New concept of a Cohesive Malaysian Society based on Equality and Fairness

By:

Dr Lee Hwok Aun

Affiliations:

-

Policy Code:

3e Economic Justice

Problem Statement:

Malaysians yearn for a socioeconomic system that looks out equally for all, that helps the needy regardless of identity. We also welcome policies that promote participation, capability and diversity. This moment presents an opportunity for national policy to provide clarity on these objectives, and to align programmes in a systematic and constructive manner.

The principle of “need-based” assistance resonates widely, but the discourses are often clouded and cause undue polarization because we fail to specify the practical operations and limits of “need-based” policies. Likewise, group-targeted programmes – favouring Bumiputeras, Indian, Orang Asli or women – involve specific interventions that must be clarified and recognized continual priorities and challenges.

A systematic and productive reset to Bumiputera development is timely and vital, anchored on capability and participation. Driving the agenda by these precepts bolsters the prospect of effective and sustained progress. Moving forward also entails positively putting in place appropriate incentives, support systems, and graduation mechanisms.

Value(s) and Belief(s):

A new framework that
A. Safeguards equality in basic rights, dignity, and well-being, through universal provision of basic needs and decent living standards for all, regardless of identity
B. Promotes participation, capability and diversity in a fair and productive manner, mainly through group-targeted, special measures that based on appropriate balance of identity, need, and merit

Proposal of Solution:

Reformulate the pillars of inclusive development, based on (A) equality and (B) fairness:

A. Provision of basic needs and decent living standards to all, based on the principles of equality and dignity, and rights. These policies specifically involve: basic schooling (primary and secondary), public health services, nutrition, social protection, shelter, basic income and decent work conditions.
Special attention should be accorded to:
1. Addressing practical necessity and people’s demands for not just basic provision but higher quality of services and healthier work-life balance
2. Highlighting that specific disadvantaged, vulnerable and marginalized groups warrant assistance for attaining basic needs. Among these are the urban poor, poor Indian communities, Orang Asli, Sabah and Sarawak natives, female-headed households, etc.
3. Disbursement of public funds and design of development programmes that aim to narrow gaps between states and regions.

B. On the principle of fairness, develop capabilities and promote participation, first and foremost, in order to reduce inter-group disparities in access, opportunity, capability, and representation, and ultimately to narrow income and wealth gaps. The key areas of pro-Bumiputera (and other designated groups) programmes must be specified:
1. Higher education (pre-university programmes, admissions, sponsorship) - in these areas, as well, more preference for disadvantaged can be incorporated, with continual emphasis on developing capability.
2. High-level occupations (professional and management positions, especially in public sector and GLCs)
3. Enterprise development (SMEs, GLCs, public procurement, vendor development, grants and loans, microfinance, training and advisory support) - the emphasis must be on developing capability, but there is scope especially in microfinance to target the poor/B40 of all ethnic groups
4. Wealth and property ownership (unit trusts, share allocations, property discounts)

A bottom-up building process must be emphasized and systematically formulated, focusing on developing capability, competitiveness and confidence as the driving factors.

These policy spheres under theme (B) are more complex than the provision of basic needs and decent living of theme (A) above, and hence it is suitably guided by the principle of fairness – akin to “equitability”, but arguably simpler to comprehend and communicate to the general public.

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