As we celebrate Merdeka and look ahead to Malaysia Day, Anil Netto wonders whether we have OneMalaysia or “two Malaysia’s” – one for the rich and the other for the lower-income group.
The Najib administration has touted its One Malaysia slogan in the weeks leading up to the Merdeka and Malaysia Day celebrations.
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Certainly, the objectives of One Malaysia are noble enough. After all, who – except for a small minority bent on promoting racial and religious discord – wouldn’t want national unity? This is not to say that an imposed uniformity – rather than a healthy plurality is a good thing. But most of us can agree that overcoming barriers and promoting better understanding would be positive.
But in reality, One Malaysia is going to be be hard to achieve especially when in quite a few spheres we have two or more Malaysias in practice. (And I am not even talking about the entrenched bumiputera – non-bumiputera dichotomy here.)
Let’s look at income inequalities. Malaysia has a Gini coefficient (a measure of income inequality) of 49.2 – one of the highest in Asia. This reflects the vast gulf between the rich and the poor in Malaysia: the income of the richest 10 per cent of the population is 22 times that of the poorest 10 per cent.
Take two areas where neo-liberal policies and privatisation have created a two-tier system: health care and education. Since the 1980s, the health care system in Malaysia has been increasingly subjected to such neo-liberal pressures. As more private hospitals drain resources away from the public health care system, we now have two standards of health care: the private hospitals with more medical personnel per patient and shorter queues for those who can afford it, on the one hand, and the badly underfunded and under-resourced general hospitals, with long queues for those who cannot afford quality care, on the other.
Even within the general hospitals, we are now seeing two different systems: the full-paying patients scheme for the better off and the “second class” scheme for those without the means. (Where do the migrant workers and the refugees fit in?)
The same goes for education. Increasingly, the wealthy and the elite are avoiding government schools and sending their children to private schools, where more and more Malaysian students are now enrolled unlike previously where private schools were meant exclusively for children of expatriates. Well-to-do parents prefer these schools for all sorts of reasons: less pressure on pupils, learning through initiative and experience rather than rote-learning, generally better qualified teachers, and a lower student-to-teacher ratio. Moreover, the relative lack of funding for state-run schools as well as the mess in the public education system has led to an erosion in confidence in government schools over the years since Independence.
Even in housing, we now see a chasm between the rich and the poor: the rich can choose to live in luxury condos or high-security gated communities or country homes – where they are kept apart from the “riff-raff”, so to speak. The poor have no option but to live in poorly designed and crammed high-rise low-cost housing (which could degenerate into vertical urban slums, if we are not careful), surrounded by all sorts of social problems. And let’s not forget the pioneers and urban settlers who are being evicted from their homes and the indigenous communities like the Penan in Sarawak who are losing their native customary land to wealthy timber and plantation companies.
So there you have it: “One Malaysia” but in reality two different worlds – one for the rich and the other for the poor – in a growing number of areas.