Time for a needs-based policy

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Homeless people queue up at a soup kitchen in KL - File picture

Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia (GBM) welcomes Anwar Ibrahim’s pledge to accelerate the transition from race-based affirmative action economic plans to one that is needs-based when he becomes the prime minister.

The New Economic Policy (NEP) was launched in 1971 with twin objectives:

  • eradicating poverty irrespective of ethnicity
  • restructuring society to eliminate the identification of race with economic functions

Despite the noble intentions and the relative success of the NEP, it is perceived to have deviated from its original mission. The NEP became a justification for cronyism in order for the ruling party to consolidate its political support. This has resulted not only in the abuse of the nation’s resources but importantly manifested ethnic polarisation and institutional racism.

Due to ignorance and misrepresentation, Article 153 of the Federal Constitution has come to symbolise “Malay special rights” instead of the original “special position of the Malays and natives of Sabah and Sarawak” with respect to the reservation of quotas ‘deemed reasonable’ for their socioeconomic development.

The NEP has been successful in the emergence of a sizeable professional and managerial class in the Malay community. In fact, the income disparity ratio between bumiputeras and Chinese has narrowed by 2014 to 1:1.38 according to a 2016 Khazanah Research Institute report.

However, overall household income inequality in Malaysia is cause for concern. The income share of the bottom 40% is 16.4% compared to 46.2% for the top 20% of households.

Almost 12 million Malaysians are trapped in an inter-generational cycle of poverty and inequality. Poor and low-income households from all ethnic groups lack the capability to overcome the multidimensional disadvantages they face on a daily basis.

Hence it is crucial to switch to a needs-based affirmative action to ensure that all Malaysians from the bottom 40% of households are given appropriate assistance to improve their livelihoods.

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Needs-based affirmative policies would subsequently help narrow not only the inter-ethnic income disparity but also the growing intra-ethnic disparity within the bumiputera community.

A needs-based policy paradigm is critical for engendering national unity. It would signal to all Malaysians the need for inclusiveness, empathy and solidarity with fellow citizens who are disadvantaged due to their socioeconomic origins.

In this regard, GBM reiterates its call made in 2014 for the establishment of an independent social inclusion commission mandated to have oversight on all matters related to poverty reduction, income inequality, marginalisation and social inclusiveness.

Issued by GBM chairperson Zaid Kamaruddin on behalf of the following endorsing GBM member organisations:


1. All Women’s Action Society (Awam)
2. Engage
3. Kuala Lumpur & Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (KLSCAH)
4. Kumpulan Aktivis Mahasiswa Independen (Kami)
5. LLG Cultural Development Centre (LLG)
6. Monsoons Malaysia (MM)
7. Negeri Sembilan Chinese Assembly Hall (NSCAH)
8. Partners in Community Organising (Pacos Trust, Sabah)
9. Persatuan Penduduk Petaling Jaya (MyPJ)
10. Pusat Komas
11. Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia (SABM)
12. Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram)
13. Tindak Malaysia (TM)
14. United Chinese School Alumni Associations of Malaysia (UCSAAM)
15. University of Malaya Association of New Youth (Umany)

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