24 May 2014

The Disparity Debate


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All characters, names, entities and/or incidents in this composition are fiction and they have no relation to any real individuals or entities nor are they real life events other than some historical facts that are used to put things into perspective for the flow of the fictional story telling.
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You cannot not consider the well being of majority population. Or else, majority has no meaning and they are marginalised like a minority. Minority in Malaysia, whilst discriminated from certain benefits, they are not deprived of making a living.... and almost all make good living. Having said that, Malays have also abused that privilege. Sadly that needs to be addressed fast.

ISPARITY in the pool of wealth and level playing field has been the key word in many debates around town. Two good friends, one a Malay, and the other a Chinese, struggle to accept each other's views when comprehending Government policies surrounding their people. They grew up respecting each other from the football fields all the way to becoming best men for each other's wedding. As they grew to understand the meaning of it all, they wish they can just deal with the football field they used to play on. Never did they thought, initially, that there is a more sensitive and complex field that they have to explore - the quest for level playing field. Whatever that means. In the end, they risk destroying a friendship debating that subject matter especially when the two actually have differing opinions. Riziad and William decided to meet at a mamak place to catch up for old time sake. The former has been living in Malaysia and the latter now has migrated to the United Kingdom.

     "Hey! Rizzy. What is this fuss about abolishing the Bumi quotas? Everytime I come home for holidays I hear stupid issues like this. I don't understand. I thought civilised world would understand that discriminations such as ethnic quotas make no sense at all."

     "Yo! Adrian. You haven't met me for dog ages and this is the first thing you ask me. At least we catch up on how each other's families are doing. How's the wife and kids doing?"

     "So, so sorry Rizzy. You know me. I have always have strong opinions about these things. That was the main reason why I migrated to the U.K. That is still the reason by the way. Anyways, Marion is doing good. The kids are schooling now although they are growing into bloody Brits rather than Chinese. I fear one day they will forget the good values that we inherited from the oriental region. How are yours?"

     "Great actually. Sabrina is working hard. She may have the same fear as yours but the only difference is that hers revolve around the confusion that our kids may have especially when they see one set of Malay grand parents who are Muslims and the other set Christian Chinese. Mix marriages are complex,.... but we'll manage it. We have been managing it anyway. So far so good."

     "That is good to hear,.. errrrrr,.. apart from the confusion thing. So back to my query earlier. What has been happening?"

     "Well, like you, many other non-Bumis are questioning the Malay quota system."

     "What about you? What is your opinion? Since you are a Malay intertwined into a mix marriage. you should be pretty confused yourself."

     "On the contrary, I am quite focused, although occasionally I do get into debates with my Chinese wife. In my mind it is clear. The disparity in the socio economic landscape of the country is too deep. 20% of the nation owns 80% of its assets. Quota makes no sense if viewed from equal rights perspective but from sociology point of view, it is one of the tools to balance the society. If not, the Malays will remain at the bottom of sthe ociety ladder, forever. Not sure whether a comparison is fair but South Africa's affirmative actions to develop the Blacks is also along the same wave length I think."

     "When you say Malay you mean the extended Bumiputera clans as well?"

     "Oh yes. Sorry. I know Malay is a subset of Bumiputera but when I explain things, do take the two to have the same meaning as I use them interchangeably."

     "You do realise that South Africa is not a good example? They were fighting a form of discrimination whereas the Malay rights is based on descrimination. Am I wrong here Bro?"

     "Well, this is tricky. My referene to South Africa is more on the affirmative actions. I am a product of the quota because I got a scholarship to go and study in Melbourne and from thereon, opportunity got better until I am at where I am now. My father was just a Government servant. Not poor but not rich either to send kids overseas. Other poor Malays whose kids got scholarship enjoy the same opportunity. True there are also many poor Chinese and Indians but so very small when compared to the Malays. In fact, there were also some non-Bumis who got scholarship in my batch."

     "Rizzy, you are one of the best ambassadors for the Malays out there. I think it's absolutely right that you articulate your arguments on quotas that is about helping to achieve balance. My only comment is that we must recognise that there is a cost to achieving this. If  the country plans to be truly a multiracial country for all its citizens, quotas stand in way of that. The question we have to answer is whether or not by trying to help the Malays, the country as a whole will be affected?"

     "Defending the quota system is just like the Chinese and Indians refusing to drop their Chinese and Indian schools to be replaced with national schools. No?"

     "Well, is anybody stopping Malay kids from schooling in the Chinese and Indian schools?"

