Thursday, March 30, 2006

Sudah 25 Tahun (it's already 25 years)

Had to go to the Ministry of Foreigns affair to collect my girlfriend's certificate of good conduct. Yup, same ministry whose website is tainted and is still tainted despite my best efforts to email the webmaster. To be honest, the only reason why I ransacked such a boring website was because I wanted to know what are the operating hours. As I couldnt find it online, I went there at 8am to be safe. Sure enough, the moment I reached there, I saw that they only started at 8.30am. The guard remarked to me jokingly "Sudah 25 tahun Kementerian ada, tiap-tiap hari pun 8.30 start" (This ministry has been around for 25 years, the operation hours always starts at 8.30) as if this is some general knowledge that the whole world should know. I wanted to tell him "Bang, Malaysia sudah merdeka hampir 50 tahun, tiap-tiap hari servis kerajaan pun sama jugak" (Malaysia has reached independence for almost 50 years, the level of service in the public sector remains the same) but I kept my mouth shut.

As if it isnt bad enough, while finally it was time to go in, I had to take a number, give my number and wait 1 hour for the cert to be ready. The Makcik (auntie) at the counter told me "Today printer rosak (spoilt) have to wait longer" Why tell me it's ready when it's not even printed yet. Looks like they are not only bad in website design, they cant even maintain a simple printer.

Well for some reason while waiting for the cert to be printed, I kept thinking back about the guard's 25 years remark and tried to see how much the country has really grown. And I cant help but think of our national car maker, Proton. They have been around for 21 years but what have they really done for the country all these while? Created more jobs for the country? Not much if you consider that they are only hiring about 3,000-4,000 people (including the parts industry and dealers) out of a 30million population, all these while encouraging these people to provide sub-quality components and sub-quality services. Not a great deal you would say?

International trade? Considering that they are selling most models at loss in UK and yet no one seems to be buying, you wouldnt say that's a great deal as well. Paying tax to the government? Considering Proton is currently owned by Petronas (our oil profit), Khazanah Holdings (commercial arm of Finance Ministry, i.e. our tax money) and Employee Providence Fund (our sweat money), it'll be good enough that Proton doesnt take away the government's money, which is indirectly our money. So for those of us who don own a Proton, don brag too much cause each time you pay your income tax, EPF, you are giving a piece of it to Proton. So you're actually a shareholder without the shares.

National pride? Are we all proud that Proton is Malaysia's national carmaker? When Volkswagen pulled out from the deal with Proton, the main reason was because the M'sian government insist on having control rights over whatever partnership they will be forming, citing national interest/national pride reasons. What pride? It's a joke for 20 years.

Giving Malaysians a chance to own affordable vehicles? Well, the only reason why Proton models are affordable is because the government has conveniently made the other carmakers not so affordable. So for 20 years, we have been forced to buy sub-quality outdated automobiles at cut-throat prices, which is incidentally normally RM10k more expensive than the export models, which are also of better built-quality (<- does this make any sense to any of you non-Malaysians out there????)

Well, the deception just cant go on forever and finally, the Malaysian government has realised this isnt really working. I guess Pak Lah isnt as keen on Proton continously seeping the national coffers since it wasnt his brainchild and he probably has other "new ideas" to spend money on. And considering that the next elections will be in 2 years time, the government will do well to be seen doing something good for the people for once. Which is why, the excise duties will "gradually" disappear as Proton will start to "look for new markets outside Malaysia". When will the Saga ever end, you might ask? Well, actually that's a double-pronged question since Proton is still offering their Proton Saga model in various guises, a model that has been around since 1985:))

So, an hour's wait allowed me to ponder a 21-year old dilemna. What a great way to start the morning!


ruyom said...

Malaysia business community, like that of nearly all East Asian countries except Japan and Korea, is dominated by ethnic Chinese and this have created envy and ethnic tensions in the countries, where the Chinese are a minority of the population yet is a majority of business leaders.

In some countries like Indonesia, this have provoked occasional anti-Chinese pogroms while in Malaysia, the malay majority have given themselves preferences in various ways. Including quotas in universities and companies and even a requirement that companies must distribute a certain proportion of their shares to malays.

