After I read Terence Gomez's Don't racialise debate on equity ownership, I was quite taken aback. I thought to myself, surely bumiputera equity ownership figures are not as high as he pointed out. If they were, the 'special rights' should have already been a thing of the past.
Working as a British journalist here in the Tanjong Pagar on the small neighbouring island south of Malaysia, I have a fair share of access to financial information. And Gomez was absolutely right. When you add up the equity of the government-linked companies with that of the major individual shareholders that are Malay of the major large market cap companies, you will find that it adds up to a whopping 70%, and in some individual companies, more than 80%.
What I don't understand is why the publicly available figures differ so greatly from the government estimates of the high teens? I'm a person of facts, so I place more reliance on the former than the latter, from who the sources seem quite unapparent to me. If that be the case, then surely the bumiputera rights should have been long gone by now.
I went to university in England just like most folk who were born there. Though that was what seems to be a long 22 years since, I recall my time there where I got to know some Chinese Malaysians. I didn't know them too well, but in my first year, I shared a flat with this Chinese guy Tong from Seremban (who sadly passed away from an accident a few years ago) and 10 others, and he would have a few of his Chinese friends come by about once a month for dinner. They were all very pleasant people, and very hardworking as well.
You could see that their good upbringing was a trait common to these people, who were of humble origins, and only were here because their parents had saved up and put aside for them to be able to get an education, that I was getting for free. When I went to his funeral, I bumped into his younger brother Alex, who was much younger than Tong at 26 years of age, and who I later met up for drinks in Clarke Quay recently when he was in town.
After about three beers, Alex was a little more relaxed, and started to talk about things back home. We got to the topic of politics, and he explained how the 'sons of the soil' were accorded certain privileges to achieve a more equitable distribution of wealth, such as permanent discounts on house prices, government bodies set up for the sole purpose of extending financing for education of Malay students abroad (I later found out that literally all Malay children can be expected to be given one till the entity was in trouble some time back as most of the Malays who don't do well in their studies are required to pay back a certain percentage of the money extended to them and didn't), special preference when bidding for government contracts, a mandatory 30% equity stake in listed companies, a disproportional share of the government, the list goes on and on ...
I was a little bit amazed at first, but when he told me that these 'rights' have been there since Malaysia gained independence in 1957, I was dumbfounded. That's like a year short of 50 years, I was thinking, it must have been achieved by now! The nation of Japan took less than half that time to come back from the brink of nuclear destruction and become a world superpower. But here in Malaysia the wealth of the country has yet to be equally distributed amongst the majority of the population, or so you would be led to believe by the Malaysian government. Surely something must be amiss.
I Suggested to Alex that surely a lot of people would have questioned the continued existence of this affirmative action for the majority, and voiced out that it needs to go. He told me that nobody was allowed to talk about it as it is a so-called 'sensitive issue'. At this juncture, being a journalist, I was angered at this blatant violation of free speech. Then I remembered that Malaysia has never been too good at these human rights type issues.
I asked Alex why he has put up with it and not moved somewhere like down here, and he just smiled and said that at the end of the day, it is the Malays themselves that lose out, having to go around carrying this subsidy mentality that they have. I thought that was very mature thinking for someone his late 20s.
I did more research and found various news stories and articles that deliberated on the amount of corruption in the Malaysian government. After reading quite a bit, I concluded that there were quite a few (more often that not, those in power or connected to them) that got rich throughout the years by sucking the governments coffers, and most of them don't have the slightest inclination to share their wealth with some less fortunate other Malays.
No wonder the government is constantly in deficit. And what amazed me most is that it is still happening today, under the current regime, with the son-in-law of the prime minister buying over a government company for a fraction of what its worth. Back home where I come from, they term that daylight robbery! But whatever the case, it has become apparent to me that the 'rights' are still around because of greed of those that abused the power entrusted to them by their very own people to achieve a more equitable distribution of wealth.
And reading the letter by FN, which I have to say is completely void of maturity of thought, it became crystal clear that Alex was right about the 'rights' backfiring.
Without getting into the debate of the accuracy of the government's distribution of wealth numbers again, the more basic question I have is when are these 'rights' ever going to go away? What has the magic number in terms of buimputera share of wealth got to be before the 'rights' expire like they should already have eons ago.
Well, the answer is - never. Why? Because the non-bumiputeras are not allowed to debate the issue to begin with. Now that's what you call a timeless masterpiece. Thank god, I'm not a non-bumiputera living in Malaysia.