     "Well, no, but we are talking about assimilation right? Whilst multiracial is the description of the country's demography, you cannot ignore that Bumis make up 70% of the population. So, if 70% of the population is poor and continue to be poor while 30% is rich and continue to be rich... wallah... imbalance.... disparity. If this continues, it will not be healthy. The country will not improve. Balancing does result in certain components being sacrificed in the equation. The urgent need for socio economic balance is probably stronger than the multiracial quest. If no balancing, multiracial may be compromised in a more negative ways don't you think? Study South Africa to see how neglecting majority can cause pain. The world is unfair yes. The best we can do is make it work even in fthe ace of unfairness. Just like the concept of handicap in golf."

     "Not sure about your examples here. Let's see how South Africa is doing after 20 years before we judge. Also regarding golf handicap, that would be like saying the Malay race is permanently disadvantaged? If you can run, but then fall, having a crutch helps you back to health and running. If you have crutches from birth, you will never run. Who gives a handicap to the Americans, Australians and Europeans? How have they managed success without a handicap? And more tellingly, what evidence is there that the handicap is helping Malays? How is it that despite all the affirmative actions, the split of wealth and what not, has not materially changed since independence? We now have elite Malays which we have always had since the old days of the Sultans, but the country as a whole has not changed? If the objective of the policy is to help level the playing field and it still isn't level after 50 over years, shouldn't we be evaluating whether this strategy is working? I'm not even arguing for the other races. If I was a Malay, I would be asking my leaders why they continue to pursue a strategy that has not change the fate of the majority?"

     "No, not forever. There will be a time when handicap is lowered just the same as how golf works. When you get better you'll lose the handicap slowly. That is already happening. Don't you know that there are no more quotas in equity holding? the Government had already abolished the 30% Bumi quota for shareholding of companies. What is left now is, I think, quotas in land property ownership and education. Abolishing the 30% is a huge significant reduction of handicap don't you think? It is happening so non-Bumis should not press matter too much because you will just create anger. Yes so far there has been not much change and hence, the method should be changed. That is very true. That is what is happening. We stopped 30% quota but now doing it differently via appointing professional Malays to handle special funds to invest in various companies. The Government has created so many of those funds already. The non-Bumis are free to even own 100% of whatever Government-linked companies."

     "But, Rizzy ..... "

     "No, no, no. I am not done Bro. Just a bit more. You praised the Westerners earlier didn't you? Well, don't even get me started on the Europeans. Study the history. They are the culprits. American whites reduced Red Indians to an insignificant level. Australian whites killed 100% of the Tasmanian Aboriginals and the Europeans..... well the Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish and British are all world's biggest robbers world wide historically. The British in particular was the one who pushed Malays to remain in 'kampungs' and deprived them the wealth in their own land and brought in Chinese into towns for mining and Indians into plantation estates. After hundreds of years, the Chinese in towns developed personal wealth tremendously. So talking about handicap, those are what I call their stolen handicap. You cannot leave history out my friend. So in the case of South Africa, you'd rather prefer Apartheid back in rather than wait 20 years to see the result of Black management? That sounds like the white robber's ideology I mentioned above. Modern thinking without reference to history is illogical bro. Have a think ya."

     "Rizzy, you are a reasonable guy but allow me my comments."

     "Go ahead Bro. Say your stuff."

     "Ok. Lots of colonial countries wish that they had developed differently or had an alternate history. The truth is that Malaya could not have avoided interaction with the Portuguese, Dutch or English. That is as much part of history as when the Srivijaya came and colonised the true Orang Asli of Malaya. All history is relative and it does us no good to pretend we are victims and that absent that, things would have been different. The Malay rulers then and as they are now, sold out the country and each other for personal profit while keeping their key constituents happy and ignorant. The British got the power they did by encouraging rivalries and negotiation. The Malay nation no doubt suffered but at the time, rulers did deals they thought were good. And Malaya actually benefitted ultimately. Lots of countries were colonised including the most famous of all, the United States. And their progress since independence has been very different. No one can deny the tragedy of what happened to the Indigenous peoples of the world but do you really think that their lives could have somehow been lived in a parallel universe away from other countries? Now this is my turn to stop you. Let me go on. Allow me a few more points."

     "Go ahead Bro. Say your stuff,.... again."

     "Regarding your comments about the Chinese, there have been Chinese in Malaysia since Hang Li Po in the 15th century. Islam arrived in the 12th century. Before that, Malaya was predominantly Hindu. So everything is relative. Regarding South Africa, independence is great, but great crimes are still being committed there. Rich leaders are continuing to rob their own people. Yes that is better than apartheid, but let's see in 20 years when everything has been sold or stolen. Let's see. And regarding Islam in Malaysia, some historians think that it came to Peninsula Malaysia in the 15th century after Hang Li Po. So if one wanted to, one could say the Chinese have been in Malaysia as long as Islam has."

