Institut Rakyat says the Bumiputera Economic Empowerment (BEE) programme announced by Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak is directed at appeasing the Malay right-wing group Perkasa. 

It is also aimed at strengthening Najib's bid to defend his Umno presidency and ward off any impression that BN has lost the popular vote, says the newly-founded PKR-linked think tank.

Emphasising that Malaysia today has one of the most unequal societies in Southeast Asia, the Institut Rakyat said the affirmative action programme should instead cut across across all races. 

NONE"Najib is using the BEE initiative as he failed to deliver most of his Key Performance Index during the 13th general election. 

"He lost more seats to Pakatan Rakyat, failed to win back Selangor. He has also lost the BN's popular vote for the first time," the institute says. 

"The very title of his initiative - Pemerkasaan Ekonomi Bumiputera - may be a wink and nudge to Perkasa that become so vocal under Najib's presidency," it said. 

Pointing to the inequality, the PKR-linked institute helmed by executive director Azrul Azwar Ahmad Tajudin and research director Yin Shao Loong, said the Household Income and Basic Amenities Survey Report 2012, reveals the inequality among ethnic groups and hence, proves that the country has one of the most unequal societies in this region.

They said Malaysia's overall Gini coefficient is 0.431 and while looking at the races the bumiputera reading is 0.421, Chinese 0.422 and Indian is 0.443. A reading of one represents inequality and 0 is absolute equality. 

"The bottom 40 percent of Malaysian households had a mean income of only RM1,847 per month last year."

"Najib's BEE focus solely on bumiputeras when in fact economic inequality is a Malaysia wide cross-communal phenomenon. 

NONE"The BEE fails to distinguish the different kinds of problems faced by rural and urban bumiputeras as well as challenges faced by the poor and middle-class bumiputeras." 

It also pointed that a large proportion of ethnic bumiputera ,including the Malays. are unable to take advantage of Najib's policy initiatives as announced because they lack the basic economic strength to do so. 

"This is less a failure of ethnic affirmative action than it is a failure due to decades of uneven regional development, in particular the neglect of rural Malaysia.

"How will the bumiputera in areas - especially in East Malaysia and rural Peninsular Malaysia - without amenities and adequate opportunities to  further their education, take advantage of jobs in GLCs, oil and gas contracts, vendor programmes," it asked. 

Target the needy regardless of race 

Azrul and Yin said Najib's BEE proposals cater more to an urban, lower- to middle-income demographic group who have some basic educational, financial, and infrastructural capacity to join such schemes.

They described that Najib's "I help you, you help me" patron-client approach as clearly pitched with the Umno general assembly in mind.

Institut Rakyat further warned that race-based economic policies are divisive because they generate resentment from those left in the cold.  

"Every Malaysian has the capacity to contribute to our national prosperity. Every Malaysian can gain from the deeper empowerment of all other Malaysians to contribute.

"It is the responsibility of a just government to ensure that the distribution of gains is equitable through needs-based policies."

They pointed that a policy targeting the needy based on their economic situation rather than ethnic membership would be the more progressive alternative.

"Umno and BN have proven time and again that they are unable to fully adopt such an approach because they are hampered by their commitment to race politics. 

"However, there is nothing to stop them from introducing a needs-based criterion into an ethnic-based policy."

Shying away from Malaysian agenda

The recently concluded Malaysia day celebrations should have presented Najib an opportunity to forge greater national cohesion, to redress the inequalities among the three entities that make up Malaysia: the Peninsula, Sabah and Sarawak.

NONEAzrul and Yin pointed out East Malaysia is seething with resentment from lopsided implementation of the Malaysia Agreement. 

"There is also unhappiness over the fact that petroleum royalties that could be used for development purposes are only five per cent when there have been demands for a rise to 20 percent. 

"On the issue of rural well-being, Najib should also have to answer why the Suhakam's report on its national inquiry into indigenous land rights was suppressed at election time, and what action will be taken to address its recommendations. 

"Land rights, and disputes over land, cut to the heart of the minority bumiputera rural economy."

The BEE, they said completely neglects this important issue and warned their economic situation may only worsen as the prices of basic commodities rise with the government's step towards fiscal austerity.

The institute further added that Umno and BN had preyed on the anxieties among ethnic Malays regarding the security of their privileges, status, and religion.

NONE"However, the election results show that it has not been universally successful as the Malay votes are split."

It warned that the unequal situation would lead to a system of unequal ethnic privileges and this would lead Malaysia backwards because the nation should be looking at how to bridge gaps between rich and the poor, between East and West Malaysia, rather than ignoring or reinforcing them.

"The choice is not between ethnic affirmative action and unfettered meritocracy, but between an imprecise and divisive ethnic affirmative action approach and needs-based affirmative action that puts class before ethnicity," it said.

~ Malaysiakini