NB: This press statement was released on 9 October 2013 in Kuala Lumpur.
When Dato’ Sri Najib Razak first became prime minister, he promised national unity in the form of 1Malaysia and a New Economic Model (NEM) that preached needs-based economic intervention in favour of the bottom 40 per cent of household income earners regardless of race. This signalled a departure from the race-based policies from the past, and a clear indication that the way forward must include every Malaysian, especially those who most need help.
Unfortunately, Najib’s promises have all been undone with the recent launch of his new Bumiputera agenda. Dubbed the Bumiputera Economic Empowerment Agenda (BEEA), it entails a variety of race-based initiatives including the setting up of a powerful Bumiputera Economic Empowerment Council, the creation of Bumiputera Development Units in every ministry, an assurance that major Government-Linked Companies (GLCs) will increase Bumiputera vendor participation, as well as the launch of 10 billion units of new Skim Amanah Saham Bumiputera 2 (ASB2) shares by Permodalan Nasional Berhad (PNB).
While the NEM offered market liberalisation and needs-based affirmative action that would focus on narrowing the gap between the rich and poor, the BEEA appears to be a reversion to the old New Economic Policy (NEP) that has been proven to benefit mostly a select class of Umno-linked Malay capitalists at the expense of the poorer, unconnected masses.
This is made obvious by the fact that, despite four decades of supposed Bumiputera-targeted assistance, the bottom 40 per cent of Bumiputera households today earn a measly average income of RM1,686 per month. At the same time, the politically-connected rich are able to purchase RM7 million bungalows at a whim.
As such, the proposed launch of 10 billion ASB2 units is highly questionable. Who is set to benefit from more ASB shares made available? Would the bottom 40 per cent of Bumiputera households be able to invest in these high-yielding shares considering that they hardly earn enough to get by?
According to the PNB’s annual reports, the average investment of Bumiputera investors stands at RM14,097 per person as at end 2012. At a glance, this appears to be a decent amount suggesting that many Malays have attained significant savings.
However, upon closer inspection, this figure is actually misleading. When the numbers are broken down, it turns out that three-quarters of Bumiputera unit-holders actually have an average investment of a mere RM611 per person. It is only the top quartile of Bumiputera unit-holders who are able to invest heavily in the shares.
How then, would the availability of more units benefit the average Bumiputera, when they are unable to take advantage of even the current available ASB shares?
In fact, a study by economist Dr Muhammed Abdul Khalid found that the disparity of wealth is massive, whereby the top 0.1 per cent of Bumiputera investors have an accumulated portfolio that is 1,526 times more than the bottom 80 per cent combined. Hence, the likelihood is that this elite group of Bumiputeras will eventually reap the benefits of the additional 10 billion ASB2 units, rather than the common Malay who is able to invest only RM611 on average.
Thus, the question is – who is the ASB2 really for? Certainly not the average Bumiputera.
Zairil Khir Johari, Member of Parliament for Bukit Bendera