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A response to ‘Rukunegara as preamble’

I refer to the letter today ‘Rukunegara as preamble - rectifying misconceptions’ by Chandra Muzaffar.

Dr Chandra Muzaffar is indefatigable in seeking the “anchoring of the Rukunegara (RN) in the supreme law, by making it the preamble to the constitution”.

Absolutely pointless, Doc!


First, Chandra Muzaffar refers to widespread fears that the Special Position of the Malays and East Malaysian Natives will be affected. He shows why those fears are ill-founded.

Surely a more fundamental issue is - why is it, 60 years after independence, there still is a need for any kind of discrimination for a particular ethnic group?

The five eminent judges in 1957 who were led by Lord Reid, felt a need for special assistance for the Malays then because they were obviously lagging behind the rest.

But today?

Next, why the perceived need to add the Rukunegara to the Federal Constitution to make the constitution a document that unites the people? No need to prattle on about sincerity, moan the cleavages in society, preach about a just society where wealth isn’t equitably shared, as basic reasons why the Rukunegara should be grafted onto the constitution.

No need to fight to champion inclusion of the Rukunegara and to claim it’s going to transform Malaysia.

It won’t! Only Dr Chandra Muzaffar would then be able to luxuriate in fantasies that he’s achieved something late in his life.

No, no, you can be fairly certain that instead, making just one simple change to the constitution will immediately win the support of millions of Malaysians of all races. And help unify the nation as never before.

Here it is: add three little words: ‘based on need’ before the relevant clauses of Article 153.

This would appropriately correct the Federal Constitution lovingly crafted 60 years ago by those five foreigners and then extensively amended by our Parliament over the years. Prof Shad Faruqi, Emeritus Prof of Universiti Islam Antarabangsa (UIA) Malaysia, once estimated no less than 600 amendments had been made since independence.

This proposed change would have the effect of excluding already affluent bumiputra from any affirmative action.

Is that so terrible?

And think of the soul. Isn’t it spiritually enriching to abstain from demanding rights that your country provides because they say “the people need it” when you already know you personally don’t?

I believe that many voluntarily do not demand special privileges because they are already wealthy. Such are indeed well on the way to spiritual enlightenment.

According to statements made, the vast majority of bumiputras still need affirmative action of this kind.

Very well, continue it but only for those who need it!

Logical conundrum

You see, there is a logical conundrum here.

Those people who say the Malays “need” it seem to point to some mythic, congenital, DNA-type neediness. They cannot get away from using the word ‘need’ but shrink desperately from any refinement or definition of said ‘need’.

It is always couched in terms of a blanket need, as if all Malays, every bumiputra on the face of the globe, is afflicted by this undeterminate virus of ‘need’. Doesn’t that mean neediness is in their DNA? Not true!

Why this timidity over naming the thing? Any economist worth his salt will be readily able to define economic need, perhaps in terms of household income or personal income, or personal immovable assets like a home.

Of course, if such a change ever gets off the ground, the appropriate definition of economic need will have to be framed by a committee of experts.

We have no shortage of noted economists such as Prof Kamal Salih (who co-authored the UN-commissioned 2013 Malaysia Development Study) Dr Terrence Gomez, Dr Jomo Kwame Sundaram, Prof Danny Quah (Prof of Economics at the LSE till 2016) Dr Munir Majid, and well-known sociologist Dr Loo Cheng Ghee, among others. We have got the brains but we unfortunately put them to use, if at all, to support kleptocrats.

What does this mean in terms of numbers? Assume 90 percent of bumiputras are in the ‘needy’ category, based on this new definition. The definition might be a simple one such as currently used for allocation of PR1MA housing or Bantuan Rakyat 1 Malaysia (BR1M) handouts. Let's just say it's framed as Household income of RM 20,000 per annum or less.

The Inland Revenue Board (IRB) has data on all those who pay taxes and so they can be a good source of statistics of bumiputra income.

Excluding foreigners, the Statistics Dept 2013 population projections estimates that there are about 28.5 million citizens, of which approximately 67 percent are bumiputra. If 90 percent qualify, under this new definition, that means (0.90 X 0.67 X 28,500,000) or 17,185,000 bumiputras will qualify for continued so-called ‘affirmative action’ under Article 153.

But, more importantly, a smaller number of (0.10X 0.67X 28,500,000) or 1,909,500 bumiputra whose income exceeds that minimum threshold, will no longer qualify. Those non-qualifying bumiputra will have to join the 10 million other citizens, mainly all the Indians and Chinese, who have never received such consideration anyway.

Virtuous cycle

What this would mean is that a virtuous cycle would be set up:

1. The available amount of state aid would now be distributable over a smaller group of truly needy bumis, therefore the benefits would be targeted better and each could receive more.

2. The resentment felt by non-bumiputra would be greatly diminished because their taxes were now being distributed in a more equitable and transparent manner. Social engineering will continue based on need, and not only on race, which has been a divisive factor for years.

3. Ninety percent of all bumiputra would experience no changes whatsoever in relation to their entitlement to special privileges; they truly need it and would continue to receive it. Thus, no social disruption would occur as a result of having a transparent, widely disseminated index of need

4. Affluent bumiputra, used to getting benefits based only on race, will need to work a little harder to maintain their standard of living. In effect, they will have to work as hard as the non-bumiputra have been doing all along, which should also help improve Malaysia’s productivity.

5. The 1.9 million bumiputra who have already reached a higher standard of living will have to modify many aspects of their usual ways of doing business. Many will already be competitive, driven individuals, because by now, there are hundreds of thousands of well-qualified bumiputra engineers, neurosurgeons, architects, economists, bank officers, actuaries, doctors, graduate teachers and so on.

But there are also thousands of bumiputra politicians, mostly in the ruling parties, for whom agitating for continuing privileges as they are, politicising anything that changes the most minute aspect of a discriminative system based on racial exceptionalism, is all they know how to do. They cannot think out of the box! But the world is changing faster and faster and will not wait for anyone.

It’s a travesty to base a system of social re-engineering solely on race and then, to fight fiercely for its maintenance and brand those who propose a review as having seditious tendencies.

We must bite the bullet.

We owe this, firstly, to the truly poor and disadvantaged bumiputra because they are being ill-served by a system that has inevitably been corrupted while pretending to defend them.

In this tentative analysis, I used a figure of 1,909,500 bumiputra whose household income might theoretically exceed a nominal figure of RM 20,000 per annum. The actual cutoff point must be determined by collective, sincere efforts by a team of experts and then by a preferably bipartisan council of politicians and others. But the principle remains, whatever particular numbers are finally adopted - to have a rational basis for helping bumiputra based on economic need.

If it can be implemented, then it also addresses the often unfair assertion about bumiputra - that they got where they are ‘because’ of special privileges.

This approach, to me, seems to make more sense than merely incorporating the Rukunegara into the constitution and believing that everything will work out well.

We have to face our devils, confront them and pool our collective intelligence and energies to fight them.

And yes, we can!

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