Minister of Rural and Regional Development Dato’ Seri Ismail Sabri Yaacob initiative to give a leg up to Bumiputera ICT traders and retailers as part of the Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Mohd. Najib Tun Razak’s policy of empowering the Bumiputera economy, has transpired with the initial success of MARA Digitial.
The above the expected demand and sales of the Bumiputera ICT traders and retailers’ first ten days provided the initiative good motivation to replicate the program to other states, despite skepticism.
Channel News Asia story:
Mixed reactions to Malaysia’s first digital mall for Bumiputera traders
The MARA Digital Mall in Kuala Lumpur is the first of a series of Bumiputera-only malls planned across the nation. It is part of the nation’s longstanding policy of affirmative action for ethnic Malays and indigenous groups.
By Sumisha Naidu, Malaysia Correspondent, Channel NewsAsia
Posted 18 Dec 2015 21:43 Updated 18 Dec 2015 22:21
KUALA LUMPUR: In early December, Malaysia launched its “first” digital mall exclusively for traders who are Bumiputera, the collective term for the ethnic Malays and indigenous groups who make up the majority of the Malaysian population.
For six months, shop-owners at the MARA Digital Mall in Kuala Lumpur will not have to pay rent, all part of Rural and Regional Development Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s plans to help “disadvantaged” Bumiputera entrepreneurs break into a lucrative market.
At a press conference, he said: “The opportunities for Bumiputera at other IT malls are scarce. At other IT malls, the rent is too high so the ability of Bumiputera entrepreneurs to rent these places are limited. And the opportunities given for Bumiputera entrepreneurs to rent at these malls are very limited. So we have to provide a place where they can afford the rent and so on.”
The launch of the Bumiputera mall comes months after a protest in July, sparked by a petty theft case at Low Yat Plaza, a digital mall occupied primarily by ethnic Chinese traders.
The mainly Malay protesters accused Chinese traders of swindling Malay customers by overcharging them and selling counterfeit products. In September, these claims were echoed by another group of Malay protesters outside Petaling Street, also known as Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown.
Minister Ismail Sabri then announced plans for the mall in Kuala Lumpur that would give Malay and other Bumiputera traders a level playing field. He said the wheels are now in motion for more such malls to be set up across the country.
It is an idea that has been welcomed by Malay traders who say they have faced discrimination.
“Sometimes when you apply to rent out shop lots, the mall will see what company you’re from, if you’re Malay … If you are, they’ll put aside your application first and prioritise Chinese,” one security camera shop worker told Channel NewsAsia.
Other Malaysians, however, have ridiculed the move on social media.
CHAMPIONING MALAY INTERESTS
But policies championing the rights and advancement of the “native” people of Malaysia are nothing new. The New Economic Policy detailing affirmative action policies was introduced in the 1970s and UMNO, the largest party in the only ruling coalition Malaysia has ever known, is dedicated to championing Malay interests and their “special position”, as recognised in the constitution.
These are policies that have caused tensions in the past among Malaysia’s multi-ethnic population, which includes Chinese and Indians who have lived in the nation for generations.
One of the fiercest advocates for the need for affirmative action for Bumiputera was the nation’s longest-serving prime minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad. But speaking to his supporters on the sidelines of December’s UMNO General Assembly, Dr Mahathir lamented that current Prime Minister Najib Razak had replaced his pro-Bumiputera policies with a more inclusive “1Malaysia” approach.
He accused the Prime Minister of taking away more scholarship spots from needy Malays and giving them to the ethnic Chinese. “1Malaysia means priority is no longer given to Malays and Bumiputeras so that they can improve their economic prospects so they are at the same level as Chinese,” he said.
“I don’t hate other ethnicities but the fact of the matter is they’re richer, they have more opportunities than us,” added Dr Mahathir.
But analyst Amir Fareed Rahim from the KRA Group said that while ethnic Malays may still have some catching up to do in certain areas, it may be time to revisit the notion of socio-economic disparities based on ethnicity.
He told Channel NewsAsia: “There is a growing gap between the rich and the poor in Malaysia and when this happens, you must not look at it from a racial point of view but look at it from an economic perspective. You should help alleviate everyone into a better economic standard rather than looking into races and trying to champion certain causes.”
“IT WILL DESTROY THE SOCIAL FABRIC OF MALAYSIA”
Still, the special position of Bumiputera remains a no-compromise area for many UMNO members and its voter base.
Dr Mahathir accused Mr Najib of suddenly espousing “Malayness” at the recent UMNO AGM because he is “desperate” to win their support.
The Prime Minister and UMNO chairman has been fighting off unproven allegations of corruption, many of them hurled against him by Dr Mahathir himself.
At his opening speech at the general assembly, Mr Najib pledged greater efforts to help Bumiputera and boasted of UMNO’s success in getting the special privileges of Bumiputera recognised at an international level through the 12-nation free trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
He told UMNO delegates: “We have made history whereby the TPP members have accepted and acknowledged the Bumiputera policy as part of the terms to the TPP on a global level. This means the UMNO struggle has succeeded, and the Bumiputera agenda is no longer just a national agenda. Now the Bumiputera agenda has been elevated and acknowledged on an international level.”
During the same speech, Mr Najib extended an olive branch to Islamist party PAS, a former member of the now-defunct opposition alliance Pakatan Rakyat.
The move has been viewed as the first steps toward a potential alliance with PAS that could shore up a solid win for UMNO in the next general elections – due by 2018 – thanks to PAS’ strong Malay-Muslim voter base.
But analysts cautioned that this partnership would not be well-received by Malaysia’s non-Muslim population, especially because of PAS’ well-known push to implement a Shariah penal code in the nation.
UMNO’s partners in ruling coalition Barisan Nasional, the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), are unlikely to be supportive of the move either.
Said Mr Amir: “This PAS-UMNO cooperation in theory makes sense for UMNO. But we must ask the question, at what cost? We understand in the political field that when you go into absolutes, going for the totality of votes for one single segment of society, then you lose the bigger picture.
“The PAS-UMNO cooperation, though it may benefit Malay parties in the short run, in the long run, it will destroy the social fabric of Malaysia. It will create a very hegemonic Malay polity that is not what the founding fathers had in mind when this nation was founded.”
But the ethnic minority vote may now be a low priority for UMNO, after significant swings by Chinese voters toward the Opposition at the last general election.
Some of the traders and retailers in the new MARA Digital managed to source their products from the importers without middlemen, thus able to pass to the consumers a wider range of competitive products and offerings.
This program should be nurtured further beyond the 6 months rent-free as announced by the Minister, with agencies for the development of Bumiputera entrepreneurial and commercial programs coming up with new packages and commercial development programs.
Good financing and letter of credit would enable the expansion of sourcing of goods. Technical support is also a key ingredient of after sales and maintenance program. These would provide upstream the economies of scale, which would be translated in competitive goods offered to consumer.
There on, it should be infused with programs such as vendor and franchise development to enable more Bumiputera traders and retailers be created.
The critics should appreciate this affirmative action program is a progressive form of positive discrimination.
Malaysians should support Ismail Sabri’s blue ocean strategy, as a next phase to the development for the New Economic Policy for the Bumiputera to participate in the retail sector, originally brought forth by Second Prime Minister Tun Hj Abdul Razak Hussein.