Responding to criticisms of the NEP ― Na'im Brundage

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SEPTEMBER 11 ― The New Economic Policy or commonly known as NEP that was coined in the aftermath of the 1969 racial riot to eradicate poverty and eliminate the identification of race by economic function has all but ended.

It has ended for three decades as the New Economic Policy had an expiry date of 1990.

The NEP has since been replaced by the National Development Policy (1991-2000), the National Vision Policy (2001-2010), Vision 2020 (2011-2020), and Shared Prosperity Vision 2030 (2021-2030).

What is commonly referred to as the NEP in mainstream dialogue then is not the NEP, but essentially the policies of affirmative actions that favour the Bumiputera over other ethnic communities in the country.

To those who are unfamiliar with the term, Bumiputera is a term used to describe Malays, the indigenous peoples of Peninsular Malaysia, and the various indigenous peoples of East Malaysia.


1. The affirmative action policies are only benefitting rich Bumiputera at the expense of poor Bumiputera.

This argument does not stand under scrutiny as the affirmative action favouring the Bumiputera has been proven to be successful at alleviating a large portion of Bumiputera from poverty.

The overall poverty rate for Bumiputera went from 52 per cent in the 1970s to the lowest of five per cent in 2004.

On benefitting the rich Bumiputera claim, it can be argued that whatever benefits enjoyed by the rich Bumiputera were still not enough for the entire Bumiputera community to meet the 30 per cent equity ownership target of the NEP.

Even if the rich Bumiputera is getting richer, the total share of equity ownership among all Bumiputera still stands at a measly rate of 16.2 per cent despite them forming 69 per cent of the total population in the country.

On this point, it is worth noting that affirmative action was successful in increasing the economic participation of the Bumiputera community to at least a certain degree.

The total amount of equity held by Bumiputera was 2.4 per cent in the 1970s and has increased to reach its peak at 23.5 per cent in 2011. That is only 6.5 per cent away from reaching the NEP's Bumiputera equity target of 30 per cent.

2. The equity ownership of Bumiputera is underrepresented as it did not take into account GLCs are predominantly controlled by Bumiputera.

This argument is also flawed as albeit the GLCs indeed have vast control of the Malaysian economy, it is mostly comprised of State-Owned Enterprises.

As such the ownership of the equities of these entities lies with the government and not with any individual Bumiputera. This argument also made the case against itself as it admitted that the economic participation of the Bumiputera is dangerously low despite the economic assistance of the GLC to the community in terms of employment and project tenders.

It would be anyone's guess what the state of the Bumiputera economy would be if the community lost its stake in the GLCs due to any policy shift by the government.

Loss of political power among the Bumiputera can thus be directly linked with a significant detrimental effect on the Bumiputera economy, their weak foothold in the economy may just get significantly weaker.

3. The affirmative actions favouring the Bumiputera is a 'tongkat' to the Bumiputera community.

This argument is the most baseless and condescending of them all. What the “tongkat” metaphor essentially claims is that the Bumiputera are not able to stand on their own two feet as they continue to rely on affirmative action to carry the burden of their weight.

Privilege has a unique way of blinding some people's eyes to the reality of the plight of the Bumiputera community. To insinuate that the Bumiputera are not as hardworking and as capable as the other races because they relied on government assistance is clear evidence that they are ignorant of the state of the Bumiputera economy resulting from the British's divide and conquer strategy.

The Bumiputera were systematically deprived of being able to participate in the economy in a meaningful way during the British administration and the Bumiputera were left in a state of abject poverty by the time of the nation's independence.

As such the prevalence of poverty among the Bumiputera was inherited after many years of institutional economic discrimination by the British and not due to any failure or weaknesses of the Bumiputera community.

Albeit the Bumiputera community has not reached the economic goals set in the NEP, they have indeed come a long way since the 1970s.

Within the span of one generation, the affirmative action favouring the Bumiputera has led to the creation of the Bumiputera middle class and has transformed the common occupation of the Bumiputera from farmers to professionals and technical experts.

Malaysian flags are pictured in Putrajaya August 12, 2021. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Malaysian flags are pictured in Putrajaya August 12, 2021. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

Affirmative action for the Bumiputera community may have certain flaws that need to be addressed to face the challenges that the Bumiputera community currently experiences in the modern economy but the basic principles of providing economic assistance towards this community so that they may have an equal level of opportunity like the other races in the country need to be maintained and fiercely defended.

The Bumiputera community will need to work hand in hand with the other races in the country to improve its condition and reclaim the economic glory the race once had before 500 years of colonisation by the Portuguese, the British, the Japanese, and then by the British again.

The experience of five centuries of being colonised may have had a devastating impact on the Bumiputera psyche but the future of the race should not be allowed to be dictated by its past.

* Na'im Brundage is a political commentator.

 ** This is the personal opinion of the writer or organisation and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.


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