I can accept many features of the NEP, albeit swallowing them like a bitter pill. I will never be able to accept the Skim Latihan Akademik Bumiputera (Slab), however.
For those who are unfamiliar with the Slab scam scheme, it is basically a training programme tailored for ‘outstanding’ bumiputeras with professional qualifications to embark on an academic career.
The privileges accorded under this scam scheme are plentiful and far-reaching, available to ‘bumi’ graduates in medicine, law, sciences and IT. I shall only touch on the medical careers, drawing from my own personal experience lest I make wrong generalised statements about other fields.
Under the Ministry of Health (MOH) ruling, all doctors are required to serve at least four years before being eligible to apply for specialty training in the Masters programme in local universities. No one is exempted from this ruling as in this noble profession of medicine; all doctors are equal in this fair nation regardless of the ethnicity.
Some are more equal than others, nonetheless.
These are the supposed outstanding bumiputera doctors. They only need to serve one year of government service before being offered a range of clinical disciplines in which they desire to specialise in and later on, lecture in. While the rest of their non-bumiputera colleagues serve the district folk, these privileged lot are bypassing everyone else to begin a premature training as a clinical specialist.
On the outset, it would appear justified to reward these ‘prodigies’ with a shorter route to specialty and thereafter a career in academic medicine. If one scrutinises the Slab candidates however, the ugly faces of discrimination, cronyism and shortsightedness will become obvious.
Despite its namesake, the Slab programme is almost exclusively reserved for Malay Muslim bumiputeras. There is a reasonable pool of qualified and talented non-Muslim bumiputera doctors in Sabah and Sarawak. They, however, are denied the chance to become academics through this supposedly noble training scheme. It’s bad enough to label Malaysians as bumi and non-bumi. To further differentiate between Malay and non-Malay bumiputeras is an act more despicable that the apartheid NEP itself. It is racial egoism.
In principle, the by-invitation only Slab programme is open to outstanding, phenomenal Malay bumiputera doctors. In practice however, the candidates are far from it. My Malay colleagues who can hardly string a proper sentence of English together are being accepted into the programme. They can’t even present a simple case summary to the consultants during ward rounds and now they are expected to lecture medical students? Pretty preposterous isn’t it? The quality of Slab trainees ranges from those with minimal knowledge in basic pharmacology to those who cannot handle common medical emergencies without descending into a state of panic.
Are we confident to let our children learn and train under these pseudo-lecturers? A great number of my colleagues who failed final year MBBS exams in Universiti Malaya were invited to join the Slab programme! It gives one a general idea of the quality of our future lecturers. The majority of these Slab products have either failed the external Royal Colleges exam or were never confident to attempt these exams in the first place. There were also two Slab trainees in UM who were dropouts from Australian universities. The future of medical education does not look bright indeed.
Like most other NEP privileges, the Slab programme has been hijacked by well-connected Umno loyalists. A great number of trainees are accepted into the programme because they carry a ‘bin Datuk-something’. The truly qualified bumis are denied an opportunity while mediocre, below- average children of Umnoputras are offered a silver platter to quasi-professorship.
More than being another Umno racist policy, the Slab programme is one that is dangerous. Clinical acumen in the profession of medicine comes from years of experience and there is no other way. A pre-university student who enters medical school without battling it out on a level playing field is already a cause for concern. Now, the same person is expected to perform the clinical duties of a lecturer-specialist after serving just one year of housemanship. In our feudalistic healthcare system, the specialist is always regarded as correct and infallible, even when he has less experience than his medical officers who are subordinates merely because they were not born with a privileged skin colour.
The intentions of the Slab programme were never to provide a helping hand to aspiring bumiputera doctors. It was also never the intention of the Slab programme to provide our universities with a steady source of well-trained lecturers.
The way it is carried out, the aims and purposes of the Slab programme is to mass-produce as many Malay bumiputera specialists as possible and in the shortest time, as well as to inhibit the careers of non-Malay doctors. It is already punishing enough that non-bumi students enter university one year later that their bumi counterparts (two years if one is from a national-type school).
Now they even have to wait four years later than their Malay colleagues before being eligible to apply for specialty training. A Slab product will become a full-fledged specialist by the age of 30 with an almost guaranteed pathway to sub-specialty and professorship by 40. His non-Malay colleagues meanwhile, will only be a newbie specialist at 35, assuming the doctor was successful in his application for specialty training at the very first attempt.