In the purported intention to lessen ethnic tension and jealousy from Malaysia ethnic malay majority population and avoid the kind of anti-Chinese pogroms frequently occurring in neighboring Indonesia, the government there has instituted a extensive affirmative action program for the malays (including forcing businesses to hire malays for top jobs).

The policy has been successful in avoiding outbursts of violence, but it has not been successful in terms of getting the malays to be successful on their own.

For 30 years or more, Malaysia has given economic privileges to the malay community to help it win a more proportionate share of the economy.

But even former prime minister Mahathir, the great champion of malay special rights, ended his 22 years as premier frustrated that, rather than develop a work ethic, many malays had simply developed a sense of entitlement.

How astonishing! If people get something for nothing, they get less willing to do work to achieve it. Who could have thought that?

Ethnic Chinese in South East Asia have done a remarkable job of wealth creation and I don't want to belittle it, but we should consider that part of their success was due to the corrupt governments which the Chinese used to further themselves economically.

I am not blaming the Chinese; they simply played the cards they were dealt better than anyone else. In a world without the rule of law and protection of property, the Chinese had to resort to connections and bribes in order to protect themselves.

While the "malay professional class has grown rapidly from a negligible base" on a percentage basis, in real terms the size of the whole of the professional class could have been larger without affirmative action.

Yore analysis of Malaysia racial preferences does not consider their impact on ethnic Chinese emigration. As a scholar in Singapore, I met highly qualified Chinese Malaysians who were refused entry into Malaysia universities and emigrated with little intention of returning.

In a message now reports how this have aside from making malays lazier also created strong discontent among the Chinese. Many are now trying to emigrate to Singapore and other places where they won't be discriminated. This brain drain will of course hurt Malaysia economy.

vesewe said...

The problem with this Malaysia country: Too many cronies greedy hands that are asking for easy money, instead of creating and earn for it!

The government can come up many plans, but nothing will succeed. Since Mahathir became prime minister, the plans are for cronies to become rich. It is good to have long term plans to develop and to set direction for the future, but in Malaysia it is more for the ministers and cronies to make good bucks out of it.

Firstly, the government must be transparent in awarding contracts, improve the existing infrastructures, weed out corruption, which are in dire state.

All in all, they actually want is to see the reverse of what it is now, i.e. the malays in control of everything.

As pointed out, the plan is not going to improve racial harmony as the NEP has been extended further. The government must plan to remove the crutches provided to the weak communities and allow them to progress on par with other races.

As long as the malay have the subsidy mentality, 100 years of NEP will not accomplish anything. They will forever be a backward race.

Take it away from him/her, the child will cry out. Forget about the 50 years as I am willing to bet my top dollar that it will last forever. The NEP will never die off and Umno will fight to the very end to make sure that it will go on forever.

It may even be 100 years and we still vote for BN because it seems we have no choice at all. However, we all capable of making radical change through ballot box but still reluctant to do it since everyone fear of change.

I agree with one. Most youngsters now are ignorant of their rights - and many (among my own group of friends) have not registered as voters although they are eligible.

The question of building a just and fair society is a dead ideal. Malaysia is already in the history book of legally accepting apartheid of a minority. There is no other possible historical interpretation.

If Malaysia is lucky, it will be said and apologized for it some day but if it is unlucky, it has to live in denial and eventually implode.

We should stop discussing this digging grave policy. Let us join the ruling (since we cannot beat it) - make our money and think of what other country we can emigrate to.

miya said...

The revealing of the Approved Permits (APs) list by the government must be welcomed as a significant step towards greater transparency in this country.

This is so, regardless of whether further questions would be asked about the basis of allocating APs to the respective holders - big or small - and whether any 'action' will be taken to pursue this matter deeper.

This lack of transparency is something that the people of Malaysia would like to see end soon. If Pak Lah is serious about making changes, now is the time; just override what his minister has said.

Tell her we cannot hide the facts from the Malaysian public any longer. They have the right to know the truth; after all, didn't Pak Lah ask the people to tell him the truth? The people are also asking the same thing from the government, as long as it does not threaten national security.

