In a few days, the government will table next year’s budget in Parliament, the second since the Covid-19 pandemic hit our shores.
As many anticipate, the focus will be on those still adversely affected by the pandemic and carrying out initiatives aligned with the 12th Malaysia Plan.
Going by the experience of previous budgets, a controversy that almost always crops up is the distribution of benefits between Bumiputeras and non-Bumiputeras.
This issue has always been somewhat of a hot potato, especially when comparisons are made of the allocations for institutions like schools, places of worship or agencies like Mara.
After decades of debate over this issue, perhaps it is time for us to stop looking at it through racially tinted glasses. It is certainly not easy to do, especially with politicians expected to stoke ethnic sentiments and chase after brownie points.
Any government aid should be based on need. And the government has been doing that through intervention policies like cash aid for the B40 or the wage subsidy to help employers retain jobs. These policies or programmes are devoid of any racial bias.
The reality is that the Bumiputera make up the majority of this country. Although affirmative policies have created a bigger Bumiputera middle class as well as more graduates and professionals, generally speaking there is still much catching up to do economically vis-a-vis other communities, particularly in terms of mean monthly household income, home ownership and equity ownership.
The Covid-19 pandemic has also adversely impacted the Bumiputera community’s economy and income more than other races. The number of unemployed graduates increased by 22.5% to 202,400 in 2020 compared to 165,200 in the previous year. Out of this figure, 70% of were Bumiputera graduates.
There is one simple reasoning: If the Bumiputeras, being the majority race, fall behind, the whole country will also fall behind. If the Bumiputeras advance economically, the country as a whole – and by extension, all races – will also advance.
I have no idea what Budget 2022 will entail in terms of allocations to uplift the standards of living among the different communal groups. But we should not get overly worked up when we come across terms like “Bumiputera allocation”. Instead, we should scrutinise closer as to what such allocations truly means especially from a macro perspective.
As far as we know, billions of ringgit in business-centric measures introduced through the numerous pandemic packages have naturally benefited specific races, simply because of their higher involvement in the business sector. Recently the human resources minister revealed that over RM18 billion was spent on the wage subsidy programme, benefitting over 300,000 employers. Now, how many Chinese business owners benefited compared to Bumiputera owners?
We can already deduce the answer through the well-known fact that the Chinese form the majority in SME ownership. My own Chinese relatives in the business sector can testify to having benefited from such measures in the past 18 months. And they appreciate the wage subsidy which has proven to be a lifeline for many during the various lockdowns. Let us not even start on the billions provided for low-cost SME funds and other measures since the pandemic started in 2020.
Instead of nit-picking on who gets the larger slice of a small pie, our priority should be on working together to ensure that the economy recovers, so that we can generate growth and enlarge the economic pie for the benefit of the many. The proviso to my saying all this is that the government must, however, be cognisant that poverty still exists in all communities regardless of race and creed, and that those who need to be helped should get the assistance they deserve from their government.
For the sake of the bigger aspirations of this nation, let us not begrudge one another but set our sights on the long road ahead. Inequality still exists in many places, so let us work together with understanding and kindness, to create a far more equitable Malaysia.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of MalaysiaNow.