Monday, September 25, 2006

sean-the-man's NEW NEP! Is it palatable to all?

Unless you've been living in a tree, you must have seen by now the furore created by Singapore's Minister Mentor (MM) Lee Kuan Yew's comments about Chinese being marginalised in Malaysia and Indonesia. Below's the quote from the local press.

In response to a question, MM Lee said it was important for Singapore to have a government that was 'really firm, stout-hearted, subtle and resolute', noting that the attitude of Malaysia and Indonesia towards the Republic was shaped by the way they treated their own ethnic Chinese minorities.

Mr Lee said: 'My neighbours both have problems with their Chinese. They are successful, they're hard-working and therefore they are systematically marginalised, even in education.

'And they want Singapore, to put it simply, to be like their Chinese, compliant.'
Rather than debate if the Chinese are indeed compliant & marginalised or whether the Chinese are the ones marginalising the Malays (as some believe), why don't we get past all that. Head straight for a solution, rather than get bogged down debating the symptoms.

To follow up sean-the-man's solution to conflicts between Islamic and civil law in Malaysia, here's sean-the-man's solution to an equally difficult NEP (New Economic Policy).

This was actually authored in 2 posts in the Ipoh forums stemming from discussion about this subject.

Post #1:

Let me put down my thoughts. It's a long post, but this is an overwhelming issue.

>>>> 1. All Malays are poor, uneducated and have no stake in the economy. All Chinese are rich, highly educated and own the economy.


It's very true that the overwhelming % of the impoverished in our country are Malays. These are the rural folks that despite their most valiant efforts to plant crops and sell their homemade wares, they remain poor and marginalised. But there are also the Datuk Ks, Datuk Rs, the top bureaucrats & civil servants, most the CEOs, CFOs and boards of virtually all listed companies and regulatory bodies in Malaysia and of course the political & royal elite - who are all rich by any definition. And there is also a substantial Malay middle class in the West Coast cities.

And are all Chinese rich? Stop conjuring pictures of the Lim Goh Tongs and YTLs... look past that at the new villages. How many Chinese there have houses larger than Mahathir's? Admittedly, there is a considerably higher % of Chinese in the middle class. In fact the majority of Chinese are middle class, but hardly rich. At least no middle class Chinese person I know, is rich enough to own a house bigger than Mahathir's.

So, what does this mean? It means that stereotyping the problem is wrong. It's inaccurate and it does not recognise the fact that there are rich Malays who don't need any help (in fact, they should be helping others) and there are poor Chinese who do need help.

This leads to a flawed solution ie. the NEP and other 'racial' policies.

>>>> 2. The Chinese intentionally marginalise the Malays in business and employment.

Do Chinese businessmen and employers go out of their way not to do business with and hire Malays? Well, it may seem like that to some, but personally, I have NEVER, EVER seen a Chinaman who makes a bad business decision simply because he wants to deal with another Chinaman.

The thinking that the Chinaman refuses to do business with or hire a Malay is a fallacy.

The Chinese businessman is a slave to PROFIT. If there is no profit, he simply will not do business with you. But show him the profit, and he'll jump on it faster than Datuk K on Siti Norhaliza.

If you didn't get hired or didn't get the contract, there is an economic reason for it.

Since gemukkk brought up employment... let's have a look at it. What does it take to get one hired by a Chinese company?

A- technical skills - education, training and experience to actually do the job.
B- language skills - can you communicate effectively with the boss, co-workers and customers?
C- social skills - can you get along with the boss, co-workers and customers?
D- incentive - are you working to put food on the table, or are you working like you don't need money?

Take an example: A company that sells pesticide needs to hire a marketing dude. 2 applicants apply. A Malay and a Chinese. Both have the same technical skills (A) and same incentive (D)... assume for a moment that the Malay chap has a mistake on his IC and somehow doesn't qualify for any govt jobs, class F contracts or ASN/ASB. So he has as strong an incentive to put food on the table for his family.

Who will the pesticide company hire?

Actually both! The Chinese dude will be hired because he can speak Mandarin to the mainly Mandarin speaking agriculture dealers and distributors over a bottle of brandy at a Chinese restaurant.

The Malay dude will be hired because he's in his element dealing with the 100% Malay constituency at Felda, Felcra, Bernas and Jabatan Pertanian etc.

Is this fact... YES. And it illustrates the fact that business relationships are themselves are racially segregated by societal factors. It's not necessarily the intention of the Chinese business to marginalise Malays.