Whether it is to stoke the flames of debate over the twin evils of cronyism or corruption or to take the fizzle out of the political maelstrom or to target heat- seeking missiles on those who have been sitting on their hot and pretty piles, he seems to be adept at all.

And what I can vouch for is that if you take a poll today of the ordinary men and women on the street, Pak Lah will get close to 99 percent public approval for his do.

It is quite apparent that for years, some few Umno politicians and the rarefied genre that are well-connected have ripped off the bumi community and enriched themselves only to dissipate their ill-gotten wealth in profligate lifestyles.

And they cry out for more under the cloak and guise of the underprivileged bumis. The NEP has always been manipulated as a smokescreen. I dare say categorically it is never a real issue.

Why, if funds can be raised to alleviate African poverty or for the tsunami victims, much more charity can begin at home. It is never a question of policy, it is always a question of ineffectual programmes or the abuse of programmes and privileges.

The great tragedy of Pak Lah's predecessor, notwithstanding his distinctive stature and reputation as a strategic thinker, was that he allowed all those mega-monoliths to obscure his views of the things that matter to the ordinary folks.

This is because the whole country is behind him.

He might not have the mandate of Umno representatives at the party election to clean up the mess in both the government and the party, but he has the mandate of scores of millions of Malaysian citizens who have voted for him with high hopes and expectations.

We have accepted his plea to 'work with' him. And we have waited for over a year for our first assignment together. Now, let us get the job started.

kok said...

It was terrifying to read of the sudden tragic death of who was in his car, when it was crushed by a falling steel beam near a construction site

It was even more terrifying to read that many developers and contractors have a cavalier attitude towards safety. They hardly take any safety measures to prevent fatal accidents like this.

It is frightening to think that more of these death traps around the city waiting to strike us at anytime. It is a matter of just when and who would be the next victim.

For every one, there are so many others, especially workers at these construction sites who are critically or fatally injured daily. These incidents are settled without much publicity.

The main cause of these accidents is the 'tidak apa' and selfish attitude of contractors, developers and the enforcement authorities. Regrettably this 'tidak apa' attitude is now fast becoming a national policy.

Sadly, the families of these victims are made to accept these so-called accidents as acts of fate which are beyond our control.

There appears to be general trend today where basic safety standards and quality are compromised for quick monetary gains. The loopholes in the laws are cleverly exploited for reaping maximum profit. To these perpetrators, human lives do not carry much value and any loss can be compensated in monetary terms.

The government should enforce the laws more effectively without fear or favour. The only criteria for the government should be the safety and welfare of the people to whom their ultimate responsibility should lie.

This national 'tidak apa' policy must be curbed immediately if the nation is to progress on.

aston said...

Complaining and pointing out small worthless individuals in the field of corruption will not yield any results. Let us look at a bigger and a more thorough example:


I don't need to justify why I state this, due to the fact that the whole world knows about it. Somebody might come and argue, stating that corruption at this scale happen everywhere. I agree.

But Umno is different, they play dirty and show it to everybody, with the most obvious ways. In certain ways I think they play dirty just to show who is in control.

A lot of Chinese leaders are also crook and want money only, and when Umno Youth speaks, they keep quiet, taking care of their own asses only. We must be realistic, whatever races, religion or politicians, there are good and bad people.

Nobody going to help us unless we help ourselves. Don't depend so much on MCA and Gerakan. We serve us well when we vote for no matter what party. Ask the ruling party don't say they are helping Chinese all the while, at the main time they get money and title for themselves. While the Chinese community don't get any things.

You are so right too! Malaysians prefer to have no respect for law and order. They prefer to bribe their way through everything. And they complain about corruption!

Corruption is bad for society, bad for you and me. You better believe it. If not, wait till you are stopped by the police for doing nothing wrong and asked a bribe to be let go.

A graffiti I saw this morning in the Kuala Lumpur suburb, on the wooden wall surrounding a field, with its 1000 car parks says it all: "If you meet Umno and a snake, kill Umno first."

pang said...

In this fast moving world there is no time to stand and stare. While you contemplate your next move, others would have forged ahead by two or three strides. This is very true in auto industries.

