THIS is a dangerous territory that I’m treading on today, but tread I should.
For what it is worth, I would like to send out a simple message to those discerning readers that the time has come for the Natives of Sarawak to think outside the box: not to rely entirely on their native privileges.
Some people believe, me included, that the affirmative action programme introduced in 1970 was a necessary handicap to fast track the economic development of the natives within a period of 20 years. It was extended for another 20 years.
Judging by the apparent affluence among certain groups of natives and by the statistics that the incidence of absolute poverty will be reduced to 2.8 per cent by this year, it would be fair to say that the New Economic Policy has indeed achieved a measure of success.
Though poverty, absolute and relative, is still with us, efforts are being made to reduce it to the minimum possible.
However, this positive discrimination, exclusively for the natives, may do more harm than good in the long run for them as well as the political health of the country as a whole.
Explain! Read on.
Under Article 153 of the Federal Constitution, the Natives of Sabah and Sarawak are to be treated like the Malays in the peninsula. In other words, whatever the Malays enjoy in terms of privileges such as services, permits, scholarship awards, exhibitions, the Natives here would also enjoy in like measure.
In Article 161A (4) are found provisions talking about the special position of those natives and the way of dishing out privileges to them, by making corresponding provision to Article 153 in their respective state constitutions, with the necessary modification.
Whether or not the natives are actually enjoying any or most of those privileges or have taken advantage of them is a matter of conjecture and perception, without the benefit of latest facts and figures.
After 1989, statistics on the breakdowns of which group of natives got what have not been easily obtainable. General observation, however, is that they are much better off than their ancestors in terms of possession of modern amenities.
Natives of many kinds
Public perception has been that a native has all the chances of getting the contracts and scholarship awards from government. Well, not quite. All natives are equal but some are more equal than others.
One has to bear in mind that many are those who have inherited their wealth from their parents and they in turn know how to manage their endowments. Many of their parents were already established well before Malaysia.
Born at the right time and place
Many Natives have been enjoying the privileges: all categories of civil servants; the businessmen and women who have the correct connections, taken advantage of the privileges and managed their affairs well; the students who were admitted to universities on quota basis.
Pre-Malaysia Colombo Plan scholars and post-Malaysia students from Mara-assisted institutions of higher learning were the lucky ones, born at the right time and the right place.
Those on the margin
Many Natives have been on the margin as well, but are surviving. I do not know how many and where they are to be found. They are out there managing their affairs quietly, raising children, sending them to school and doing a bit of business. They buy property and save as hard they can. Many of them don’t even know of the existence of native privileges or how to go about getting them.
One privilege that helps
They may have the privilege to invest in ASB but they must have the money to begin with. If today you sign up to buy a share in the ASB and entrust RM10,000 of your hard-earned cash for this year, you may add a sum of RM800 to the capital via the interest of 8 per cent per annum. That’s a privilege all right.
Don’t gamble on the privileges
In the course of my travels, I make a point to talk to the natives who sell durians, vegetables, run coffee shops, mee stalls, the plumbers and mechanics. I have discovered that they do not rely on the native privileges.
Some have heard about the privileges but do not know how to go about getting them. Only those well-connected with the powers that be have access to the know-how.
They just carry on with what they have been doing since the formation of Malaysia.
More importantly, the successful ones really cherish the pride of real success.
At this juncture it must be qualified that those lucky natives who rely on the contracts from the government are a source of pride to the others. They will continue to provide excellent service while they carry out the jobs at hand and learn more about their trades. May they go from strength to strength and get a good bite at SCORE.
There will be tremendous opportunities for you by way of jobs and business there if you have the correct aptitude and the necessary skills. Remember the early bird catches the worms.
The rest of the natives will have to go on with their lives with or without the privileges.
It’s now or never
The trouble with depending too much on privileges is that once you don’t get them you feel bad. On the other hand, if you least expect them, the failure to enjoy them is not so painful.
To avoid being looked down upon as spoilt children in the next generations, the natives or those who prefer to think outside the box, make shift right away.
After they are so used to being pampered, it will take a long time for them to handle the withdrawal syndrome. One fine day, life’s opportunities from these sources may be withdrawn by the powers that be.
After all they are mere privileges and not absolute rights.
If and when that happens, happier will be those who have not been so dependent on those privileges in the first place.
And in this context, the ability to survive without being spoon-fed is a valuable acquisition in itself and the pride so acquired is priceless.
If anything, it is good for the Ego.
They will not grow up as spoilt citizens. Instead, they will be full of confidence in facing the challenges and changes around them. Their migrant mentality and aptitude will serve them better.
Gamble on education
However, in life, modern or ancient, one vital asset to possess is education, in its broad sense. In the specific sense, the formal education is indispensable, the key to success and a survival kit.
Our education system is not perfect, but like the air we breathe, it is almost free. Every child is automatically admitted to school without too much trouble. Gone are the days when it took all powers of persuasion before a Dayak parent allowed his son or daughter to go to school.
At this stage we are not participating in the debate over the state of affairs of our schools, whether or not we should have one single education system, or the problem of persuading teachers to serve in the rural areas, and the lack of modern facilities.
We are talking about the present system, warts and all.
It is in education as such, therefore, that lies the future and fortune of your children and their children’s children.