Is this right... NO.

Can the NEP and racial quotas solve this... sadly, NO. It actually worsens the problem because it causes the abovementioned racial segregation in the first place.

>>>> 3. OK, if it's not because I'm Malay, then what is it?

Qualification, Opportunity and Incentive.

Qualifications are A- technical skills and B- language skills.
Opportunity are B- language skills and C- social skills
Incentive is simply D- incentive.

You generally find that the impoverished rural Malay lacks Qualifications. This is the very basic element that's missing. Without it, you don't have a ticket to play. You can't get a decent job and probably won't succeed at business since nobody will give you capital. Even if you had capital, you will not be equipped to manage it well. And because he can't afford to educate his kids, they will be stuck in this spiral as well with their kids. Qualification or Education is the first thing that needs to be remedied.

Opportunity comes from society. How much opportunity do all the races have to work together? How much opportunity is there for the various races get to know one another and get a sense of common destiny? How can we detach race from our business and social practices?

A little acknowledged by-product of 49 years of 'bumi'policies and NEP is that these policies have segregated our society so badly that there is entirely no or very little opportunity for the various races to cooperate at the everyday, joe-on-the-street level.

Govt policies and propaganda has resulted in the entirely Malay civil service, a totally race-segregated schooling system, a crop of Malay companies totally dependent on govt contracts and handouts, Chinese small & medium businesses congregating in industries which remain hereto free from NEP encroachment - forming natural barriers to entry for everyone else, a totally arbitrary system of licensing, contracting and naming of key positions. Has that not engendered a deep distrust and bitterness between Malaysians of different races? Just look at the last few comments above by our forummers. Didn't those sound a little sharp to you??

Without removing race from the social, business and economic environment, Malays will still be concentrated in the civil service and 'assisted' industries. Chinese will still be in their own little strongholds. No cross hiring will occur as everybody's in their own little world. Even if there is, it will tinged with quotas and the witholding of approvals which only serves to deepen the chasm, rather than narrow the divide.

Incentive is easy. How badly do you need to learn new skills and work hard? The underlying aspect of utilising your Qualifications and grabbing Opportunities is INCENTIVE / MOTIVATION / DESIRE. Tell me, how do Proton suppliers learn anything when they know that substandard products will always be accepted because Proton can ship bad cars but cannot terminate bad suppliers? How do Class F contractors learn anything when they know that payment is assured and the next contract is always pending? Do they value the opportunity of govt aid or do they feel an entitlement to govt handouts?

>>>> 4. Then How?

At the end of the day, what's the real problem?

The poor are staying poor, and the rich are getting richer. And this basic problem is being misperceived as a racial issue by a lack of interaction / understanding between the races, and the goading of the beneficiaries of this misperception.

The solution is quite simple actually. But the barriers will be those who benefit the most from the current dire situation (who happen to be the leaders of men and captains of industry) and engrained prejudices inherent in all of us.

Just discard all the racial targets. Replace them with non-race based socio-economic targets. For example:

(a) Instead of elevating bumis indiscriminately, elevate all Malaysians above the poverty line instead.If there are many Malays lying under the poverty line, then this measure will automatically capture them. Open cheap housing, welfare aid etc to all households below the poverty line.
(b) Instead of 30% bumi shareholding, have 30% of shares allocated to households below a certain income. No nominees allowed and apply a ceiling per capita. If only low income Malaysians can buy these shares, there's no danger of any rich Chinese or Malays buying up these shares in the guise of someone poorer.
(c) Instead of 30% bumi employment, have a target that all companies in Malaysia must not employ more than 60% from a single race. Applicable to all incorporated organisations and the govt. Have large tax breaks for companies meeting or exceeding these targets. Businesses can do so if they want to keep their single-race structure intact. Accordingly, they just get taxed more.
(d) Instead of racial education quotas, have compulsory and publicly funded secondary/tertiary schooling for children in all low income households.
(e) Instead of creating a bumi middle class, create a Malaysia-wide middle class. If there are many Malays lying outside the middle class, then this measure will automatically capture them.
(f) Eliminate the creation of bumi superbusinessmen. Superentrepreneurs like Lim Goh Tong and YTL are self made. It is their internal drive and determination that enables them to continue being successful. Govt made supermen like Tajuddin, relatives of each political head honcho et al are unable to be self reliant, sucking billions of public funds.

