Has Umno helped Malays?

P Gunasegaram
Mar 14, 2013

QUESTION TIME When former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad said in typical acerbic but unsubstantiated fashion that Malay rights, privileges and its position would be affected if the opposition were returned in Selangor, it begged two other questions.

What did he do for the ordinary Malay during the long 22 years he was in power from 1981 to 2003, and how much was he responsible for the lack of their progress? And to broaden the question further, how much has Umno done for the Malay on the street and in the kampung?

A good starting point to answer the question is to look back at the New Economic Policy (NEP) of the seventies which provided the framework and target for economic redress between the races. The noble twin aims of the policy which few argued with were the eradication of poverty irrespective of race and the elimination of race identification with economic function.

This restructuring was supposed to have come from an increasing economic cake so that no community would feel deprived from the process which would be made over 20 years.

But the reality was different. While there was much effort in equalisation of opportunities initially through the education of Malays and giving them chances for jobs in the government service and the private sector, the policy morphed into one that focused on the equalisation of outcomes instead.

This resulted in drops in educational standards and minimum qualifications to accommodate weaker students instead of helping weaker students to cross existing bars by increased and better tuition.

The push to get more Malay teachers into the education system by lowering standards resulted in a plunge in teaching standards and led to the current problem that we have of poor teaching to weak students. Standards had to be dropped to ensure more students passed, resulting in a deteriorating public education system right from the bottom to the top.

The national education system now is much worse than it was before and directly affected Malays – most of whom depend on this system to get their educational qualifications. The quality of graduates from our public universities deteriorated so much so that thousands of them, mostly Malays, are unemployable.

There was a misplaced emphasis on displacing English in the education system, a role prominently played by Mahathir in the early years, eventually to the detriment of the Malays, most of whom were in the national schools. Even as Umno politicians decried English, many of them sent their children to private schools and overseas for an English-based education.

In government, Malays were prematurely promoted over their non-Malay counterparts, many of whom were much more experienced and competent, to the detriment and efficiency of the civil service. The imbalance has been more than rectified with the scales now tipping in the opposite direction with much less non-Malays in government especially at top levels.

The perversion of the NEP

The NEP, in the process, was perverted and the common standard for its success became the 30 percent target for Malay/bumiputera ownership in companies, the measurement of which remains substantially flawed. For most Malays, this figure was meaningless because they had no corporate ownership, except perhaps for those who were able to subscribe for shares in the national unit trust scheme, Amanah Saham Nasional.

In the corporate sector, companies were forced to divest 30 percent of their stakes to bumiputeras, thus raising the possibility of abuses through patronage and front companies which were bumiputera only in name.

Government contracts were given to Malay companies, many of whom did not have the capability or capacity to undertake them, bringing in other partners to do the job instead. They earned the moniker “Ali Baba” whereby the contracts are obtained by Malay companies while the work was actually done by others.

Standards were dropped to enable bumiputera contractors to get approval for the projects and there was a substantial fall in the quality of work done over the years even as costs increased.

Mahathir himself lamented that there were as many as half a dozen sub-contracts, leaving the final person who does the job very little profit margins, and therefore turning out substandard work. But he did nothing to stop it during his time.

Instead he quite publicly stated that there was a need to create a bumiputera business class, including some billionaires. He went about assiduously to do just that, with initial prime beneficiaries being the former finance minister Daim Zainuddin and his cronies and subsequently extending to others during his later years in power as he reportedly fell out with Daim.

Mahathir deliberately used the privatisation process to dish out prime concessions such as roads, mobile licences, independent power production, water services and others to private businessmen at concessionary rates, directly putting valuable government resources into private hands at very low prices.

Corruption and patronage led to leakages of government resources to an array of favoured businessmen – Malay and non-Malay – through negotiated tenders, outright granting (instead of auction) of licences, and land transfers and conversions. Instant millionaires, and some billionaires, were created in matter of a few years.

The goal of re-distributing an increasing economic pie were subverted through these leakages as much of the government resources which should have been channelled back to the people – and especially the poor, most of whom were Malays – were diverted to the moneyed class.

Over the years, Umno has transformed from a party of teachers to one dominated by businessmen most of whom are dependent on government contracts and handouts for their income and lavish lifestyles.

The Umno elites still champion Malay rights, but they do so to remain in power so that they will get the benefits of all the perversion of the NEP that has happened. Even if it means that they would deprive and impoverish the very race that they purport to help.

Has Umno helped Malays? Yes, but some of them very much more so than others. The tragedy of Umno is that it has neglected the vast majority of Malays, despite the huge mandate that the community has given the party all these years.

The reason for that in one word is this: Corruption.

P GUNASEGARAM is founding editor of business news portal KiniBiz, a joint venture with Malaysiakini. He believes many sins were and are being committed in the name of championing Malay rights, position and privileges.

  1. #1 by monsterball on Saturday, 16 March 2013 - 7:26 am

    I think more Malaysian Muslims hate Mahathir than Najib….and Najib has lost the respect and trust from vast majority Malaysians.
    There is nothing both of them can say or do to change the minds of Malaysians to vote for a change of Govt.

