has not quite closed the gap.

It merits consideration, serious consideration.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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