(Channel News Asia) KUALA LUMPUR: As the debate rages on in Malaysia over the continued implementation of the New Economic Policy (NEP), the UMNO led government has steadfastly defended the three decade old affirmative action policies.
In 1970, Malays enjoyed political supremacy, but were the poorest among Malaysia 's racial groups, with less than 3 percent of corporate equity ownership.
Among the targets that the NEP set out to achieve was to lift the status of Malays through economic restructuring to attain at least 30 percent bumiputera equity ownership by 1990.
But despite years of efforts and investments, the bumiputera share of the country's economic wealth still hovers below 19 percent. And that, according to the ruling party UMNO, which is the defender of the Malays' economic and political rights, still leaves much to be desired.
Khairy Jamaluddin, Deputy Chief of UMNO Youth, says: "What we've been a little unhappy about is not the philosophy behind affirmative action; it's the implementation of it.
"That's where we see a lot of weaknesses whether it is in the form of leakages where policies designed to assist and empower the bumiputera community and opportunities given to the bumiputeras have been leaked or there have been leakages where those policies and those opportunities have actually been passed on to others."
At a recently concluded UMNO general assembly, calls resonated among the 3.2 million members for the affirmative action policies under the NEP to continue.
Oxford-trained Mr Khairy, who is also the son-in-law of Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, says more coordinated monitoring is needed to ensure the NEP's success.
Political observers also warn of potential pitfalls in pursuing such affirmative action policies.
Professor Zakaria Ahmad, Political Analyst, says: "The perception is that there's a gap and the Malays have not achieved what they think is rightly theirs, and in fact, they think that the Non-Malays have gained tremendously."
69-year-old Mazlan Shukor agrees that handouts will only perpetuate poverty of his race.
"Those who are still poor are mostly the lazy ones who don't want to work. They wait for government aid. They're healthy so they can work," said Mr Mazlan.
But until the 30 percent share of the country's economic wealth is met, Mr Khairy argues that help along the way is still needed for the Malay majority to bridge the gap by 2020.
"We hope that once we reach these targets equity of 30 percent – a more balanced ratio of household income between Malays and Non-Malays – we can sustain the achievement through our own merit." - CNA/so
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