Here we are busy trying to salvage our Proton while our northern neighbour is busy attracting automakers from all over the world. But this title should rightfully belong to Malaysia for a number of reasons.

Firstly, we are the biggest purchaser of automobiles and therefore a ready market already exists here. Secondly, our infrastructure is about the best in this region, if not in Asia. Thirdly, our country is politically stable. There is no threat from separatists nor any such upheavals..

Finally, the workforce in Malaysia is skilled and generally has quite a good command of English. On top of that, they are quite disciplined too.

With all these good points, any investor would not have second thoughts about invest here. So the big question is, why did they flee to our neighbour? The answer is this - because we do not have a consistent policy regarding automobile industries.

For example, till today no one exactly knows the tax structure of foreign cars or even for local cars come year 2005 when the Asian Free Trade Agreement is implemented. If I am not mistaken, Thailand has already unveiled its tax structure for cars and other vehicles.

Here is a person who heads a company that has been ripping off Malaysians for two decades and he has the cheek to ask for more!

Lately, I notice a lot of hot air coming from the Proton headquarters but basically they all mean the same thing in that the company wants more subsidies and mollycoddling from the government and the Malaysian public.

The Proton CEO says that the country is losing because the competitors are not playing fair and that they are under declaring their cars' value resulting in the country collecting less tax.

What he fails to say is that for the last 20 years, Proton has not been paying the tax others have been paying, and even under the Afta regime, they still get away with a rebate from excise duties.

The country has lost billions of ringgit in providing these subsidies to Proton and yet we find Thailand way ahead of us in both automotive technology and volume of business. Mind you, the Thai people did not have to pay a single baht for this.

The price that we pay merely to call a Mitsubishi transplant a 'national car' is too much. Even if it is our home grown technology the price is still too high. The whole Proton project merely fed one person's huge ego, that is all.

To the Malaysian public, my advice is not to listen to self-serving officials who head companies that should not have been set up in the first place. Their objective is merely to sustain their position until they retire.

To me, enough is enough, and we should move on and provide the best for all Malaysians and not just for a few free loaders who pretend to be nationalists.

It is indeed better to get a car from another national car manufacturer than spending your annual leave and more money in Proton's service centres. Unless Proton produces a car of better quality, I am certain many other frustrated Proton owners are waiting to change.

Proton has to change or be changed. Period.

yuking said...

Fine, I can look past that, malays can have their special right, but not to the point of causing plenty displeasure and plain unfairness to other races. It is like we are second rate citizens of this country. It is no wonder non-malays don't feel that patriotic about this country, who can blame them?

What we want here, we have to work our asses off, and we can't expect help from the government, only private and corporate companies. Hell even corporate companies have to stick to quota, that already limit our options already.

The five-years plan contains no paradigm shift. It is a continuation of many of the failed ideas of the past.

Something must be wrong when a policy fails to meet its target, not once but twice. More so, when in recent years, the share of bumi ownership in the corporate sector has not increased one iota. It was 18.9 percent in 2000. It was 18.9 percent in 2004.

Worse still, the share of equity ownership held by Indians has declined - from 1.5 percent to 1.2 percent - during this period.

Until and unless we examined why we failed in meeting these targets, we may not achieve them at all.

NEP my ass! It is making the poor malays poorer! It is not creating opportunity but a generation of subsidy addicts!

What all of you have said is pure facts - from public transports to media, to licenses for business, to corruption of the top officials, Malaysia isn't democratic as what we initially thought or rather make to believe - Malaysia is of no hope.

Australia must be a lovely place to live (emigration), but then some of us haven't been to Europe. Learning a new language must be very difficult for most people let alone speak so many languages. So the world could be more open for you than for others.

With very good command in knowledge of law as well as loads of courage, it is not impossible to find there are us out there, that is brave enough to voice out our objection in topic like this.

reek said...

The problem is that political, politicians and social activists have made it into an issue involving constitutional supremacy and the constitutional rights of non-Muslims vis-a-vis the rights of the Muslims - politicising the issue and thus setting the stage for a confrontation along these lines.

