Affirmative action a flop, make it needs-based, says Sabah think tank chairman

Simon Sipaun says the policy is unfair to non-Malay minorities as it only benefitted the majority race of a particular religion. (Facebook pic)

KOTA KINABALU: Institute for Development Studies (IDS) Sabah chairman Simon Sipaun says the affirmative action policy is a failure as it has only benefitted the elite few and caused divisions in society.

Speaking at the Roundtable Discussion on Inclusive Governance Utilising International Standards on Non-Discrimination here, Sipaun said this was because affirmative action in Malaysia was race and religion based and not based on needs.

“It is not conducive to the creation and maintenance of genuine national unity and integration. It has become a divisive factor, defeating the objectives of the New Economic Policy (NEP), which we sometimes refer to as the ‘Never Ending Policy’,” he said.

The former Suhakam vice-chairman said the policy was unfair to non-Malay minorities as it only benefitted the majority race of a particular religion, although it involved public funds contributed by all tax-paying Malaysians irrespective of race and religion.

He also blamed the policy for triggering a brain-drain situation in Malaysia with as many as a million of mostly highly qualified Malaysians leaving the country, as reported by the World Bank in 2011.

“This has made the country less attractive to potential investors. I think that figure is much higher by now. More recently, a study showed 71% of Malaysians feel race and religion-based affirmative action is obsolete.

“Critics of the policy prefer ‘colour blind’ affirmative action targeting the poor and needy irrespective of race and religion,” he said.

Besides, he said, the policy had not produced the desired effect, with the economic gap between Malays and non-Malays continuing to exist.

He attributed this to the strong will of the non-Malays to survive under adversity and the dependency syndrome of the Malays.

He suggested the government revisit the National Human Rights Action Plan (NHRAP) which was launched by former prime minister Najib Razak last year.

“Since then, I have not heard anything about it. I am surprised no MP appears to be interested to ask questions about it in Parliament. It should be revisited to ascertain if it made any difference for the better in the promotion and protection of human rights in the country,” he said.

He also called for the creation of a new ministry called Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs.

The Aboriginal Peoples Act 1954, he said, should be repealed and the Federal Constitution amended to enable the Orang Asli to enjoy all the rights and privileges of the Malays.

“If there is any community which deserves affirmative action, it should be the Orang Asli. They are the original inhabitants of Malaya.

“Since Aug 31, 1957, I believe the government has not trained and prepared even one Orang Asli to head the department which is supposed to take care of the Orang Asli.

“After more than 61 years of Malaya’s independence, finally there is at least one Orang Asli MP. The Orang Asli are subjected to an apartheid-like system,” he said.

He proposed the repeal of all laws which empowered the government to arrest without trial. He also called for the strengthening of Suhakam by making it obligatory for Parliament to debate its annual report and for the commissioners’ term of appointment to be changed to one-term non-renewable for a period of seven years.

He proposed that human rights education be introduced in schools and institutions of higher learning.

“Democratic institutions should be strengthened, including the observance of clean, free and fair elections. Government assistance should be based on needs rather than race, religion and politics,” he concluded.