     "Ehh? Why suddenly about Islam? I thought we were talking about Malay rights? Whether Hindu or Islam when Hang Li Po arrives is irrelevant. Agree that this is all relative but relative or not relative disparity still exists. My reference to history is not meant to figure out who is who and who arrives first etcetera. It is meant to give a perspective to the issue of disparity. That is the key word of my arguments. It's quite a convenience for colonialists to say, Oh! We are sorry we should have not done it. They need to undo damage as much as they can. An example would be USA and France who now give financial support to the Federated States of Miconesia, the Republic of Marshall Islands and the Commonwealth of Northern Marianna Islands. Why? Because for years they had used those Northern Pacific Islands for their nucklear tests. They were and still are, obliged to make amends with the people of those islands. The Malays established the first effective Governments in the Nusantara just like the Normandy established first effective Government on the British Isles. So, the Malays are not, in absolute term, visitors like the Chinese. However, if you must put it relatively onto the long chronological time line, it is quite a grey area for any conclusive determination. You might as well say that the Eskimos are also visitors as they came from Northern China."

     "This is all getting to messy Rizzy."

     "Let me make it even worse. Ok, I think you have a point on the Malay rulers being unfair to their own people but surely we are not pretending as victims. We are the victims of hundreds of years of economic deprivation. Tell me you agree... because, if not, something not right in your observation. If South Africa fall because they themselves detroy it, then it is their own fault. Whatever it is, Apartheid is still unacceptable. Malaya did benefit from colonialism as far as English Language proficiency and the legacy of English laws and policies are concerned but on the contrary, Malaya actually suffered socio economic disparity. There's that word again.... disparity. When the British granted independence to Malaya, there was a gentlement's agreement between the Malays and the non-Malays. The non-Malays gets citizenship but in return they do not deny Bumi privileges. Now why would the Chinese and the Indians accept a racists agreement? Well, because the Chinese had to decide whether they wanted to go back to mainland China or remain in Malaya. Same with the Indians... Malaya or India? For the Chinese, the negotiation was led by Tun Tan Cheng Lok, a Chiang Kai Sek General, if I am not mistaken. He dared not go back to China or stayed in Taiwan because of the close proximity to Chairman Mao's army who was hunting them down. So it was an option worth taking. Whether or not Tan did it as a representation on behalf of Chinese who came hundreds of years earlier or not I am not sure but the gentlemen's agreement took place. Is it legal? Well.... it has been immortalised in the constitution..... at least for now."

     "Rizzy, you are right about the deal struck at independence. My point was more what is best for Malaysia going forward. If you think quotas have helped or hurt the Malay interest, I think it has hurt the average Malays but disproportionately helped the elite Malays. Perhaps a policy that gives handicap points to poor people worth considering so that if applied honestly the Malays will get the most share if indeed the Malays are the majority of the poor. That way the poor non-Malays will also get some share albeit smaller representation, or proportionately in accordance with the percentage of the individual ethnic group over the total population representation. Discrimination on race in neither fair nor equitable. And more importantly, it's not right. But that swings both ways. Discrimination enshrined in the constitution is still discrimination. And bad deals struck 50 years ago that hurt one group and fail to help the intended group cannot be sustainable in the long term."

     "But when you address that, you ignore the disparity. So, how?"

     "I agree with you that the world is not fair, but I think most people of any race would agree that if someone becomes successful because they are talented or hard working or both, that is fair, even though hard work and talent are randomly distributed. If a person is born with talent or wealth but then does not strive to fulfill their potential cannot blame the world that they are not successful. So equality of opportunity is important but let us not confuse that with equality of outcome. I agree with you that the deal was struck to try and balance out the interests of all parties. And for the Malays, I can see why it is important that they have the opportunity to close the gap. But 50 years later, gap is still so wide. So, yes we need to address it. But perhaps it is time for a new way? Because 50 years of the same thing is not going to change the result. Only a fool does the same thing twice and expect a different result, as Einstein says. For my part, I want very much for the Malays to succeed because there can be no Malaysian success without it. But run this experiment. If status quo continues and non-Malays continue to leave - not for China or India by the way, and that is another irony on why there are so many Malaysians fleeing to other ex-colonies if colonisation is to be blamed - and Malaysia becomes 100% Bumi, what then? Will the country be better or worse off? Those policies will lose their meaning because they will be only 1 group. How will the people who are used to having a handicap behave when they confront a level playing field? Perhaps the truth is that we are focused on the wrong playing field? The world is an unfair playing field. Shielding your citizens from it is like not letting your child out to play. Yes they stay safe. But when they leave the house as an adult eventually they will have to learn to deal with the world. Perhaps after 50 years of training wheels people will forget how to ride a bike?"

