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SPECIAL REPORT | When former air force technician Safwan Saleh started a side project of re-selling custom watches, he did not envision he would soon start his own clothing brand, Petak, in 2016.

The brand, featuring Safwan’s exclusive designs, started off only with an online presence, but soon he was generating enough business to open a brick and mortar store in Cyberjaya.

As the business grew, the entrepreneur had planned to open three more outlets by the end of 2020. And then Covid-19 hit, and expansion plans turned into a game of survival.

To keep his business afloat, the 34-year-old said he attempted to apply for a loan from Tekun Nasional, an agency created in 1998 under the Entrepreneur Development and Cooperatives Ministry for bumiputera businesses.

The facility offered a maximum of RM50,000 loan but “red tape” and offers to use a “cable” to guarantee a loan of RM20,000 soured the experience.

“This was in March this year... I was given a contact number by my company secretary who said, ‘just give it a shot’.

“There was too much bureaucracy. I did not follow up with the next steps because they told me I am only eligible to get RM20,000 (from RM50,000),” he said.

Safwan is one of many bumiputera entrepreneurs who, a generation after the New Economic Policy, are wondering if the help promised through affirmative action policies would reach them.

Tabled in Parliament 50 years ago as part of the Second Malaysia Plan on July 12, 1971, the NEP was promoted as a 20-year strategy to reduce overall poverty rates and restructure societal imbalances attributed as a trigger that sparked the 1969 race riots.

Although it formally ended in 1990, it laid the foundation for race-based affirmative action which continues in national policy to this day.

Reduction in poverty, a growing Malay middle class

Looking back 50 years, one of the measures many supporters of the NEP have used to show its success was the decline in...

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