PETALING JAYA: Experts have called for affirmative action in education to remain in any review of the New Economic Policy (NEP) but urged the Government to learn from past mistakes when helping businesses.
Prof Dr Edmund Terence Gomez of Universiti Malaya’s Faculty of Economics and Administration said the NEP’s approach of giving bumiputra children access to better education has been a success story in slashing poverty and creating a vibrant middle class in the country.
The Government did this by setting up residential schools such as the Mara Junior Science Colleges to benefit bright bumiputra children from poor families.
Deserving students were also given scholarships to further their studies in local and foreign universities, he said.
“Affirmative action in education works. It should thus be expanded to target all the poor regardless of ethnicity. Inevitably, this approach will also benefit the poor among the bumiputra,” said Dr Gomez when asked on the Government’s move to review the NEP.
Dr Gomez said Malaysia’s affirmative action has, however, been a “monumental failure” when it comes to helping the community’s businessmen.
He noted that bumiputras are still woefully under-represented in the majority ownership of the top 50 public-listed companies in Malaysia, even after 47 years of the NEP and its successor policies.
“We still have hardly any bumiputra who are major shareholders in leading companies. That itself shows we need a review to avoid past mistakes,” he said.
Dr Gomez said the Government should continue to nurture domestic firms through vendor development, industrial linkages and global supply programmes.
However, these programmes should target competent entrepreneurs and businessmen regardless of ethnicity.
“My primary concern is we should not have policies based on race. The time for that has long passed now,” said Dr Gomez.
The Malay Consultative Council (MPM) secretary-general Datuk Dr Hasan Mad urged the Government to identify weaknesses in its affirmative action policy and improve it.
“Despite the pressures and challenges of globalisation, we are not ready for a free market and government intervention is still needed,” said Dr Hasan.
He suggested that the Government, instead of implementing a “carve out” policy whereby a portion of contracts in a project is set aside for bumiputra, consider implementing a “handicap” system instead.
This, he said, will benefit bumiputra companies that qualify for projects but are not as “competitive” as other bidders.
Citing an example, Dr Hasan said a bumiputra company that meets the requirements for a project may lose to a non-bumiputra competitor that has better finances and access to raw materials.
Such bumiputra companies should therefore be given a “handicap” when bidding for projects, he added.
Dr Hasan also suggested that government-linked companies and government-linked investment companies increase their focus on creating more business opportunities for the bumiputra and create more opportunities for the community to own equity.
Asli Centre of Public Policy Studies chairman Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam said the planned review should be meant for all Malaysians, based on need and not race.
He said NEP had unfortunately and regretfully, caused much national division, disparities and disunity not only between races but also within the bumiputra/Malay and other races and minority groups.