Call for fair opportunities for bumiputra in jobs and business

Time to mingle: Delegates visiting booths during a break at the Bumiputra Economic Congress 2024 in Putrajaya yesterday. — RAJA FAISAL HISHAN/The Star

PUTRAJAYA: A policy to promote equitable opportunities in jobs and business has been proposed to reduce the income and wealth gap between bumiputra and other communities.

Another idea is to make it mandatory for companies that deal with the government to disclose the gender and ethnic compositions of their management and top bosses, says Bursa Malaysia chairman Tan Sri Abdul Wahid Omar.

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These proposals, which he made at the Bumiputra Economic Congress 2024 (KEB2024) yesterday, follow recent data from September 2023, which showed that the monthly median wages of bumiputra were 45% lower than Chinese employees in the formal sector.

At the same time, the median monthly income of bumiputra households was 29% lower than that of Chinese families in 2022, according to the Statistics Department.

The proposed policy and diversity disclosures were part of six initiatives that were drawn up at KEB2024’s cluster on wealth creation and bumiputra corporate control to narrow income disparities between communities, said Abdul Wahid.

The other ideas include strengthening bumiputra capability by ensuring that every child is proficient in three languages – Bahasa Malaysia, English and a third language of their choice.

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“For instance, being able to speak Mandarin is a big advantage because China is Malaysia’s largest trading partner and is on track to become the largest world economy. So is Arabic, as it gives an edge when dealing with Middle Eastern investors,” he added.

Abdul Wahid said a catalyst fund was also proposed to invest in and turn around under-valued or under-performing publicly listed bumiputra companies that were in sectors with huge potential.

Another idea is to increase endowments (waqaf) that can be used for socio-economic purposes, such as the one for low-income bumiputra to access healthcare and educational opportunities that was announced on Feb 29.

Finally, he said any initiative to help bumiputra would only succeed if there was a dedicated database that tracked their ownership of assets.

On the equitable opportunities policy, Abdul Wahid said it would emphasise that individuals and companies embrace the values of diversity, equity and inclusion.

He said the government should first encourage the private sector to support and adopt the policy, which included ensuring that its senior management and board are made up of both bumiputra and non-bumiputra.

If the policy does not get adequate “buy-in”, the government can then consider implementing an Equitable Opportunity Act, said Abdul Wahid, who heads the Congress cluster.

“We propose that an Equitable Policy Act be introduced. This is the first step. If the policy can be executed to give equitable opportunities to all Malaysians in business and employment, we would not need a specific Act for it,” Wahid told reporters after presenting the findings of his cluster.

“But the first approach is to have a policy that should be sufficient. If all Malaysians can embrace the spirit and intention of diversity, equity and inclusion, we can implement this policy.”

He said the cluster had heard from individuals who felt that they were capable but were not given job or business interviews.

He said such a policy would also provide mechanisms to lodge complaints for individuals who felt that they were discriminated against based on ethnicity or gender.

“We are not saying that things should be equal, but equitable. This includes practices in corporations where internal communications should be in either Bahasa Malaysia or English and not in a language that makes some of the staff feel marginalised,” said Abdul Wahid.

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