Pak Lah said he wanted to hear the truth. The truth is contained in memo by his non-malays ministers. His crony, and the Umno Youth are trying to twist the facts to force his hand. If he acts against the ministers, the whole world will sneer at him. If he does not, then they would use this in Umno party politics.

This synthetic crisis and many other racial issues is a manifestation of Umno's arrogance and racist stance. Umno disrespect for other components in the BN coalition will always create this type of pseudo-racial tensions.

As the Muslims, they should know better than playing this racial card and that the way of racism is the way of Satan, with Satan being the first and father of all racist.

Only low mentality with serious inferiority complex mind react like this. This is what we use the English word describe as 'irrational' thinking. It means not using your brain. Just burst out like a small kid he likes to get cheap attention.

This is simply evilness of "ketuanan" raring its ugly head! Immature! Childish!

It is also an uncivilised behavior, not only childish, but rather shameful in the eyes of neighbouring Singapore and the whole world. 'Immature', I rather call it, and 'low-class' under international standing. No wonder our Malaysia universities are rated so low, with 'monkeys' like them around to run the show.

There is something very seriously wrong with our political system in our Malaysia country. What happened to our so-called democracy when ministers that we elected by people can't even voice out.

It goes to suggest that all we need is one guy who calls all the shots and can never be questioned……….then why the heck do we need the others that were elected?

This Pak Lah also failed, failed to see the even bigger picture. Don't simply jumping like that. Think country first! He should show he has big heart, big wisdom and can handle complex problem, in an objective and rational way. He should not have rejected the proposed amendment out of anger.

If these people with this kind of mentality or behaviour can become minister, I also can.

We Malaysians are spending too much time talking about issues on race and religion. Sometimes this issue does not even arise but we created it out of another issue. Talking about race and religion in this case is irrelevant. This is a case of non-Muslims asking for protection through our leaders and the laws of our Malaysia country.

If we cannot resolve this simple request by non-Muslims, what else can our Malaysia leaders do to protect the country? So can we quickly resolve this and move on or we will be left behind.

I will be told that if you feel ashamed, please leave the country. But my grandfather came to this Bolehland before Selangor minister's father set foot here.

If a simple issue like protecting the religion of the miniority cannot be guaranteed under the constitution, what more about the bigger issues? Personally I don't think there is any future for the non-Muslims in Malaysia. Like the forefathers before us with only the clothes on their back, maybe it is time once more for the exodus to begin.

Pak Lah as the No. 1 in the country should use his head and not his heart to lead this country.

Prime minister is the position held by statesman who should do the right things. It is better to be remembered as the statesman who defends the interest of the nation, than to be seen sitting on the top and assessing the safest political moves all the time.

tim said...

It is true that in the face of competition, especially global, our corporations can thrive only when run efficiently by the brightest and the best.

Anyone on the street can dissect clearly that our government's current scholarship system is flawed. Clearly not everyone who gets it deserves it but what make it worse is that it's given to people who are not returning the good deed.

The theory is simple. If one knows that he will get what he wants handed on a platter, one will never need to work as hard as his other counterparts. Hence, the reason why bumis fail to excel in their studies.

We live in a country where education is for the rich and influential. Money and contacts are the major key players in determining our educational regime. The poor become poorer and the rich become richer. Scholarships handed out to the rich. But when we seek other educational opportunities we are reprimanded.

We live in a nation that throws out educated, experienced and loyal teachers to be replaced by ones that only have the right political connections. Our notion of education is not to educate the young to think critically, or to be constructive and mature.

In the true sense of the word as articulated by the nation's founding fathers, the Malaysian agenda should always be the national agenda, not the Chinese, Indian or Malay agenda, whatever.

But sadly, over the years since Merdeka in 1957, this major premise has been hijacked with push giving way to shove after the May 13 riots. Since then, over a period of 36 years, the Umno elite in power have been systematically been using the zero-sum game theory to brainwash the malay mind of whatever commitment it still has towards multi-racialism.

It is evident their goal is to revert back to the status of Tanah Melayu even if this were to make the country slide backwards to the status of countries like Zimbabwe or Bangladesh. The present political struggle between Umno and PAS with Islam as its main focus has made the situation even worse.

