SEPT 16— We have lived with the concept of 1 Malaysia since its initiation on September 16, 2010. The idea of 1 Malaysia was instilled in an effort to unite Malaysians from all races. But really, have we asked ourselves what is 1 Malaysia? What defines 1 Malaysia? I myself can never really answer this practically, referring to current situations in Malaysia. Is 1 Malaysia about multiracial Malaysians being able to sit down and eat nasi lemak, yong tau foo or tosai together? Or is it about us visiting the open houses of our friends from other races during their festivals? One can interpret 1 Malaysia that way but is that the only 1 Malaysia that we want?
Since her inception, people have been talking about unity and harmony in Malaysia. The phrase “although we are multiracial, we can still sit together harmoniously and united” is not new to us. We are told to be thankful for the Malaysia that we have. Indeed, we are. It is just that the concern here is what are the directions of 1 Malaysia? What is expected of us, the citizens, to compliment our 1 Malaysia concept? More importantly, what is expected from the government to walk the 1 Malaysia talk? Although the government managed to ise 1 Malaysia successfully to every Malaysian, I am afraid they have yet to explain their directions in accommodating the concept.
Government policies especially during Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s time were said to favour the Malays and the Bumiputera Malaysians. I myself am one of the beneficiaries to such policies and I am thankful to the government. Without those policies it will be almost impossible for me to afford a place in a reputable university in United Kingdom. I believe many of us, Bumiputera Malaysians, too feel the same and are thankful. The policies enforced during the era of Dr Mahathir were to help the majority of the poor and at that time, it helped improve the lot of the Bumiputeras. Indeed, the majority of the poor were Bumiputera Malaysians.
From such policies the number of middle-class Bumiputeras increased and their socio-economic background improved too. However, in the spirit of 1 Malaysia, this question needs to be asked: what about our fellow Malaysians of other races who are financially restricted too? Not all non-Bumiputera Malaysians are well off and not all Bumiputera Malaysians are impecunious.
When I was in school I have good and close Chinese and Indian friends. We studied and “lepak-ed” together. Alhamdulillah, when our SPM result came out we did well in and scored distinctions. We talked about what we wanted to do after SPM and started applying for various courses. While I got offers from a matriculation college and a public university, some of them were only offered Sixth Form education, not even a place in our public universities. May I remind you that these friends of mine do not come from silk-stocking families. They, like me, could not afford to pay for private universities, which left them no choice but to continue in Form Six. On the other hand, we have too in Malaysia the Malays and Bumiputera Malaysians who are rich enough to afford private education but were offered places in our public universities. This situation leaves the system abused by some people in power, reaping the benefit provided in the name of being a Bumiputera while those who really need the support do not get it.
I praised a few of my Malay friends who despite being Bumiputeras refused to apply for government scholarships. When asked why, they simply said the scholarships are to help the poor and they can afford to pay, so why should they apply for something not theirs in the first place? Hence from there I realised that it is our responsibility as citizens not to abuse the assistance we are getting from government policies. Yet at the same time, it is the function of our government to introduce policies to best help Malaysians who are in need regardless of race, religion or whatever differences we have.
Poverty is colour blind is a reality anywhere in the world, not only in Malaysia. It is a problem affecting people from any race and any religion. A policy such as the NEP did help a majority of Bumiputeras, giving us a break by assisting us financially and giving us hope to achieve better lives. Yet, there are people who abuse and use their Bumiputera status for their own personal advantage.
Hence, now under the concept of 1 Malaysia, this is the right moment and time for the government to rethink and redesign government policies to really include the poor non-Bumiputera Malaysians too. If our policies can be designed to help the poor regardless of their race, I believe everyone who is qualified can benefit. However the government needs to be clear and firm in such a decision to reformulate its administration in favour of the poor over the Bumiputera status. If this can be done, it will be a new transformation and direction for our 1 Malaysia concept. After all, if this is achieved, the poor among the Bumiputeras can still gain while giving the same fair chance to the impoverished non-Bumiputera Malaysians too.
This article came out in TheMalaysianInsider here as well.