Why We Need To Address The Bumiputera Economy

Some time last month, Majlis Tindakan Ekonomi Melayu (MTEM) released their report on the socio-economic status of the Malays.I chose to study MTEM’s study because for one, its members are Malay entrepreneurs and NGOs who face real-life issues of entrepreneurship and income-expenses. (No less important is the Khazanah Research Institute’s The State of Households 2014 Study. For this column, however, let us focus on MTEM’s study first.)

The Bumiputera Economy is not just a Malay concern, it is a Malaysian one, given the sheer size of the Malay population. Let’s look at some of MTEM’s findings:

Young Bumiputeras who have attained post-secondary education make up the largest proportion of the unemployed, compared with peers from other ethnic groups. From a low of 27.6% in 1982, unemployed Bumiputera graduates reached 70.3% of all unemployed graduates in 2010. Bumiputeras make up 82% of workers with no formal education (although they are proportionately among those with primary (67%), secondary (64%) and tertiary (66%) education). 70% of all jobless graduates in 2010 were Bumiputera. Bumiputeras own only 25% of the total value of homes in Malaysia (compared with non-Bumiputeras who own two-thirds of the national value). For every RM1 of wealth owned by the Chinese, Bumiputeras and the Indians own 65 sen and 68 sen, respectively. Malaysians must no longer repeat its choir: that the Malays are truly lazy natives. We need to ask ourselves very urgently as to how a dominant ethnic community has not been able to cross over to the middle class.

An old essay but nevertheless still relevant is New Mandala’s article which focused on this.

How is it that we are producing unemployable graduates, of which a high number are Malays?

These numbers are jarring to me, because I have seen first-hand how young Malays now are disadvantaged by a lack of skills, language and communication power and confidence. While I have met many, many young Malays who are entrepreneurial, intelligent, smart and will insist on talking to me in English only, because they want to perfect their second language, I have also met more, who can’t even speak standard Bahasa Malaysia.

I was on the Komuter train one evening with the columnist and fellow compadre, Nicholas Chan, when we faced a young Malay boy, dressed as trendily as he could, speaking in what I term as “SMS-Rempit” language. His conversation with the friend he was talking to on his mobile phone were guttural squawks, made up of “Awk” (Aku) “Gi” (Pergi), “Na tu” (Sana tu) *and a lot of hems.

I have met this kind of young boys before. Somewhere in Sungai Buloh, there’s a mechanic my family and I go to service our cars, and the boys, sporting pink and green Mohawks, tend to our cars. They are very helpful boys, and rather sweet, but I have to ask the foreman for help. They smile and joke with each other a lot, but in a Malay language no one can fathom.

And there are the street kids I hung out with when I volunteered at a shelter a few years back. Most of them were smart, but rendered “dumb” by an education system that is already stressed and bloated. The 15-year-olds I met could not even write a simple paragraph in Bahasa Malaysia.

I have a favourite anecdote I tell friends, when I want to impress upon them the severity of the situation: there was this kid who would write Surah Al Ikhlas beautifully in Arabic script, but did not recognise the Arabic alphabets. He wrote and recited the Surah by rote.

I met Shah Sovi, a business coach who works with young Malay entrepreneurs and is an adviser for Pemikir (Pertubuhan Pemikir Agenda Watan Malaysia). Shah is a sharply dressed business mentor and judging by his Facebook statuses alone, Shah has his hands full, trying to encourage and admonish young Bumi entrepreneurs. One issue he is particularly concerned about is non-performing loans (NPL) among the Malays.

“While the government has been talking about the Bumiputera agenda, how many of such initiatives actually falls into place and produces results? The high numbers of NPL for government soft loans continues to grow and that alone reflect the ineffectiveness of implementation of the Bumiputera agenda.

“The mechanism of such policies must be of adequate standard; not like the current KPI which focuses on disbursement and numbers of events /programmes conducted. The end result is crucial to bring the Malay up to the game.

“The grievances at the grassroots has long fallen on deaf ears and most of such programmes that the government are proud of are no more than a get together event to show that… hey we are doing something. Look into the numbers from all government agencies. Consolidate them and address them as a whole before the whole issues blows the country apart in many ways than we can imagine,” he said.

Why is this a Malaysian problem, you may ask? It is because we are already seeing the cracks now, but in two to five years, the impact of a failed Bumiputera economy will hit us all socially, psychologically and emotionally.

Even if there is a change in the government, we will not be able to clear up the weak Bumiputera economy; the change will be generational. If there are changes, it will be a case of a quick Band-Aid (plaster).

In my casual discussions with friends, we talked about how the previous NEP and its contemporaries fail, especially young Malays now, simply because very little of current realities are taken into consideration. We are after all, a wealthy nation: many Malays are now middle class.

But we conveniently brush aside that the Malay middle class is relatively new and a minority, and we are struggling to keep afloat. (Please see an old column I wrote about which describes this situation).

Whatever affirmative actions and policies we have, however sincere and good they are, are not helping the Malays now who need them. Instead they are being. Now, while we argue over skirt length, whose Islam is better, which race is more hardworking, these Malays that I am writing about are losing in every way, every second.

This is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of The Affair.