COMMENT | The prime minister of the new Pakatan Harapan government Dr Mahathir Mohamad, rightly gave his firm assurance in Parliament yesterday that the government will uphold the special position and rights of Malays and special position of the natives in Sabah and Sarawak and the ethnic rights of other groups, according to our Federal Constitution.
He added clearly that the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is empowered to protect three areas that are special to the Malays and natives of Sabah and Sarawak, namely the public service, the economy and education.
He was replying to a parliamentary question from Shamsul Anuar Nasarah (BN-Lenggong), and further outlined the special areas of protection - as in “jobs in the public sector, the giving of scholarships and the issuance of permits or licences, under federal laws”.
Indeed all this is right and proper under our present constitution, but has the time come to improve the implementation of bumiputera policies, to make the attainment of the goals more effective and fair to all?
The question that now arises is whether, after 61 years of questionable BN government and performance which was rejected by voters in the historic GE 14, now is the right time to review the quality of the implementation of all these past policies and especially their abuses.
Firstly, let’s examine jobs in the public service.
A bloated public service
We all recognise that we have a bloated public service that has declined in efficiency and effectiveness over the years of BN rule. This is partly because the civil service has lost much of its former multicultural composition.
How effective can any civil service anywhere be really effective in serving the public and national interests, when it is not fully representative of the people it serves? How empathetic can it be?
Will there not be more inbreeding in the civil service culture, as the civil service becomes more monolithic? Where would the necessary internal checks and balances be, and how would there be more competition with the rise in internal protection and favouritism?
Hence, the new Pakatan Harapan government will need to improve the racial and religious composition of the public service as soon as possible, if we want to progress at a faster pace.
Perhaps some kind of quota system is now essential, as the old systems of recruitment and promotion have not worked well.
Secondly, in regard to giving scholarships and training, please be more fair in the distribution amongst our many races.
Often enough in the past, the wealthy bumiputera students are known to have won scholarships over their underprivileged bumiputera and non-bumiputera brothers and sisters.
This is the kind of the abuse of the bumiputera policy in the past, and is a major source of frustration for all students, even bumiputera students who are from poor homes.
There has to be more justice, as taught by all our religions and human values, by being fair to all bright and poor Malaysian students, regardless of race and religion, to promote real national unity.
Corruption and cronyism
Thirdly, the issuance of permits and licences have also been abused in the past. The most qualified bumiputeras have not always been given licences and permits according to merit.
Very often, unqualified and underqualified bumiputeras who were political friends and allies were given permits. This led to more corruption and cronyism and a wastage of our national resources and productivity and competitiveness!
The liberal award of approved permits are a case in point. How many rich bumiputeras were created who did not advance further than being mere rentiers and easygoing traders? Have we all sacrificed to help build a bumiputera entrepreneurial class?
But where are most of the best qualified bumiputera businesspeople today? They are mostly in secure government-linked companies, earning big salaries, without taking much business risks. So can they develop and grow as real entrepreneurs?
Under permits and licences, we can also include tenders and contracts that were often awarded to inept bumiputera contractors. They usually subcontract the tenders to non-bumiputera contractors at higher prices. The consequent squeeze in profits often led to more corruption, lower standards of performance and much more inefficiencies. All this abuse led to rising costs and higher prices which the poor consumers had to bear. No wonder they reacted in GE14.
So we all hope that the new Harapan government will remove these abuses and help the genuine bumiputera businesspeople from now on. Then even the non-Malays will be happier that special rights are being properly implemented.
And what is wrong in providing more contracts to able and efficient non-Malay businesspeople, especially those who can form joint enterprises amongst all races, to improve the effectiveness in the implementation of bumiputera policies?
Improving bumiputera policies
After 61 years of BN rule, many, if not most, Malaysians believe that the bumiputera policies and their implementation should definitely be improved.
This will be in the best interests of the whole country and especially the bumiputeras, many of whom have suffered and lost out because of the kind of abuses practised in the past, as mentioned above.
Mahathir has rightly suggested that “any proposed amendments on this (use of Bahasa Malaysia in the public sector) needs to be discussed” and that the agreement of the Conference of Rulers, in line with Articles 159 and 38 of the constitution, should be obtained.
I think all Malaysians will agree that our prime minister Mahathir and his new government should be strongly supported by the rakyat and all voters in his proposal to make the necessary amendments to move forward for greater progress.
I would also propose that a review of the implementation of all bumiputera-related policies should be undertaken as a matter of priority - to ensure that the bumiputeras and other races and religions are protected and are able to advance, as envisaged in our constitution and in the spirit of our founding fathers.
This will be the main way to enable the “New Malaysia”, under the Harapan government, to become great again!
Selamat Hari Merdeka dan Malaysia Baru!
RAMON NAVARATNAM is chairperson of the Asli Center of Policy Studies.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.