Article 153 of Constitution does not bar opening UiTM to minorities – LFL

Perlembagaan Persekutuan

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Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) refers to the Bersatu youth wing’s statement that opening the Mara Technological University (UiTM) to non-bumiputras violates Article 153 of the Federal Constitution, as well as to the protests by UiTM students on this.

This statement from Bersatu’s youth wing was issued in support of UiTM students protesting against a proposal to temporarily allow non-bumiputras to enrol in the cardiothoracic surgery postgraduate programme.

This also prompted a statement from the Higher Education Minister Zambry Kadir, who said that the matter had not been discussed or approved by his ministry, which stands firm on emphasising UiTM’s establishment under Article 153 of the Constitution.

The multitude of statements that have come up from various quarters on this issue has misunderstood and twisted the meaning of Article 153 of the Constitution and its relation to UiTM.

This is hardly surprising as successive governments and political leaders since the early 1970s have consistently misinterpreted and abused the application of Article 153 for political gain at the expense of national unity. This has led to disadvantages for non-bumiputras, which is not envisaged by Article 153.

Article 153(2) allows the king to determine a reasonable proportion of educational privileges for the Malays and the natives of Sabah and Sarawak. But Article 153(1) states clearly that the legitimate interests of other communities must be safeguarded when using the said provision.

As such, there is certainly nothing within Article 153 that would make it unconstitutional to allow non-bumiputras to enrol in any of UiTM courses. The usage of the term reasonable proportion would mean that if the Agong was to determine that it is necessary to apportion a certain quota of ethnic minorities to enrol into any of UiTM’s programmes, then it would be entirely in compliance with Article 153 of the Constitution.

READ MORE:  Unconstitutional, unlawful to restrict UiTM to only bumiputras - LFL

Note that the determination of a reasonable proportion of quotas for educational purposes under Article 153(2) is subject to the provisions of Article 40, which means that the Agong is bound by the advice of the cabinet on the matter.

The power ultimately lies with the government to decide. I say this clearly, because of the recent trend of government leaders attempting to shift responsibility for their acts to the constitutional monarch.

The proposal to open up UiTM’s cardiothoracic surgery postgraduate programme comes from an acute shortage of the requisite number of cardiothoracic surgeons to serve the Malaysian public. This consideration is not in violation of Article 153 and it is an affront of the Constitution to suggest otherwise.

LFL thus urges the government not to buckle and simply accede to calls by overzealous ethno-nationalists who ignore the dire state of our healthcare system.

UiTM is ultimately a public university funded by Malaysian taxpayers and should be used to ensure that the healthcare system of our country does not deteriorate any further.

The availability of surgeons could mean the difference between life and death to the public, whether they are non-bumiputras or bumiputras. The political system makes differences between bumis and non-bumis, but disease does not.

Zaid Malek is director of Lawyers for Liberty.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.
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