Bumi policies still needed, but must be refined

By ALIFAH ZAINUDDIN & SHAZNI ONG / Pic By ISMAIL CHE RUS

AFFIRMATIVE action policies such as the New Economic Policy (NEP) are still relevant today, but they need to be fine-tuned to ensure that they are progressive to meet their objectives.

ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute senior fellow Dr Lee Hwok Aun (picture) said the intent of the NEP when it was first introduced in the 1970s was to develop capability, competitiveness and confidence among Bumiputeras, and it stated that ultimately, such policies will not be needed after the goal is achieved.

“It recognises the fact that the policy should not go on indefinitely. The nature of the instrument is, it gives preferential treatment based on identity in the form of quota, discounts, reserves, etc.

“Maybe post the 14th General Election, there can be a mutual understanding that advantage is given in this treatment and that to a certain extent, it reduces opportunities for non-Bumiputeras.

“However, at the same time, it must be properly explained why such policies must continue to exist — because its initial objective has not been achieved,” Lee said in a panel discussion on “Malays with Crutches to Malays with a Vision — Empowering the Bumiputera Agenda” at the Rise of the Asian Tiger Convention in Shah Alam yesterday.

To achieve this, Lee said affirmative action policies must be refined to be more systematic, progressive and effective. Among the suggestions is the insertion of exit clauses which stipulate a condition or time frame where assistance given to a Bumiputera recipient can cease to exist.

Another suggestion is the addition of merit-based awards for contracts. “Contracts should be awarded based on ability, so that those who excel can be made as an example and that finally, these benefits can be reduced,” he said.

“We should reinforce the Bumiputera system through the addition of needs-based terms in certain aspects of the policy. The rhetoric is always, we must move from race-based policies to needs-based policies.

“But we cannot do that to the entire system. We have to go by a sector-by-sector basis,” he added.

Lee said there are four main sectors where affirmation is dominant — namely in higher education, high-level occupation, entrepreneurship and asset ownership.

In higher education, he said, quotas allocated to Bumiputeras can be given to those from the bottom 40% (B40) income group instead. However, the same concept cannot be applied in entrepreneurship.

“The rationale behind giving preferential treatment to the B40 group in higher education is that it benefits the youth and that the disadvantage they face is beyond their control.

“Unlike in entrepreneurship or in awarding contracts, the same logic cannot be used. You don’t deserve any kind of preference simply because your parents are poor. The government has to reward these benefits based on merit,” Lee said.