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THE uproar over Bumiputera equity policies featured in the prime minister’s 12th Malaysia Plan speech has simmered down this week, but three issues have been overlooked.

The 12MP’s Priority Area D, “Achieving an Equitable Outcome for Bumiputera”, within Chapter 5, “Addressing poverty and building an inclusive society”, outlines the Bumiputera Agenda. The section provides a commendably frank assessment of shortcomings, most saliently the community’s high concentration in low-skilled occupational categories and involvement in micro low valued-added business.

 The 12MP extends the 11MP’s focus on effective control rather than passive ownership; both Plans resolve to divest government-owned equity to “genuine” (11MP) and “qualified” (12MP) Bumiputera entrepreneurs.

 The 12MP criticises the continual dependency of Bumiputera MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises) on government grants and loans, and commits to formulating “a clear exit policy… to encourage successful Bumiputera MSMEs to be more independent and resilient.” 

I have no doubt that the intent is real and earnest.  Indeed, the focus on skills, productivity and competitiveness leads us to the first question.

1. Why does the agenda still hinge on 30% Bumiputera equity?

By the 12MP’s valuation of Bumiputera agenda items, human capital and entrepreneurship outrank equity ownership in importance:

“Human capital development will be the main focus in uplifting Bumiputera socioeconomic position”; “Increasing the resilience and sustainability of Bumiputera businesses will be the main focus in strengthening entrepreneurship culture”.

Bumiputera socioeconomic development covers vast ground, from higher education to employment, entrepreneurship and ownership. Of these, human capital development – which operates primarily through higher education, high-skilled occupations and enterprise development – is declared as “the main focus”. 

All objectives are intertwined and all Malaysia Plans mention everything under the sun, but policy statement, and especially the political will expressed in PM’s 12MP speech, determine which policies will lead, and which ones follow. Clearly, equity ownership is the driving objective. 

In light of the plan’s own declared priorities, though, shouldn’t education and MSME development have pride of place, with equity ownership in a supplementary role?Instead of fixating on 30% Bumiputera equity, Malaysia will do better to galvanise the community toward the fundamental goals of cultivating skills, developing capability and talent, and energising enterprise. 

Formally, policy targets for Bumiputera skills development and MSME growth should take utmost priority. The 12MP sets an employment target of 65% of Bumiputeras in skilled jobs in 2025. This is superficial, generalised, and utterly lacking in ambition. On Bumiputera educational attainment, the 12MP presents scant data and projects no meaningful goal. On Bumiputera enterprise growth, the 12MP proposes a welcome new target of raising their contribution to 15% of GDP, but this potential new rallying point gets overshadowed by equity ownership. The 12MP reports how a staggeringly high 83% of Bumiputera MSMEs are classified as micro, but refrains from targeting growth in the share of small and especially medium enterprises. 


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