     "Ehhh.... why are you repeating Bro? I thought I'd already mentioned that they are doing a different method now where the 30% quota for equity is dropped and now using professional Malays to run investment houses? The irony is, the British shielded the Malays from having to deal with the economy. And for that same reason, now the Malays needed to be shielded again so that they can establish their presence in the economy. It is a paradox that eventually identifies disparity as the main issue."

     "I think the 30% ownership cap is not that meaningful. That helps rich folks. It doesn't help the masses of Malaysians, Bumi or not, who won't or can't own businesses any how."

     "Bro, you are missing my whole point. Turn it around. If disparity continues, the majority will be poorer and poorer and reduced to nothing and when that happens, it will be like South Africa where the disparity is the cause of ethic groups not being able to coexist. Applying the handicap still allow coexistence as there is a common purpose to achieve balance. I don't have emperical evidence but did you read the result of a research done on opportunities for employment for Malays versus non-Malays? A research was done recently by Chinese professors and university guys. They sent out fake CV's out to the job market particularly to private sectors. Those CV's are practically almost the same as far as technical and qualification points are concerned. The only difference is that some in Chinese name and some in Malay. Guess what was the result? Ceteris paribus, the Chinese CV's that got called back for interview is 5 times than that of the Malay counterpart. Malays are being discriminated but people cannot see this. The Chinese controls all angles of economic ecosystem particularly the supply and distribution side. They form networks and cartel and various barriers to entry which makes it impossible for a hard working Malay to grow as a business man. This is real. You are not aware because it is hidden. Look at what happened to Malays in Singapore. You should realise that the Malays fear Malaysia will become like that. I see Malay kids get discriminated in private sector all the time Bro. Even with smart Malays around, they still cannot grow to improve the Malays socio economic status because the Chinese has established barriers to entry everywhere. So that goes against the equal opportunity you were talking about."

     "Those are valid concerns Rizzy. I appreciate that you must feel frustrated by that. This is not an easy problem to fix. But hard to see how it gets better if nothing changes."

     "Then suggest a formula. Simply blind equal opportunity is not a workable formula regardless how fair it sounds. That is the problem with oppositions. They are not suggesting workable alternative. Until workable alternative is understood, no Malay, mass or not, is willing to go down the path of letting Malaysia become Singapore where Malays are reduced to nothing. You cannot not consider the well being of majority population. Or else, majority has no meaning and they are marginalised like a minority. Minority in Malaysia, whilst discriminated from certain benefits, they are not deprived of making a living.... and almost all make good living. Having said that, Malays have also abused that privilege. Sadly that needs to be addressed fast."

     "That is not only a Malay failing. The elites continue to rob the country together, Malay, Chinese, Indian alike. And regarding Singapore, there are lots of Chinese who are upset too because that country also does not look after the needs of the masses."

     "Key word 'disparity' is all I can say.. or else I will be repeating all over again."

     "For the record, like I said before, the solution for Malaysia must be one that is good for Malays. I just really believe that the current approach is 'Makan Suap' only and is harming the very people it is supposed to help. You cannot build a nation from a people who are not encouraged to fend for themselves."

     "Then suggest a workable solution."

     "Ok,.. let's see,.... ok,... here goes,... distribute shares of all national companies to Malaysians proportionate to population. Make Government the golden shareholder with certain veto rights. Eliminate all other quotas and special Bumi privileges. Fund a special Bumi only investment vehicle whose job it is to hold assets and invest for Bumis. This fund to provide scholarships, loans and all to Bumis only. Place 50% of unsold land in a special trust with instructions not to sell with the plan that this is managed for the future of the Bumis. This levels the playing field but gives Bumis security that their future will never be at risk."

     "By virtue of the corporatisation of national entities as public listed companies and with the already abolished equity quota, this has, somewhat, been done to a certain extent. Just look at all the main infrastructure companies that the Government had corporatised over the past 50 years. The shares of those companies are available in the market and naturally, Chinese has larger share of those market floated listed shares as they have the wealth factor. I will talk about land quota later but for now, let's talk about the other quotas. The equityholding 30% quota has already been abolished a few years back. What is left is the education side. Full elimination is too drastic. If you are to change, to do it proportionately by reference to each ethnic group's representation of the population is more equitable, in my mind, that is. There are already so many fund managers or companies managed by Bumis for the Bumis. Ok, now let's go back to the land issue. Your suggestion is already in the constitution where 50% of the land is Malay reserve and the rest available to the public. 30% property ownership is necessary so that Chinese developers do not deprive Malays from buying. Quite tough, so maybe a special unit needs to be established to sell to Bumis and if after a given period those properties are still not sold, it is open for non-Bumis. So, as you can see, whilst there may be some good points in your suggestions, by enlarge, it is still some form of handicap mechanism to the Malays. So, why change?"

