Apartheid policies in Malaysia: Let’s get at the truth

(This post was published at The Malaysian insider)

I refer to the article “Modern Day Apartheid” by Awang Hitam published in the New Straits Times on December 22 and the assertion that apartheid is being practised in the private commercial sector.

Normally, I do not take notice of commentaries found in the NST. It is a newspaper rated poorly for the depth and truthfulness of its news coverage.

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Although the newspaper has a few journalists who try to maintain a more professional neutrality in their work, the great majority of its editorial staff are political hacks, out to put the best spin on whatever the policy of the government is, as well as to demonise the opponents of the Barisan Nasional and Umno.

However, the article is so blatantly bold and false in its claim on racial discrimination in Malaysia that it deserves a response.

According to its author: “If apartheid means minority rule and discrimination against the majority, then the apartheid system is alive and well in Malaysia.

“For instance, the discrimination in the minority-dominated and controlled private sector is a clear manifestation of this discriminatory policy.”

Basis of apartheid claim

The main evidence cited in support of this outrageous claim is a recent study by two local academics that Malays are discriminated against by non-Malay employers when it comes to getting jobs in the private sector.

The study cited is in fact an old story which the editor of the newspaper does not appear to be aware of or he would surely have dismissed it as being way past its shelf life.

The findings of the study were first reported in the Internet media more than a year ago.

According to the abstract of their work, the researchers conducted a field experiment by sending fictitious resumes of Malay and Chinese fresh graduates to real job advertisements.

They then analysed differentials in callback for interview attributable to racial identity.

According to them there were statistically significant differences in callback rates, “indicating racial discrimination” since “Chinese are substantially more likely than Malays to be called for interview, and the difference is more acute in engineering jobs compared to accounting/finance.”

Why are Malays less likely to be called for interviews despite apparently similar credentials? To this question the researchers have suggested that employers are less disposed toward Malays due to “compatibility factors and unobservable qualities”.

In less academic jargon or plain terms, what the two academics are saying is that they do not know why Malays are less likely to be interviewed although they see this as indicating racial discrimination.

What the two researchers have done is to allege the factor of racial discrimination without even interviewing the employers and examining deeper the reasons.

What are the reasons to explain this bias in interviewing for hiring? Is it because of ignorance? Is this reflective of attitudes amounting to racial stereotyping? Is this a result of past experiences with incompetent staff from a particular race which have resulted in these racially discriminatory practices? Does language competency play a role in this?

What explains the finding that foreign-controlled firms are the most prejudiced when in fact it is often assumed that they are the most race blind or least discriminatory. And why do Malay controlled companies discriminate against applicants from their own race even more than Chinese firms?

In fact this crucial finding that Malay employers themselves discriminate against their own race in certain professions even more than the Chinese do destroys the main argument that racial discrimination is a major factor in the selection process.

All of these issues are completely ignored by the research as well as by this latest attempt by the NST columnist at provoking Malays to feel sorry for themselves and to blame non-Malays for their inability to compete.

Barisan Nasional’s pro-Malay policy has done more harm than good

In my experience as an employer I have found that the Barisan Nasional’s pro-Malay bias in education and employment has resulted in sharply lowered standards. This has brought about a glut of Malay graduates, many of whom are virtually unemployable as they lack English and Chinese language and social marketing skills.

In the commercial sector, all companies have to compete and unlike the government they have to practise meritocracy in the selection and promotion of their employees.

The reason why Malays are seemingly being discriminated – even by Malay employers, it is important to note – is because the better-qualified Malays prefer to join the civil service where they do not have to compete with the non-Malays.

The Malays must bear in mind that in the open market, efficiency is vitally important and there is no racial or religious preference. The Malays must realise that they cannot expect help from the government indefinitely. It is time they must learn to compete.

Clearly this is a lesson that the columnist does not want the Malays to learn.

Suggestion for the government and NST

As a result of this latest article in the NST, I would like to suggest that the bigger subject of whether apartheid is alive and kicking in Malaysia be opened for public discussion.

The private sector, which is alleged to practise apartheid policies, should be provided the opportunity to respond to this commentary.

The government should be asked to explain how and why it has permitted the minority community (meaning the Chinese) to engage in this unprincipled and immoral policy of apartheid for so long.

Other stakeholders should be given the opportunity to have their say on who, in their opinion, practises apartheid policies; where these unfair and unjust practices are to be found; which are the groups or communities adversely affected; what is the government policy on racial discrimination and apartheid policies; what can be done to eradicate discriminatory and apartheid practices; etc.

Finally, I would like to suggest that the honour to kickstart this much-needed national discussion on apartheid in Malaysia should belong to the New Straits Times.

If this is done in a truthful and professional way, I am sure many readers may begin changing our mind about not buying the newspaper.

Conclusion: What Tengku Razaleigh said at the 4th annual Perkasa assembly

A few days ago at the Perkasa 4th annual general assembly, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah had said: “Let me make it clear, these developments (the decrease of the number of Malays holding key positions in the corporate sector) are not related to racial issues or the special rights of Malays being ignored.”

He pointed out that Malays should not blame others for monopolising economic wealth as they have been given numerous opportunities and aid.

The problem actually lies in the lack of necessary knowledge among Malays and thus, they are unable to succeed in the highly competitive business environment. If they still refuse to make progress and instead continue to rely on the government, they are then bound to be drown in the wave of globalisation.

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