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In our new statistics corner, Aliran Monthly analyses the distribution of ASB holdings, which reveals some surprising findings. It may also shock the majority of bumiputera to realise that the most-touted scheme benefiting bumiputera in fact benefits a tiny minority.

Umno often points to the Amanah Saham Bumiputera (ASB) scheme as one of the many things it has done for Malays, in particular, and bumiputera, in general. As it is restricted to only bumiputera, it is also often pointed to as an example of the discrimination in the country. Non-bumiputera, in particular, point to the consistently high dividends (and bonuses) paid by the ASB, higher than, for example, the Employees Provident Fund (EPF).

However, a closer examination of the distribution of holdings and dividends of the ASB may just shock everyone into a realisation that the ethnic game is a huge diversion from the real issues facing the country.

It may also shock the majority of bumiputera to realise that the most-touted scheme benefiting bumiputera in fact benefits a tiny minority.

Take a look at the distribution of holdings as shown in the graph below.

asb chart

The solid curve shows the dist1ribution of holdings. From the curve, it can be seen that the bottom 80 per cent of ASB participants hold about 5 per cent of ASB units, while the top 5 per cent hold around 65 per cent of the units.

This is a hugely unequal distribution, much more unequal than the distribution of household income, for example.

If you have looked at the various Malaysia Plans, you might have noticed that a number, called the Gini or Gini coeffcient, appears in the section on household income distribution. This is a measure of inequality ranging from 0 to 1, with 0 representing absolute equality and 1 representing absolute inequality. For the country, the Gini coefficient for the distribution of household income in 2007 was around 0.44

To understand this graphically, refer to the graph above. The dotted diagonal line represents the line of perfect equality, while the solid curved line represents the actual distribution of ASB holdings. The further the curve deviates from the dotted diagonal, the more unequal the distribution. The Gini is simply the ratio of the area between the dotted diagonal and the solid curve to the area of the triangle under the dotted diagonal.

We can use the information for the distribution of ASB holdings to estimate the Gini coefficient of their distribution. It comes out to be about 0.85!

Almost all ASB holders are bumiputera adults above the age of 18. In 2007, there were more than 6 million ASB subscribers. They represent more than three-quarters of the total adult bumiputera population above 18. In other words, ASB participants give a good idea of the wealth distribution within the bumiputera population, as ASB holdings represent one form of wealth. However, it is likely that the poorest bumiputera, for instance, the Orang Asli and a large proportion of the non-Malay bumiputera of Sabah and Sarawak, are not participants. At the other end, it is probable that the richest bumiputera, too, are not participants as they have other options for investing their wealth. Thus, although the ASB distribution gives a good idea of wealth distribution among the bumiputera, it is likely to be an underestimate of the extent of inequality.

To give a more concrete idea of the meaning of this inequality, let us look at the distribution of dividends per ASB holder in 2007. The table below shows the average dividend, not including bonus, received by ASB holders according to the size of their holdings.

Size Category of

Percent of

Percent of

Average Dividend per

Holdings (units)

Subscribers

Holdings

Subscriber (RM)

<5,000

78.80%

4.90%

43

5,000-10,000

6.20%

4.60%

518

10,000-50,000

10.80%

25.60%

1,640

50,000-500,000

4.10%

59.80%

10,049

>500,000

0.10%

5.10%

48,125

All

100.00%

100.00%

695

Source: calculated from ASB Annual Reā€™port, 2007

Almost 80% of subscribers had less than 5,000 units, averaging about 540 units. These subscribers received a grand average of RM43 in dividends in 2007. On the other hand, the 0.1% of subscribers holding more than 500,000 units averaged just over 600,000 units and received a comfortable average of RM48,125 in dividends, tax-free, in 2007.

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