“If life were fair, Elvis would be alive and all the impersonators would be dead.” – Talk show host, Johnny Carson
There’s a furore going on about non-Malay freight forwarding firms having to sell 51% of their equity to Malays.
It’s muted now because the government’s kicked it down the road – towards the end of next year – but, make no mistake, the ferment’s there and there’s reason for it. Do you think any Malaysian Chinese freight forwarder would happily relinquish control of a business he’s built up over a lifetime?
Even the government probably knows it’s not cricket. And it’s not. It’s the New Economic Policy, and although it’s been dolled up through two renovations – the National Development Policy in 1991 and the National Vision Policy in 2001 – it’s still very much the same old horse.
Indeed, Putrajaya didn’t even bother renaming the policy in its latest 5-year plan because, let’s face it, it’s here to stay.
The policy’s 50 years old now but it appears no nearer maturity than when it was birthed in 1971. That’s what happens when its most important prong – according to policy makers – has the grandiose aim of “restructuring” Malaysian society so that “no race can be identified with a specific economic function.” Methinks any government could compel many things under such sweeping ambition.
Unfortunately, no one remembers the policy’s second prong – the elimination of poverty, irrespective of race. And they seem to want to forget the policy’s overarching aim – national unity.
There’s a bucket of irony here. I’d submit that the policy’s implementation has been the single largest hindrance to national unity than anything else Malaysians have had to put up with.
When it was first mooted, the policy’s planners took pains to emphasise that its distributive element would always take place in a growing economy or, as they liked to say, “so long as the cake is growing.” And yet, the latest 51% bid for the freight forwarding cake was hatched during a pandemic!
The late Sanusi Junid, famously the “hatchet man” to a Dr Mahathir-run political machine, once told me it was fair because it was never about “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” In that equation, however, you could see how such a policy might always have the support of Paul.
The policy’s litmus test, its Holy Grail if you like, was for the Bumiputera to achieve a 30% share of national wealth. How the latter parameter is defined is mystifying to say the least but, over five decades, it’s now become clear that it will never be achieved. More pertinently, it was never meant to be achieved.
It was never meant to be achieved because that would mean the end of the policy. That’s anathema for Umno and the Malay right because the policy goes to the heart of Malay political dominance.
Abdullah Ahmad, another deceased Dr Mahathir confidant, spelt it out in an infamous 1986 speech he delivered in Singapore. The NEP, he declared, was “…for the protection, preservation and perpetuation” of Malay dominance.
Given that they constitute a majority, most non-Malays don’t quibble about a Malay-dominated government. But what, I ask, about Anwar Ibrahim’s excellent suggestion of a needs-based policy to replace the current one?
One doubts such a suggestion will fly. When it does not favour the Malay elite, nothing flies.
Sucker, watching a card game: “Is this a game of chance?”
W C Fields: “Not the way I play it, no.”