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Analysis Of ICERD Policy To Eradicate Inequalities Derived From Racial Discrimination In Malaysia

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This essay will assess a valuation of a policy that I have chosen to reduce inequality. This policy will be developed to some extent that could be improved. As to help improve the policy, I will analyze the potential benefits and limitations demonstrated through its implementation and provide reasonable solutions. Economic inequality is a concept that refers mainly to either income or wealth distribution which is commonly measured by Gini-coefficient and Lorenz curve. They are a measure of statistical dispersion to show degree of inequality. Higher Gini-coefficient means higher inequality.

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In this essay, I will be focusing on racial inequality that correspondingly associates with educational, income and wealth inequality. The policy that I have chosen to help solve inequality is to ratify ICERD (international convention of elimination of all forms of racial discrimination). I have chosen Malaysia as a centre of my discussion because Malaysia is a multiracial country that mainly consists of Malays, Indians and Chinese. In Malaysia, Bumiputras are given great privileges and special rights due to the Malaysia’s federal system that enshrines the Bumiputra’s superiority and supremacy due to the article 153 of the Constitution of Malaysia’s laws which causes dispute over racial disharmony. Bumiputra is a term used to describe Malays and other indigenous peoples in Malaysia. Bumiputera is also known as ‘the prince of the land’.

ICERD is an international treaty adopted in 1965 by the United Nations that provides a framework of conditions for countries that recognize ICERD to follow. After a country signs and ratifies ICERD, the government must review its existing laws and regulations to meet the requirements set by ICERD in order to eliminate racial discrimination.

Malaysia has a vast system of institutionalized preferences for Bumiputeras (most of the population} which grants us economic, education and other privileges over other ethnic Chinese, Indians and other minorities. For example, in the education aspects, scholarships by the government are only given to Bumiputeras. There is still another government department called the Public Service Department which offers exclusive scholarships to non-Bumiputeras as well but under the condition of being the top scores in the nation. This sparks unfairness as it is more competitive for non-Bumiputras to receive scholarships than Bumiputras despite being more qualified. Additionally, due to the special rights of Bumiputras, Malaysian education system has accustomed racial quotas which strictly set 60% of places in public universities must be reserved to the Bumiputras regardless of their qualifications and the other 40% is open to all races which also include the Bumiputeras. Furthermore, the Bumiputeras special rights led to the setting up of public universities and vocational institutes where the general and main entry condition is a Bumiputera and at the exclusion of other ethnicities. Moreover, in the income and wealth aspects, Bumiputras are accorded preferential treatment in public service employment with 4:1 ratio Bumiputeras to non-Bumiputeras, award of business and trade licence and reservation of lands mostly for Bumiputras which prevents non-Bumiputras to own their own land. The biased law of Malaysia’s Federal Constitution has driven the educational, income and wealth inequality within ethnicities. This is a problem because it indicates market failure as unequal distribution of income and wealth lead to economic instability. Also, income and wealth inequality associate with increased crime rates and poor health access. This would place the burden on the government and require restructuring of financial budget to spend on the police and healthcare.

Through the proposed ICERD policy, educational, income, wealth inequality and discrimination on other ethnicities can be overcome by eliminating Bumiputras special rights and by providing equal opportunities for Malaysians to higher levels of education, sponsorships, public servants, business license and land.

However, the limitation to ratify ICERD to eliminate special position of Bumiputras is that it causes conflict because of its perceived incompatibility with the country’s constitutionally enshrined affirmative action policies. This triggers heated racial dispute and public outrage by Bumiputeras as they will be reluctant to give away their privileges given that Malaysia is originally their land. For example in 2018 when the new prime minister publicly announced his intention to ratify ICERD, it led to 55,000 protesters joining the rally in Kuala Lumpur to show protest against ICERD which were joined by the presidents of two opposition parties and even a former prime minister. The powerful rally forced the prime minister to redraw his intention. This goes to show that by ratifying ICERD, will not guarantee ethnic harmony and not receive public acceptance. Therefore, the Malaysian government must approach other measures.

Chinese and Indians may not have access to public universities as much as Bumiputras, therefore I propose to have public universities half or fully privatised which could dismiss racial quotas. This can save the government money from funding public universities and reduces the liability of the government. The government can gain revenues which can be used to spend elsewhere such as healthcare. Moreover, through the privatisation of universities, it will make the education institutes improved in term of its productivity and quality as private universities aim to maximise profit and increased competitiveness would lead them to operate at maximum efficiency. Furthermore, private universities will have lack of political interference as deregulation means lesser control which enables them to have more freedom to govern and improve standards of services.

Also, the government can review the policy on the provision of scholarships strictly to Bumiputeras by sponsoring students on a basis of their qualification and eligibility regardless of their background and ethnics. In addition, I propose the government to encourage more corporate companies to invest more to provide scholarships without been bounded by the special rights act of the Article 153. This widens opportunities for non-Bumiputeras to access scholarships. More provision of scholarships is great as it represents investment in bright students which can produce a highly educated workforce to help grow the economy.

Same goes to public servants jobs, the recruitment of employees must be evaluated on a basis of their qualification and eligibility. This may not be favourable and acceptable for the Bumiputras given that they are more than half of the population. Hence, the government could propose the recruitment ratio to decrease from 4:1 to 3:2 Bumiputeras to non-Bumiputeras. This reduces the inequality gap in the employment while offering more opportunities for non-Bumiputeras to enter the public servant sector. As for the land reserves, we could reduce the substantial land reservation of Bumiputeras and permit some of lands opened for other races had they able to afford.

Countries are not entitled to adhere to ICERD 100% as the treaty provides some flexibility for signatory countries to state reservations from adopting them fully. For example, Thailand ratified ICERD and they stated reservations which include not to be obligated to apply ICERD provisions beyond the restrictions of Thai constitution and law. Malaysia could do the same to oversee some policies and propose reservations while preserving the constitution of the nation’s affirmative action policies (article 153) in the interest of public especially Bumiputeras.

ICERD are flawed in the eyes of Bumiputeras. Therefore all the aforementioned suggested proposals and stated reservations could be put in the conditions of ICERD that Malaysia has to meet in efforts to eradicate racial discrimination instead of completely eliminating Bumiputeras privileges that could trigger the social outrage and unrest, thus leading to racial disharmony. Hence, ratifying ICERD and introducing more publicly accepted conditions will be a great necessary preliminary measure in reducing inequality and becoming an established multi-racial nation.


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09 March 2021

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