As Putrajaya takes baby steps in reform, UiTM’s Bumi policy continues debate on purpose of affirmative action policy

Malay Mail
Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, June 16 — Political observers see Malaysia’s affirmative policies aimed at advancing Malay economically lie at the core of ongoing debate over enrolment in the country’s exclusively Bumiputera higher education centre Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM), a Singapore broadsheet reported today.

Retired banker Tan Sri Nazir Razak who led CIMB till 2014 told The Straits Times that the NEP — now called New Economic Model — was successful in reducing poverty in Malaysia from 60 per cent in 1969 to 6 per cent in 2022 by raising a professional Malay class of doctors, bankers and lawyers.

“There’s no two ways about Malaysia’s success in eradicating poverty and the NEP was at the centre of it. In terms of the expansion of the middle class, no one can dispute the fact that the NEP has resulted in this massive expansion of the middle class and growth in Malay professionals,” the 58-year-old, whose father was second prime minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein who introduced the Bumiputera affirmative policy, was quoted as saying.

Some observers suggest that Malaysia’s affirmative action policy needs to be reworked to be more inclusive, considering the changes to the country’s economic situation and its demographic population today.

Speaking to The Straits Times, Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam, one of the original architects of the New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1971, said the plan to address the socio-economic imbalances faced by the Bumiputera had initial success until it continued past 1990 when it was supposed to end.

“After the 1990s, it was distorted or abused and left a lot of Malays still poor, and worse still, it left the poor Chinese and Indians relatively ignored. It promoted elitists and cronies in gaining wealth and benefits instead of the poor,” the 89-year-old was quoted as saying.

Retired University of Malaya professor of political economy Edmund Terence Gomez indicated that despite promises of inclusivity in economic reforms, it may be hard for the current government comprising Pakatan Harapan (PH) and Barisan Nasional, to carry out the former coalition’s electoral pledges.

“When PH was in the opposition, they talked about a colour-blind needs-based policy instead of affirmative action policies. But now when they are in power, no one has moved to do so because they fear losing electoral support,” he was quoted as saying.

Singapore Institute of International Affairs senior fellow Oh Ei Sun told The Straits Times that the Anwar administration cannot afford to alienate Malays, seeing that many in Malaysia’s majority demographic group have swung to the Perikatan Nasional Opposition coalition in recent elections.

“Any attempt to even slightly deviate from these practices would thus come with huge political costs such as sizeable losses in Malay votes. This is especially so now that the Anwar government is facing relentless political onslaught from the conservative Malays, so Anwar could ill afford to even inadvertently be perceived as detracting from Malay-exclusive affirmative actions,” he was quoted as saying.

UiTM’s racial exclusivity was reignited following recent news reports claiming the university is considering opening up its cardiothoracic surgery postgraduate programme to non-Bumiputera trainee doctors, as the programme with the National Heart Institute is currently the only Parallel Pathway Programme in the country.

The Health Ministry said it would recognise the Parallel Pathway Programme and was planning to amend the Medical Act 1971.

The parallel pathway issue came into focus when the Malaysian Medical Association requested UiTM to allow the entry of non-Bumiputera medical officers who wish to undergo specialised training in cardiothoracic fields, similar to how the institution accepts international students.

This came after four graduates from the cardiothoracic surgery programme with the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh sued the Malaysian Medical Council for refusing to register them on the National Specialist Register.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dzulkefly Ahmad said that amendments to the Medical Act 1971 have been proposed to resolve the issue of registering medical doctors who obtain their specialist qualifications through the parallel pathway and to streamline the process of recognition and registration as medical specialists.

The Health Ministry is expected to table the amendments to the Medical Act in the coming Dewan Rakyat session this month.