     "The key to the first point is wide distribution for free. This breaks up the elites and gives broad ownership so that key entities cannot be captured by special interests. And since proportionate to the population and not to wealth, you will not favour existing rich folks."

     "Oh my... you mean all 30 million population each has shares in each of the Government corporatised companies?  How the hell do you do that man? Each day people die and newborn every where. I cannot imagine how that'll work."

     "You don't actually need to distribute shares. Do it by using the Identification Cards (IC). Dividends get distributed and everyone gets a vote. If you want, you can elect a special body to vote for you, so all Bumis who want to delegate can give this right to someone. But equally they can take it back. Shares have value so people who want to sell can sell. People who want to hold can hold. But no Datuks will monopolise and if any funny business happens, you will have a lot of angry shareholders. This also solves the talent and discrimination issue. Shareholders will want the best people to increase value and manage well. You should not care who is employed if you own the thing and benefit from it. The issue now is the feeling that the success is not shared. This does not mean lazy, incompetent people are guaranteed jobs. People will have to earn it. But they will have the chance regardless of their race."

     "Errrrr... man.. this is regressive. The whole purpose of having electoral candidates is so that people can have representatives in parliament. Might as well get the Government to own via the Ministry of Finance and that the companies report to parliament. Why have 30 million IC holders trying to vote? That is like doing general elections every year for matters of Annual General Meeting type transactions. Bro.... that is really impracticable. Rather than dividends being paid back, it might as well be used for further development for the country. That way it can complement income tax or even allow reduction in income tax rates or even downplay the goods and services taxes. This is already in practice Bro. For example, the national infrastructure and oil and gas corporations are now, on annual basis, paying dividends to its shareholder who is the Ministry of Finance. The Ministry takes that as national income. From there, it goes into the national budget tabled at the parliament. From there also, it influences fiscal policies that includes taxation policies. So Bro, you are just using a regressed approach. The whole purpose of the existing structure is to address the havoc nature of what you are suggesting. I cannot see practicality. Imagine if we are to do what you had suggested, the parliament will be redundant and chaos will take place. What you probably should have suggested is that all companies that were earlier corporatised need to be returned back to the Government so that via parliamentary representation, it belongs to citizens rather than some rich Dato' owning majority and controls those entities. But then, doing that would mean we are going back to the rejected ideas of communism and socialists that prohibits capitalism. That will discourage development and the quality of life. So you are suggesting a centralised approach rather than a decentralised one? Very democratic rather than republican. This means a big government rather than a small government. Aren't the non-Malays very much oppose a big government approach? So you see..... when you tweak and twist.... it uncovers paradox that concludes logical state of mind to remain with status quo."

     William remained silent. He is probably trying to make sense of how to counter argue. Without hesitation, Riziad continued with a pinch of courtesy, "One good suggestion from you is the public to select management. But how do you ask 30 million IC holders to choose who the CEO's of Government companies should be?"

     "Use the member of parliament to vote?"

     "Yeahhh,...  but, if the ruling party majority members of parliment vote to delegate to the minister of relevant ministries to choose the CEO's.... then the ministers will do so.... which is the existing model anyway."

     "Hmmm,... well,.... one thing is for sure, I am for small Government and equality. But given your concerns, I don't see how we can get there without a big non-market intervention that protects the Malay interest. I guess that is why I don't live in Malaysia anymore. Because you are right that it is hard to see how we can do that between two reasonable people, let alone the masses."

     "We are back to square one?"

     "No. We are back to mamak discussions! Save for later outings man. Too hard to discuss finer points tonight. You should go back to your family. It is quite late now. I have to head back to my Dad's. Got some poker session to convene. Hahahahaha...."

     "Do remember our points of discussion. Document this discussion if you have the memory for it. We can use it for future study. Who knows you will be back home for good in the future to take up politics?"

     "If I come back, I won't need it because I will do it with you! A truly non-racial party is the future. As long as I cannot convince you we are all the same and that you need no special protection, there will be no progress."
     "Well, as long as your methods do not address the socio economic disparity, I will not be convinced."

     "So be it."

     "So be it."

     "Ok, Bro, good night. I will see you again before I fly back to London."

     "Yes Sir. I will call you If I have any work trips to London. We can continue our debate in London, a more neutral ground. Cheers"
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