Posted on March 24, 2012


Some Malays in Malaysia have  decided to join a political group aligned to the ruling political party in the neihbouring country in the South, whose policy approch is race-based. Presumably these few Malays are so enthralled by what the ruing party’s performance that it is to their own personal benefits if they are to join force and enhance the party’s image as multi-race-based. Or there are other motives (aspirational or inspirational ) which prompted these few Malays to switch camp. Anyway, columnist of Temasek Review Zara Abdullah handsomely wrote in her column about the plight of the Singapore Malays  in 2011 in depth. I find the article very much relevant currently as it was then.  A point to ponder for those political fence sitter-Malays, still harbouring political swapping. By going through Zara’s mind it might shed some

Three members of the in the 11th Parliament fr...

Three members of the in the 11th Parliament from minority communities in that were elected in (GRCs): from left to right, , Minister for the Environment and Water Resources and and Member of Parliament (MP) for Jalan Besar GRC; , Minister for Finance and MP for Jurong GRC; and , Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports and MP for Holland–Bukit Timah GRC. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

light on something unheard of before:

“A number of my past articles to TR have been focusing on Malay community issues. Though most comments were supportive of my articles, there were some that were critical, which should be given attention since we should listen to all sides even if we may not agree. What deserves zero attention are comments that were abusive, vulgar and racist. Amongst the critical comments, one recurring question was about why I am using a race based approach to understanding issues.

I think these people are mixing up between understanding issues and finding solutions to issues. In the former, one has to typically look at various angles including gender, age etc and amongst that list race is included. That is what experts do all over the world. When you look at an issue by age for instance, you are basically trying to see if people of certain age groups are facing different set of outcomes. When you can isolate this, you then can then move on to investigate what could be the set of factors faced by that particular age group. However when you find solutions, very few times can race based approach work.

Let’s look at political conflicts. In countries such as Lebanon just after internal war in 1980s, India just after world war 2, these two countries face political conflicts amongst different ethnic and/or religious groups. They took race based approaches to resolve these conflicts. Lebanon for instance allocated certain top positions in government to Muslims and other top positions to Christians etc. India divided itself into India and Pakistan (which included current Bangladesh) and that division was supposed to be along religious lines. In political front, when you take race based approach often it leads to silly implementations. For instance Lebanon constitution stipulated that the Prime Minister must be a Sunni Muslim. Currently due to the chain of political events, the Prime Minister is a Shia. When India divided itself along Hindu-Muslim lines, they totally omitted the fact the country also had Sikhs, amongst whom there is a group which is still fighting for independent separate state till today. A large number of Muslims also chose to stay behind in India and not move to Muslim Pakistan or Bangladesh hence making their proportion out of Indian population be at a high 20%.

Singapore also has its own set of political issues in which it has used a race based approach with similar idiosyncrasies. In order to get minority representation in parliament, despite many solutions are available for this, PAP decided to set up GRCs where in each GRC there is one minority representative. It is absurd of PAP to claim that one minority representative in a GRC team will represent minorities in the GRC constituency because when that minority MP is effectively a minor member of the team which of course will make decisions based on majority opinion within the team. If 3 Chinese MPs say no, it does not matter the remaining one minority MP in the GRC team say yes. The minority MP in GRC teams is a lame duck by the very structure of GRC teams.

Even in economic issues, a country must look at them using various angles including race. However it must not use race based solutions. There cannot be more perfect examples than Malaysia. Despite having so many policies to inspire the Malays to greater economic heights, the decades of evidence has shown that dishing out freebies is only going to spoil them and not motivate them. Likewise in Malaysia, the government used race based political organisations to distribute resources to the minority communities. The BN government for decades had allocated large resources for the Indian community but under the stewardship of Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC). Today the Indian community is divided between super achievers, whose success is not due to MIC, and low achievers, who did not receive the resources that MIC was supposed to distribute. It is the same case for MCA.

When you look at countries which try to uplift aboriginal communities’ economic status, they often use race based approach. Australia, Canada, Malaysia etc are great examples where despite enormous efforts they have not made significant progress. In terms of social issues such as crime, marriage breakdowns, problems in education etc, again race based approaches do not work well.

Singapore has been very big on this whereby whenever a social issue arises within a racial group, the government will quickly finger race based solutions. It has for instance set up race based so called self help groups, which purpose till today remains unclear. These self help groups largely focus only on education though people tend to imagine they are also responsible for other social issues. Even in area of education, these self help groups have largely focused only on the area of tuition classes and some limited financial help.

Essentially it is only clear that race based solutions to problems in life do not deliver the results we all want. Instead what is necessary is to take balanced outcomes approach. One has to focus on making sure that no group no matter of what age, gender or race is disproportionately represented in any outcomes. The solutions to achieve this must be attempted using various innovative methods and not silly, simplistic methods such as self-help groups, partitions and quotas. Each solution when implemented must be tested to see if it is effective. That is the actually the most important thing to resolving issues in society. It is not about identifying the best solution. Nobody can identify the best solution as nobody can tell concisely what the effect will be. One has to implement solutions that have worked elsewhere, test to see if similar results are achieved and if no, dish it out for alternative measures.

The PAP’s approach has been to first categorize the problem in superficial ways including classing some issues as “community issues”. Then it will appoint government related 9am-5pm bureaucrat staffed agencies to solve such economic or social issues. If it is a political issue they will activate ISD like as if the people in ISD are the best people trained to mediate in tough political issues.

Never do PAP then get independent assessors to see if the desired results are attained. One must be naive to expect that can be achieved in an absolute autocracy. Instead bad policies that have been implemented never get identified by PAP’s processes until something totally goes wrong like Temasek loosing $50billion or limping Mas Selamat espcaping through toilet window in a prison. Bad outcomes are then portrayed as huge policy successes. Glossy brochure PAP Singapore then shines ever brighter.

When one is to look at the economic issues e.g. jobs, income instability, unemployment etc amongst the lowest denominator of each ethnic group in Singapore, it is the essentially the same nature. The could be certain race issues involved such as biases of employers for which the solution lies in strong employment laws. In terms of solutions in general to economic issues for this lowest income strata, the agents of change can be the same agencies. However in terms of outreach to the individuals and working on the ground with the individuals, these agencies may choose employees of similar ethnicities to those individuals being reached out in order to facilitate better communication and outreach. Singapore’s PAP government agencies that look into these issues do not have such policies and hence fair poorly in outreach. Government agencies no matter which country it may be are not the most fit to know all the problems on the ground. That is why you need to give maximum freedom in society for independent agencies to organise themselves to highlight those issues on the ground. This will only happen if Singapore is no longer an autocracy.

In terms of social issues, the earlier approach is more central to problem solving. However social issues take time to resolve and unlike economic issues, you cannot expect them to change by quarters. This long term management of issues requires agencies which have that capacity and government related agencies are totally not of that scope. When you look at crime for instance, the segment of society that is too involved in crime can only come out of it if their set of values, priorities and outlooks change. Government agencies cannot be the agents of such change. Social change comes with social organisations not state agencies. Family structures, neighbourhood networks, family networks, institutions of religious worship, educational institutions, social interest groups etc are essentially that which brings social change. In Singapore because PAP wanted political dominance, it effectively has silenced all these social agencies. It has been trying to play that role through its own agencies but to no avail.

Singapore also cannot expect that race base approaches will work in politics. GRCs, PAP Malay MPs, a Minister being designated as Minister of Muslim Affairs, religious based organisations such as MUIS and Hindu Endowment Board, PAP Indian MPs etc are all failed concepts that have yielded zero results beyond much fanfare and clichés.” (Temasek Review, 2011)