Now more and more malays are coming up openly to reject the Malaysian multi-racial society. The time will come when the word Malaysian will be deemed seditious and anti-national just like the slogan 'Malaysian Malaysia'.

I don't see a Malaysia that I would want to be a part of. A Malaysia that has stopped caring. A country that has fallen prey to the profit motif. To power. I pray that Malaysians will wake up and realise what a mirage our 'advancement' has been.

tim said...

It is easy to become a Malaysian, as anecdotal evidence of illegal Indonesians with acquired Malaysian Mykads and passports attest.

But being a true Malaysian - that is a different story. I for one would consider Dr Gomez a true Malaysian - Here is a man, courted by the world but who returned to serve his country only to eventually get a raw deal, so the media reports tell us.

Malaysia does not recognise dual citizenship but many countries do. Does this make these dual citizens any less patriotic as far as their countries of birth are concerned? Many wealthy, privileged and influential Malaysians have houses overseas and spend considerable time away from Malaysia - are they any less Malaysian? I don't think so.

All enrich the fabric of a multi-cultural Malaysia and no one can take away their true identity, which over the years may have become more complex, but essentially remain Malaysian.

Today, overseas Malaysians are being wooed to return to the Malaysian homeland, to help accelerate the country's progress. But this great land of contrasts, and I should add glaring contradictions, can at times be baffling. On one hand they woo, on the other they shoo as demonstrated by the Gomez debacle.

A true Malaysian is one who is unmistakably patriotic, incorruptible in high or low office, and who puts the interests of his community and country first before self, regardless of his race or religion or social rank.

borne out of a constant struggle against the odds and a genuine concern for his or her homeland and its diverse peoples. His or her religious beliefs unite, not divide the nation, for true religion always inspires one to serve others even if at times it means putting their interests above one's own.

No true Malaysian rise on the backs of the weak, abuse their position for power and engage in corrupt and questionable practices. True Malaysians would not ravish the environment for short-term monetary gains.

samp said...

The New Economic Policy (NEP) supplemented the 15 year special privilege provision enshrined in the Federal Constitution of Malaya. Having used up 13 years of the 15 year privilege provision, Umno asked for another 20 years to implement NEP.

The understanding then was at the end of 20 years in 1990, there would neither be the NEP nor the special privileges provision. Malaysians would all be equal.

That was a promise given by Umno leaders, and the component parties naturally thought that succeeding generations of Umno leaders would keep to the promise of the founding fathers.

It was raise bumi equity to 30 percent of the national equity but it only achieved 18 percent. So why does the Umno Youth push for implementation of a failed policy?

That generation of leaders who framed the NEP had been more upright in setting a time limit of 20 years to implement a policy which they knew was biased against, and unfair to the non-malays.

The spirit of comradeship forged by the Alliance government was unfortunately, not appreciated by the younger generation of Umno leaders who felt that since Umno was the government, it could do what it pleased without a sense of justice and civility.

The question now is can Umno be trusted to keep its promises? Why keep comparing the income level between the races when the most fundamental issue is to offer help where necessary so that all the citizens can live happily?

We are already losing the competitive edge with the emergence of China and India as significant Asian markets in the 21st century. And looking at it based on the Approved Permits (APs) issue, I notice a pattern that indicates an abuse of the NEP with more than 25000 APs issued to three individuals.

The national education policy is changed according to the whims of the ministers concerned. People at the top just make decisions without considering the students. Several years ago, a basic degree programme could only be completed in four years. Currently it is three.

The rationale given by the authorities is that it is important to increase the number of graduates. Universities therefore become factories churning out mass numbers of graduates. Malaysia today needs high quality graduates, not a high quantity of graduates.

The NEP has been a convenient tool for producing Umno-only champions. That is the route to power and riches. Unfortunately, it is not the path to become a global malay.

It is foolish to deny that the racial undertones at the meet did not cause a measure of alarm among the non-bumis in our country.

Why is it so hard to face facts? Why not just admit that all these hand-outs and demands for more and more concessions and quotas are just a shoddy attempt to enrich the few who are privileged enough to connect with those in power?

