STOP DIVISIVE DRIVE TO RATIFY ICERD
- MTEM (Majlis Tindakan Ekonomi Melayu) is greatly concerned by the Malaysian government’s intention to sign and ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) in a roughshod manner that seems to disregard national sensitivities regarding the special position of the Bumiputera community.
- Malaysia need not ratify ICERD just to succumb to the public pressure of confirming our pro human rights credentials. Need we remind the pro ICERD camp that Malaysia was at the forefront of opposing the apartheid regime of South Africa long before it was fashionable in the West. As late as 1987, the British Prime Minister had still described Nelson Mandela and the party he led, the African National Congress as terrorists.
- Malaysia is not the United Kingdom where they claim to be totally blind to race but we are also not apartheid South Africa where only the white man was accorded the full freedom to live their lives. Malaysia’s unique history and circumstances of our independence from the British Empire meant that our Federal Constitution had to incorporate pro-Bumiputera elements that may be construed as discriminatory by ICERD. The Federal Constitution that was finally accepted by representatives of all ethnic and religious groups was one that recognized Islam as the official religion of the state but that the practice of other religions was not to be curtailed. However, the preaching of other religions to Muslims were strictly forbidden to preserve the position of the Monarchy at the forefront of the Muslim faith in Malaysia.
- Ratifying ICERD carries the risk that Bumiputera institutions such as MARA, UiTM, RAMD and vast tracts of land reserved for Bumiputera may be deemed illegal by ICERD. Proponents of ICERD often argue that legal reservations can be defined by Malaysia such that the continued existence of Bumiputera interests are not legally challenged. The historical record however has clearly rubbished the notion that reservations that go against the basic ICERD goals of freedom to religion and total eradication of racial discrimination (remember what ICERD stands for!) can be challenged by other states. Yemen’s decision to place reservations on most of Article 5 was opposed by at least 14 states. Whatever were the merits of Yemen’s decision, will Yemen be held liable even for parts of a treaty that it refused to abide by? Without such certainty, it is meaningless for Malaysia to place any value on the strength of its reservations.
- MTEM is also worried that the custom solutions required to make the Bumiputera Agenda a success will face pressure from an over-zealous interpretation of ICERD. For example, proposed legislation to eliminate acts of Economic Sabotage (better known as Ali Baba arrangements where Bumiputera who win government contracts effectively sell the contract to non-Bumiputera) by those who are awarded government contracts may become impractical if Malaysia ratifies ICERD. Fundamentally, government policies and programmes that focus on uplifting poor and disadvantaged Bumiputera may be acceptable for ICERD but not if middle class Bumiputera entrepreneurs and professionals are given government preference.
6. Instead of a reckless pursuit to keep up with the neighbors, Malaysia should redirect it’s anti-discrimination efforts back home by implementing an Anti-Discrimination Law that vigorously and thoroughly combats all forms of negative discrimination; while recognizing that the Bumiputera Agenda is in principle a noble attempt at affirmative action that despite its many flaws have been mostly successful.
7. A landmark study on racial discrimination in the private sector by Lee Hwok Aun and Muhammad Abdul Khalid in 2016 suggested that when it comes to hiring in the private sector, Bumiputera are the ones who are discriminated against. An academic study is not required to be aware of the innumerable job ads that blatantly state that only Chinese applicants need bother. More polite ads smartly specify a spurious requirement for Mandarin proficiency instead. As for the public sector, the Public Service Commission (JPA) has supplied data on intake of new civil servants which concluded that contrary to popular belief, Chinese applicants are the most likely to be accepted to join the civil service.
- The reality of Malaysia is that equally capable Bumiputera who apply to join a private company which are mostly owned by non-Bumiputera are refused even a chance to interview while the few non-Bumiputera who attempt to join the civil service are accepted at much higher rates than ‘favored’ Bumiputera. Discrimination is truly alive and well in Malaysia, but it is largely the Bumiputera who are the victims of it.
- Whichever side of the debate you are on, it is undeniable that the current discourse regarding ICERD has been more divisive than enlightening. You are either for or against it and there seems to be no room in between. There are credible arguments on both sides of the debate and MTEM recognizes that both sides have the national interest in mind. However, Malaysia’s priority for the next 5 years is to put the national economy back on track and in a manner that promises Shared Prosperity for all regardless of race, class and region.
- In mind of the raw sensitivities surrounding the ratification of ICERD and the possible economic impact to the implementation of the Bumiputera Agenda; MTEM hopes that the government takes a step back from the brink and focus instead on pushing through an Anti-Discrimination Act that abides by the basic principles of ICERD without provoking the risk of legal uncertainty and racial strife that ratifying ICERD will bring.
AHMAD YAZID OTHMAN
Chief Executive Officer, MTEM