People browse inside a shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur October 23, 2013. A UNDP 2014 report shows slowing consumption among the bottom 40 per cent of country and growing inequality despite pro-Bumiputera affirmative action. — Reuters pic
KUALA LUMPUR, July 24 — Malaysia is seeing growing inequality among its poorest despite pro-Bumiputera affirmative action aimed at narrowing income gaps, with a United Nations report showing slowing consumption among the bottom 40 per cent of country.
The United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) 2014 Human Development Report that was released today showed that consumption growth in the group lagged the general population and was also behind China and Uganda, which were rated as experiencing high or rising disparity.
Aside from the growing inequality, the report also highlighted the unintended consequences of Malaysia’s pro-Bumiputera affirmative action policies in addressing inequality.
“Some observers have critiqued direct measures for being misguided and mismatched to the deeper structural problems that need to be addressed,” said the report.
“For example, the positive discrimination policies favouring the ethnic Malays, or Bumiputeras, in Malaysia over the dominant Chinese and minority Indian populations have improved their access to education and jobs and helped them more fully realise their economic potential.
“Yet Malaysia’s Chinese and Indian minority citizens chafe at 70 per cent quotas in university admissions, flocking instead to private and foreign schools and often staying away from the country,” the report added.
The report noted that approximately one million Malaysians have emigrated as of 2011, many of whom were ethnic Chinese and highly educated, and that the majority of skilled emigrants had cited social injustice as a reason for leaving the middle-income country.
The report will again place the spotlight on the efficacy of the government’s affirmative action programmes, which continue to expand despite criticism of their effectiveness in reaching those who most need the aid.
Last year, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak announced a revised New Economic Model (NEM) that provided the predominant Malay community access to over RM31 billion in aid and contracts, a move that critics said was a reversal of his promises to roll back race-based policies.
The Najib administration had previously pledged to gradually dismantle the defunct, but still enforced, pro-Bumiputera New Economic Policy (NEP), but had faced fierce resistance from Malay groups.
The UNDP report also placed Malaysia 62nd on the 2013 Human Development Index, far behind Singapore and Brunei that snagged the 9th and 30th spots respectively.
According to the report, Malaysia was ranked last year as a country with “high” human development, while Singapore and Brunei were deemed nations with “very high” human development.
Malaysia beat other southeast Asian neighbours on the 2013 ranking, such as Thailand (89), Indonesia (108), the Philippines (117), Vietnam (121) and Cambodia (136).
Norway was top of the list of 168 countries, while African countries emerging from long-term conflict or are still experiencing armed violence were ranked in the bottom tier.
In 2012, Malaysia was also ranked 62nd.
The Human Development Index is a measure of achievement in three basic areas of human development: a long and healthy life, knowledge and a decent standard of living.
It measures life expectancy at birth, average years of schooling, expected years of schooling and gross national income per capita.
The report also included the Gender Inequality Index, where Malaysia ranked 39th last year.
In the developing country, women held only 13.9 per cent of seats in Parliament last year, while the female labour force participation rate was just 44.3 per cent in 2012.
Singapore fared better than Malaysia by scoring the 15th spot in the 2013 Gender Inequality Index.
The Gender Inequality Index reflects inequality in achievement between women and men in three areas: reproductive health, empowerment and the labour market.