When exactly did the NEP and all those well-thought out schemes uplift the bumis? When did they actually benefit the bumi man-on-the-street? I see the kampung folk as poor as always.

It is a shame that the NEP had only succeeded in creating a bigger gap between the rich bumi and the poor bumi. Or is it more correct to say the elite bumi and the ordinary bumi? That is the reality of the plight of the bumis.

And I certainly agree that after so many years of independence, it is sad to face the reality that sometimes, the non-bumis are made to feel like we do not have a right to call ourselves Malaysians. When it serves their purpose, it is demanded that all of us show our loyalty to our country, whether by words or action.

If we do not agree, then we are told - If anyone doesn't like it, just get out of Malaysia.

Why is it that our government does not see that abject poverty also affects the Chinese and Indians? The marginalisation of the poor and disadvantaged regardless of their race, is simply morally wrong.

Just as there exist a gap between the successful and rich bumis, there also is a huge gap between the rich Chinese and Indians and the ordinary folk.

vovo said...

The world's most notorious system of positive discrimination has had only limited success, and hardly any recently. What if anything, should replace it?

In Malaysia, as in many South East Asian countries, the Chinese minority traditionally controlled the lion's share of the economy, while malays worked as farmers or fishermen. The government of the day (also led by Umno) settled on affirmative action as a means to defuse racial tensions.

The prime minister and leader of the party, Badawi agreed that the NEP needed fixing, as it had imbued malays not with the intended spirit of entrepreneurial, but with an unfortunate proclivity for rent-seeking. But many Malaysians, both malay and non-malay, wonder whether the NEP is needed at all.

Most jobs in the bureaucracy were reserved for malays, as were the majority of government contracts. Quotas were set for university admissions, allowing malays to win places ahead of better qualified Indians and Chinese. Companies were supposed to place at least 30% of their shares in malay hands. Developers were required to sell a certain proportion of housing and commercial property to malays, often at a discount - and so on and on.

Since 1990, however the malay share of equity has stagnated at around 20%, despite all manner of government incentives to raise it. Blame lies partly with the Asian crisis of 1997, which put a greater share of equity in foreign hands.

The rent-seeking the prime minister complained of also plays a part: Malays snap up the shares reserved for them in initial public offerings for example, and then sell them on at a profit.

Perhaps the biggest failing of the scheme, however, is the culture of cronyism it has engendered. Early, when the authorities revealed the list of malays granted valuable permits to import foreign cars, the main beneficiaries turned out not to be struggling malay entrepreneurs, but former officials at the Ministry of Trade.

By the same token, the government of Mahathir, the previous prime minister, built up a coterie of malay tycoons through lucrative concessions, only to see many of them go spectacularly bust during the Asian crisis.

No wonder then, that disenchantment with affirmative action has grown among Malaysians of all stripes. The NEP after all, was originally billed as a temporary measure. But when it expired in 1990, it was renamed, but hardly changed.

In recent years, Indians have supplanted malays as Malaysia most disadvantaged ethnic group, but do not enjoy the same privileges. Poorer malays meanwhile, are frustrated with the slim returns from a policy adopted in their name.

Many Umno members argue that the system of racial preferences only needs a little fine-tuning. They point out that the government is already placing less emphasis on creating malay captains of industry, and more on promoting professional malay managers. State-owned enterprises are also trying to foster competition among malay firms, by forcing them to compete with one another for contracts instead of clinching them in back-room deals.

Other mooted reforms include placing greater emphasis on helping poor malays specifically and drawing up government contracts in a way that prevents sub-contracting to non-malay firms.

But a surprising number of malays, as well as Indians and Chinese, argue that racial preferences should be abolished altogether. In line with western critics of affirmative action, they contend that the NEP has fostered a culture of dependency, and so undermined its supposed purpose of malay advancement.

Non-malays who are forced to study abroad for lack of university places at home actually get a better education, and feel more of an obligation to make the most of their opportunities.

The results were mixed: the proportion of malay students rose somewhat overall, but it fell in the most competitive courses, including law and medicine. That drop in turn, led many Umno members to demand that quotas be reinstated, and prompted some wags to ask whether it was really the party itself that had become politically dependent on the system of racial preferences.