The best things about using socio-economic means-tested targets are twofold:

(1) The rich cannot use these policies to get richer. Once they leave the socio-economic class assisted by the policies, they are no longer eligible. And it's much more difficult for the powerful to "misadminister" these policies to enrich themselves and their cronies. There will be no more millionaire Datuks getting concessions leading them to be billionaires without raising a sweat. No more bumi discounts to millionaire multiple houseowners.

(2) The crutch mentality will disappear. Once your economic status forces you to leave the ambit of the policies, you're on your own. NO FREE LUNCH once you're able. You'll have to work and earn your living just like everyone else. You lose sleep, but you gain pride and respect.
Nobody has problems helping the disadvantaged. And non-race based targets will ensure only the deserving get assistance.

I also feel the schooling system needs to be revamped to draw Malaysians closer to each other.

(a) No more venacular Chinese or Tamil schools, Malay boarding schools or MARA junior colleges.
(b) All Malaysian children attend National Schools. The Vision schools were a good idea.
(c) All subjects to be taught in BM and English.
(d) All Mandarin, Tamil and religious classes can only be taught AFTER a full day's "regular" classes and to be fully funded by the schools.
(e) Teachers and the Education Dept will be the first govt department to be revamped to make sure the composition of teachers and officials is balanced.
(f) Instead of a Higher Education and an Education Minister, there will be 3 Education Ministers of the same rank (one of each race or something to that effect) each with veto power that cannot be overwritten even by the PM, unless by a 2/3rds majority in parliament. The Party Whip does not apply to MPs when voting on education bills.

Have a read of the last part (#4) of my post above.

1. Mechanically, will that work? Will affirmative action based on a person's economic disadvantage work better than that based on race? More importantly, will it address the grievances of the Malay community at large?

2. Emotionally, will that concept appeal to fair-minded Malays like yourselves?

And if these suggestions are implemented:

The majority of the Chinese (who are middle class) will probably not see any extra benefits or change to their current situation. That's because they probably won't qualify for any help due to their current economic advantage. The poor Chinese on the other hand will see a brighter future.

The Malays will see no change or even increases in the total amount of assistance going into their community. But one huge difference will be where that assistance is going. It'll be going towards the provision of economic opportunities through education to move the lower income group to middle class. It will be going to financial aid to the impoverished to move them above the poverty line.

The objective will not be to make SELECTED Malays rich OVERNIGHT, but to enable the entire population of Malaysia, through education, to ENRICH THEMSELVES. It also conveniently eliminates the current group of politicians, businessmen and others who enjoy CRONY status (which is a status better than any bumi designation).

The target is to create a MIDDLE CLASS Malaysia. Not a Malaysia where super-rich Malays are artificially manufactured by the govt to match super-rich Chinese (who are being encouraged by the same govt... how else can they justify the continued production of super-rich Malays?).

During all this, the Malay elite work hard to maintain the economic status quo. The average Malay must remain a poor rural cousin (don't the elite need excuses to make impassioned speeches and to wave kerises around during general assemblies?). Tidbits are handed out here and there, just enough to keep them sufficiently angry at the Chinese but not boiling over.

The average Chinese, in the meantime, pays his 28% taxes and sees it all going into creating super-rich Malay businessmen and maintaining super-rich Chinese ones.

EVERYONE should be middle class. If anyone is below middle class, he should be helped to get there, regardless of race. The rich of course will try their best to stay rich (as they are wont to do), but they will have to do so on their own steam.

Chicken and egg?

When everyone are middle class (ie. comfortable and making a decent living) or are on the way to being middle class; and when they are not disadvantaged somehow simply because of the circumstances in which they were born... - I feel that the chicken and egg disappears. Add on the schooling changes that were listed, the relationship between races might just take a turn for the better.


A Voice said...

LKY is a racist with long malice intentions on the Malays and Malaysia from long ago.

Download this Waspada Malaysia article series by a former PAP activist that was published on MalaysiaKini from the following web addrress:

seantang said...

I don't see how that should affect the relationship between the Chinese and Malays in Malaysia.

If the Malays in Malaysia allow some foreigner's views and opinions to determine or colour their judgement on how their Chinese countrymen should be treated, then I say our country has no hope.

rational thinker said...

this is a very well written article/post. Can i repost it with credit? i think it deserves more exposure!

sean-the-man said...

rational thinker

Thanks for the compliment. And yeah sure, feel free to repost.