  2. #2 by yhsiew on Saturday, 16 March 2013 - 7:32 am

    If Umno helps the indegenious Malays, then Dr. M would NOT have given blue ICs to aliens to allow them compete with the indigenious Malays. Dr. M gave blue ICs to aliens to keep himself in power, not for the good of the indigenious Malays.

  3. #3 by yhsiew on Saturday, 16 March 2013 - 7:34 am


    “indegenious/indigenious” should be “indigenous”.

  4. #4 by Bigjoe on Saturday, 16 March 2013 - 8:49 am

    Of all the mistake done by UMNO, the one on education was the biggest one. There was no need to “NEP” the educaion system because the teaching profession was professional and dedicated and race-blind – the vernacular schools were losing to them..

    The Kuala Kangsar Malay college is a case in point where it still has large number of non-Malay teachers that has produced the best of the Malays. I personally remember having to compete with a Malay for the top of the class in my chinese-majority school and my teachers egged both us on..

    The truth is not only must our education be race and religo-neutral but we need to even bring in foreigners now in order to get to the very top in the world.

    By far what they did to our education was the WORST corruption..

  5. #5 by Dap man on Saturday, 16 March 2013 - 11:09 am

    There is absolute truth from the first till the last word of this article.
    Mahathir is solely responsible for the plight the vast majority of Malays are in today.
    I never admire any Malay who drives a posh car or lives in a mansion because I know he got his riches not through hard work but through patronage or corruption.
    UMNO has fooled the Malays again and again and yet again.
    Fortunately, many have woken from their deep slumber. The thers are being led to a bottomless pit by UMNO.

  6. #6 by ahkmlog on Saturday, 16 March 2013 - 11:46 am

    Yes he has helped the Malays but only his cronies. The general Malay public gets nothing except ASB. Even than they have to apply for bank loans to purchase. How much will they actually profit from it after deduction and loans repayment and not forgetting withdrawals made every now and than?

  7. #7 by cseng on Saturday, 16 March 2013 - 11:50 am

    Remember the malay dilemma?

    That dilemma, to him, is “malay as race” should not be confused being “malay-malay” or “constitutional malay”.

    That dilemma was resolved by him, after “malay as race” boxed into “umno-malay” and “non-umno-malay”.

    Disassociate ‘malay as race’ from racial and constitutions perspectives, but associates it to umno.

    That is why, according to him, without umno there will be no malay. The malay felt ‘great sense of lost’ without umno. “Better the devils you know…”.As if, the ‘malay as race’ is incomplete without umno.

  8. #8 by cseng on Saturday, 16 March 2013 - 12:12 pm

    Because of all these, ‘malay’ agendas were deployed as a umno support and vote retention tool.

    Being tools for umno support/vote retention, values of integrity, transperancy, accountability, national development were compromised.

    Without malay agendas, anything significant about umno? Even to the eye of the malay.

  9. #9 by lee tai king (previously dagen) on Saturday, 16 March 2013 - 12:27 pm

    Oh yes umno has helped the malays in a big way. For a start umno was personally responsible for helping the malays (and indeed the rest of us) to move backward. Just look at KL. After 55 yrs of developement and instead of looking like seoul, taipei, hk, singapore, we look more like somewhere in bangla or yangoon.

    Umno boleh!

  10. #10 by worldpress on Saturday, 16 March 2013 - 1:06 pm

    Is it MALAYS are their hostage for administration?

  11. #11 by Loh on Saturday, 16 March 2013 - 1:08 pm

    ///Has Umno helped Malays? Yes, but some of them very much more so than others. The tragedy of Umno is that it has neglected the vast majority of Malays, despite the huge mandate that the community has given the party all these years.///–the author

    It is like asking whether a parent who pampers his sons and daugters that they can just live to be fed without having to work hard as helping the children. If it is, then UMNO might have helped Malays during its early days out of love. But lately when any Muslim can claim to be Malay, UMNO has been turned into a vehicle to make the powers-that-be and his clan rich n the name of helping Malays, so that Malays would vote them in power. The sin was not how they help Malays, but they had to show Malays that non-Malays are discriminated for their benefit. Over time UMNO makes its followers believe that they are the chosen persons by person who thought that he was God himself.

  12. #12 by tak tahan on Saturday, 16 March 2013 - 8:55 pm

    Hail Abraham Haji Najib,the chosen one from the chosen party.

  13. #13 by tak tahan on Saturday, 16 March 2013 - 9:02 pm

    Never in the world like Bolehland has the chosen male/female leader.Indeed,we are the world ‘boleh’ contender;best education,democracy,fastest GNI growth ever and whatever sucks you name it…WTF la..errhh

  14. #14 by Noble House on Sunday, 17 March 2013 - 3:49 am

    Mahathir’s policy was all about enriching himself, his family and those of his cronies. He would make a thousand of the ten of thousand Malays into filthy rich and powerful cronies and blame the rest on the non-malays. Figuratively speaking, the NEP is anything but a figment of the imagination to the vast majority of the Malays. It is a fragment sentence by itself!

  15. #15 by chengho on Sunday, 17 March 2013 - 4:56 am

    UMNO is Malay party , what do you expect ; N Pas also Malay party ; heard something like they will collaborate for GE
    vote for MCA/BN

  16. #16 by cseng on Sunday, 17 March 2013 - 10:47 am

    Chengho, define malay. What is malay? What is malay agenda, for what, for who and why?

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