LETTER | I’m writing this in response to the letter “Matriculation quota: Respect the Federal Constitution” by Associate Professor Mohd Hazmi Mohd Rusli.
One would expect a professor, as part of the intelligentsia, to be able to dissect deeper the issues discussed in the public sphere.
The key question surrounding the matriculation quota is not about questioning the special position of the Malays and bumiputeras.
People do not deny that the Malay sultanates were historically important in this region, with mostly Malay subjects in the past and the occasional Indian, Arab, Chinese, Thai, Javanese, etc, traders who decided to settle down.
Generally, people are not against the position of sultans, Islam and Bahasa Melayu in this country. These are part of Malaysia's heritage institutions.
The current debate on education is part of a larger discussion.
The key question is how to move Malaysia forward intellectually, economically, competitively and together as a nation.
Just take a look at all the literature on development in Malaysia and one can see how the New Economic Policy (which gives special privileges to bumiputeras beyond what is stipulated in the Federal Constitution) did some good and helped to create a bumiputera professional class (for some examples, see the works of Jomo KS (1990), Torii (2003) and Edmund Terence Gomez and Johan Saravanamuttu (2013)).
But affirmative action must have a limited time frame before it brings more harm than good: benefiting the well-connected disproportionately; affecting the dignity of those who didn't receive any help but are perceived to be dependent on help; creating complacency among those who end up dependent on help; entrenching animosity among different groups; reinforcing, consolidating and perpetuating racial identities...
Putting extra resources into primary and secondary education for the bumiputeras will help them. Having a 'backdoor' entry into our universities will only decrease the standard of education in Malaysia, and as a result, the quality of our workforce.
I don't see why the matriculation students cannot also sit for STPM, a globally recognised certificate, while being provided with allowances, hostel facilities, strict schedules and special guidance for the exams which weaker students from poorer backgrounds might need.
This way, entrance into universities will be fought out fairly among all students, and those with the best results will be admitted into our universities. This will address concerns about the poor quality of matriculation students entering universities, which even if purely based on perception, has affected the morale and dignity of our matriculation students of all ethnic backgrounds.
Since we’re on the topic of bumiputera special privileges, the literature also clearly highlighted how affirmative action in the corporate sector only served the well-connected corporate elites, created rent-seeking behaviour instead of capital accumulation, and ended up condemning Malaysia to the middle-income trap instead of maturing as an Asian Tiger.
Special programmes must be put into place
I ultimately agree that special programmes must be put into place if we see any group of people in the country sidelined in terms of opportunities, in education, jobs or otherwise. Assistance to the B40 is a must.
But this discussion needs to go beyond harping on and on about the “special position of the bumiputera” and go into the more useful details on how to improve the mindsets and characters of all Malaysians towards a more dynamic and competitive Malaysia that can become a regional leader in Asean, based on human rights, technological innovation, sustainable development and environmental conservation.
On a final note, many of the “immigrants” have had children born here as Malaysians, who know of no other nationality except to be Malaysian. These Malaysians have decided to continue living here, although it is increasingly easy to take their talents abroad (see all the reports on Malaysia’s ‘brain drain’ problem).
Many “immigrants” stay here to help develop the country further with other Malaysians, despite being constantly reminded that they are “less” Malaysian than, say, a first-generation Muslim Javanese Malaysian.
It is extremely hurtful to be told to let go of our citizenship, just because we hope for a better future for all Malaysians, including the bumiputera.
There is no reason why the bumiputera Malaysians cannot work together with the non-bumiputera Malaysians and harness everyone's talent for the benefit of the country, with specific policies to help the B40 so that no one gets left behind, especially the bumiputera (since they make up a majority of the B40).
Except for political reasons.
WONG PUI YI is pursuing his PhD at Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.