Monday, 2 February 2015

It’s all about the money

JANUARY 27 — On Sunday, January 25, 2015, residents living in Kampung Keramat demonstrated against the Datum Jelatek luxury condominiums.

"Fearing their Malay-majority city neighbourhood may soon be overrun by Chinese, a group of residents in Taman Keramat marched to the construction site of upscale condominium project Datum Jelatek here and violently tore down its cladding today."

Yesterday, PKNS was quoted in The Star that, "All 674 units of controversial Datum Jelatek condominiums have been registered to Bumiputra buyers, debunking allegations that the Malays could not afford to purchase the luxury units. Selangor State Development Corporation (PKNS) in a statement said that a total of 1,097 potential bumiputra buyers have shown their interest, exceeding their expectations on the project."

With the median salary in Malaysia at RM1,700, one would need to pay a monthly instalment of RM3,500 for a RM700,000 apartment.

Melayu sudah maju. Melayu sudah kaya.

Social media, of course, exploded with heckles — who's embarrassed now? The protesters now have egg literally on their faces. There would not be an invasion of Chinese moving to the mostly Malay enclave, but rich, moneyed, we-have-arrived Malays. Their very own brethren.

The lawyer cum columnist, Azhar Harun, wrote a public note on his Facebook, of his suspicions about the protest.

"I can't help but suspect that the said demonstration was orchestrated by certain parties who were out to tarnish the Selangor state government. Call it a hunch. Or intuition. Or reasonable deduction. Whatever. I don't have evidence. But that's how I feel. That was my first reaction. Which public rally or demonstration would make available free nasi lemak and drinks to the rally goers?"

He continued to say that Sunday's demonstration was a stark reminder that within our seemingly peaceful multi-racial society, "… there are sections that are parochial and exclusionary in nature. At a glance, such parochial, tribalistic and hence, exclusionary sub-society, is almost a trademark of our society so much so that it has been accepted by all and sundry. Or at the very least, accepted by acquiescence.

The damaged hoarding of the Datum Jelatek Project is seen following a demonstration by a group of residents in Taman Keramat, Kuala Lumpur, January 25, 2015. — Picture by Yusof Mat IsaThe damaged hoarding of the Datum Jelatek Project is seen following a demonstration by a group of residents in Taman Keramat, Kuala Lumpur, January 25, 2015. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa"The failure of our affirmative actions and economic policies in establishing a fair and equitable distribution of wealth and closing the gap between the haves and the have-nots only serve to create inter-class enmity and resentment."

I refer to Muhammed Abdul Khalid's book The Colour of Inequality and his paper on wealth distribution in Malaysia.  He shows that about 90 per cent of Bumiputera households have no savings, and about two-thirds have no financial assets.

In terms of wealth, about 72 per cent of Malaysians who are without wealth are Bumiputera, while 17 per cent are Chinese and 10.7 per cent are Indians. What is rather shocking is that an average Bumiputera has about less than one month of financial reserve to cover his monthly expenditure in case of loss of income or employment.

His study also finds that wealth distribution is extremely skewed, top 10 per cent of Malaysian households per capita control 40 per cent of the country's wealth, while the bottom 40 per cent own only 5 per cent.

More than 92 per cent of wealth comes from real estate, while financial assets contribute the rest.  The study also finds that ethnic disparity in wealth is much higher than the disparity in income.

The Chinese, on average, have the highest wealth which is 90 per cent higher than the Bumiputera and 50 per cent higher compared to the Indians. 

Improving socio economic status of Malaysians requires a consistent two-pronged approach, with a focus on both the bottom 40 per cent and on maintaining/increasing growth equality.

The weekend's demonstration is more than about politics, political intrigue and Azmin Ali. It is not about Malays versus Chinese and Indians. It is about the Haves and Have Nots among the Malays, and there may be hell to pay.

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