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Solve poverty based on need not race

April 21, 2017

Any policy based on “race” is seriously flawed and questionable since every ethnic community has its rich elite and its poorer majority.

COMMENT

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By Kua Kia Soong

With the approaching 14th general election, the BN government has decided to launch a new initiative “to champion the cause of the Indian community” with a national blueprint to address the plight of Malaysian Indians. Obviously, the wealthy businessmen and professionals in the Indian community do not need any state assistance but the estimated 695,030 Malaysian Indians in the B40 category or bottom 40% of households with a monthly income of up to RM3,855 do. We are told that some 139,010 Indian families live in 38 districts in nine states with a household income of less than RM2,537 a month.

After nearly sixty years of Independence and the countless lip service initiatives to “1Malaysia”, the Government needs to confront these crucial questions:

  1. Why is the problem faced by these Malaysian Indians in B40 category posed in terms of their “race” rather than by the needs of the sector or income level so that all Malaysians in the same B40 category can benefit equally?
  2. Will there be other “new initiatives” to champion the cause of the B40 category Chinese, indigenous peoples and “others” before the 14th general election?
  3. What happened to the initiative by Hindraf that was accepted by the Prime Minister during the last (13th) general election since its obvious failure can be instructive for this new initiative for the Indian community?

Racial policies hide privileges for the well-connected

Like the race-based Bumiputera policy that has been in place since 1971, this new race-based initiative ostensibly to help the B40 Indians will invariably contain benefits for the well-connected elite of the Malaysian Indian community. This is clear from the news report that Malaysian Associated Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry president Tan Sri Kenneth Eswaran said the body had provided key input on the socio-economic part: “This blueprint will enable the Malaysian Indian community and businesses to raise their competitiveness and be an integral part of the Malaysian economy, which is increasingly becoming more globalised and knowledge intensive.”

Any policy based on “race” is seriously flawed and questionable since every ethnic community has its rich elite and its poorer majority. After more than 45 years, the race-based New Economic Policy has mainly benefited the crony capitalists of UMNO as well as their non-Malay capitalist partners. The class cohesion among the Malaysian ruling elite of various ethnic origins underpins the racial politics that have characterised Malaysian society since Independence. The NEP was supposed to run from 1971 to 1990 but special “Bumiputera” privileges for the elite and their populist appeal have ensured that the NEP has become the “Never Ending Policy”. It transformed into The National Development Plan which ran from 1991 to 2000; the National Vision Policy traversing 2001 to 2010, and under Najib, it has become The National Transformation Policy.

Now it looks like this “Bumiputera policy” is going to be with us for a very long time for the Prime Minister has just given us the latest hint when he said that “the progress of the Bumiputra community is not just measured by equity ownership…Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak listed education, health, success in business and assets as important criteria… We want to see the Bumiputra become top scientists and world-class athletes, and be famous in other spheres…”

Clearly these racial discriminatory policies have not succeeded in encouraging the “entrepreneurial spirit” among Bumiputeras when they have access to get-rich-quick schemes through rent seeking. On the contrary, the culture of cronyism has been a hallmark of this race-based policy.

Racism obscures class exploitation

The ostensible justification to “correct the racial imbalance” in the economy purposefully obscures the relations of class exploitation by portraying poverty and inequality as a product of unequal distribution between the “races”.

The main victims of racism and racial discrimination in Malaysia are the non-Bumiputera working class especially the ethnic Indians, the indigenous peoples of East and West Malaysia, and migrant workers. The non-Bumiputera working class and the Orang Asli have no access to affirmative action benefits since they are not classified as “princes of the earth”, while the indigenous peoples of East Malaysia do not enjoy the same privileges as the Malays in the peninsula even though they are considered Bumiputeras. Migrant workers are treated as mere commodities or even vermin that have to be periodically “flushed out” when it suits the state.

A New Race-Free Policy based on Need

In Malaysia, since the passing of the deadline for the NEP in 1990, it makes developmental sense to implement a new socially just policy that is race-free and based on need or sector. Thus, if Malays are predominantly in the rural agricultural sector, the poor Malay farmers would be eligible to benefit from such a needs-based policy while the rich Malay land-owning class would not. Likewise, all Malaysians in the B40 category can receive state assistance while those in the upper echelon would not. It is time that the poorest sector, the Orang Asli are given proper care and attention to protect their rights to native customary land and to raise their standard of living. Only such a race-free policy can convince the people that the government is socially just, fair and democratic and we can advance as a nation.

More potentially dangerous and insidious is the effect this widespread racial discrimination has had on ethnic relations in this country. Unity can only be promoted through a new policy based on need, sector or income level, never on race.

The world community outlaws racism & racial discrimination

The world community reaffirmed at the World Conference against Racism and Racial Discrimination at Durban in 2001 that “nationality” is a legal relationship denoting membership of a nation or sovereign state. It implies duties of allegiance on the part of the individual as well as of protection on the part of the state. Nationality is regarded as an inalienable right of every person in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, 1948.

The status of nationality and citizenship has the crucial implication that every citizen is equal in the eyes of the law. It does not matter in the least whether citizens have been recently naturalised, or that their forefathers came here centuries ago. This is provided for in our Federal Constitution (our “social contract”?) when we became independent in 1957.

After so many years since Independence, it is time we ponder these words by Martin Luther King, Jr:

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.”

Kua Kia Soong is the advisor of SUARAM (Suara Rakyat Malaysia).

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