It is a trend among Malay leaders and elite to denounce the DEB or NEP in its present form as ‘the bastardization of the original spirit of the DEB’. A recent example of this proclivity is a speech by Nazir Abdul Razak of CIMB at the bank’s function. According to press report, he also made the following points. The original spirit of the DEB was the eradication of poverty. The DEB is out of date, being decades old, and need to be revised since it is causing problems, ‘being everywhere’. He extolled the virtue of diversity and multi-racialism, being an important factor for economic growth. To give it emphasis, he quipped that after all CIMB has often been alluded to as ‘Chinese, Malay, Indian Bank’, bringing laughter to the audience. Such views had been aired before by national leaders, and I am sure Nazir Razak would not be the last, since such thinking had been ‘blessed’ by the national elite who are now preoccupied with ushering in the New Economic Model, to jettison the DEB unceremoniously.
Before I respond to the above, let me enter some caveat, lest I am misunderstood, deliberately or otherwise. I am not against multiracialism, nor against cultural diversity. Neither am I making an issue of the merit or demerit of the DEB or the NEM. This should require a separate treatment to do justice to the question. The subject of my present posting is a certain attitude of the elite concerning issues, which can only be described as flippant, superficial, and cannot be said responsible or accountable in a democratic sense.
Now what is wrong with such views as articulated by Nazir Razak? Firstly, it caricatures the DEB and misrepresented it. They speak of abuses and distortion of the DEB, dubbed as ‘bastardisation’, and championed the jettisoning of it on that score. Yet they do not acknowledge the real concerns and principles of the DEB that was ‘bastardised’. The DEB originally concerned with the eradication of rural poverty and the bridging of the rural-urban divide in the economy. The DEB was also concern about the restructuring of the economy to avoid the identification of economic activities along ethnic or racial lines. This has to be properly represented and discussed. Are these objectives still a national concern or has we as a nation adequately addressed this question. Our stand may differ on ways of addressing these problems, but we cannot afford to ignore the issues, ‘sweeping them under the carpet’. If we choose to ignore them, bury our head in the sand, confusing between avoidance of issues and resolving them, I am sure the problems would only revisit us one day, and with a vengeance.
By caricaturing the DEB, and oversimplifying it, they usually misrepresent it, in order to justify their new found policies or models. Let us move on with an understanding of our past. The DEB has been an integral part of our lives for so long. Should we move on, let it be based on understanding and not self-delusion, supported by the rhetoric and cliché of ‘pluralism’, ‘democracy’ or ‘equality’. I am not against these as ideals, but certainly as uninformed bravado and dilletantism. Before we move on, surely and maturely, we need to make peace with our past, ‘an accounting of our previous position’, for good or bad, and on the basis of that self-introspection, move on wisely.
When we caricature the DEB, thereby misrepresenting it, simply because we wish to justify our new path, we may be subverting the very cause of pluralism and democracy that we claim to champion. When we conveniently suppress the fact that the original concern of the DEB was to ensure racial harmony by ensuring social justice, alleviating rural poverty and restructuring the economy, we contribute to racial prejudice. By willfully suppressing this aspect, merely highlighting its abuses, we demonized the DEB, demonizing too the Malays on the whole, on account of the greed of a small group of their own kind. The impact of this ‘distortive perspective’ on ethnic relations had been disastrous and ever deepening.
From the looks of things, we may not have to wait long for the problems to revisit us. Even as the NEM or the RMK 10 is being ushered in, and undergoing much vacillation and revision, we see many signs of the ‘ghost’ of the DEB revisiting, with little indication of ever leaving. Allow me to furnish some recent examples. The president of MCA, Chua Soi Lek , as mouthpiece of his party, had demanded that the quota of 30% Malay equity be decreased and phased out eventually. Cabinet Minister Koh Tsu Koon has attacked Perkasa’s president for his ‘obsession with bumiputra quota’ and ‘telling other races to do this and that’. He suggested Perkasa to focus instead on the implementation of the DEB and upgrading Malay skills and know-how, which can be read as a snipe at Malay economic and technological lag. Minister Koh Tsu Koon makes no mention, however, of non-Malays ‘telling the Malays to do this and that’.
Other very senior UMNO politician had jumped into the fray, no less than the Deputy Prime Minister Mukhyuddin himself. Cabinet Minister Nazri had reacted rather strongly, characterizing MCA’s president comment on Malay quota as violating the spirit of 1Malaysia and Barisan Nasional solidarity. I am sure there are many non-Malays, probably Soi Lek himself, who beg to differ, seeing the phasing of Malay equity quota to be in keeping with the spirit of 1Malaysia. Cabinet Minister Rais Yatim reacted rather strongly against the MCA president for his criticism of Malay 30% equity, categorizing it as ‘challenging the constitution and Malay rulers’. There are many other examples of the ‘ghost revisiting’.
An important aspect of our ‘reconciling’ and ‘accounting’ with the DEB is understanding, giving full account of the following questions. What were the principles of the DEB and abuses of them, clearly distinguishing between the two? Are there positive aspects of it which need to be incorporated in 'new vision' or 'model'?What were the causes of the DEB being ‘bastardised’? Who were responsible for ‘bastardising’ it or should be held accountable for it? All this is important. Without such understanding, we may end up in the ridiculous situation where those responsible for ‘bastardising’ the DEB, now cry foul of it. Having ‘bastardised’ the DEB they now choose ‘to dump the baby’. Without understanding the DEB and ‘accounting’ for it, we may see the same cycle afflicting other new policies and models. They would all be ‘bastardized’ in time, and subjected to ‘baby dumping’, in vicious cycles! It is the psychology of having soiled one spot, move on to another place, soiling it in turn and so on and so forth. Should not they be taking responsibility, cleaning the mess at least, before moving on? To make it worse, they blame and scape goat on others for the mess they leave behind.This is certainly not the way to give leadership to a nation!