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Walking down memory lane with Hindraf - FMT

The activist group has said that it will never reconcile itself with the retention of Article 153 in the Federal Constitution.
Special prayers today at the Subramaniar Temple in Batu Caves marked the day in 2007 when tens of thousands of Indians took to the streets of Kuala Lumpur in a spontaneous uprising to demand equal rights as enshrined in the Federal Constitution and an end to institutionalized discrimination.

Hindraf Makkal Sakthi Chairman P Waythamoorthy recalled that all the movement wanted was 10,000 people to gather outside the British High Commission to witness the submission of a memorandum addressed to the Queen of England, asking her government to provide legal aid (for Hindraf) for a suit against it for abandoning the Indian community to an uncertain fate when the colonialists left in a hurry on August 31, 1957. The rest is history.

The suit is winding its way through the Appeal Court in London after having been dismissed recently, but not without the recommendation of the High Court that Hindraf take up the matter at the European Human Rights Court in Brussels.

The court also issued a landmark ruling that “no court in the world would accept the racist Federal Constitution of Malaysia.” This is a reference to Article 153, which enshrines a special position for the Malays and indigenous races, by way of a reasonable proportion, in specific areas: intake into the civil service, intake into institutions of higher learning owned by the government and training opportunities, government scholarships and opportunities from the government to do business.

While what was raised in the London court was Article 153 as it stands in the Federal Constitution, the real story behind it was not raised – the usurpation of the power of the Agong over Article 153 by successive governments in Putrajaya and the deviations and distortions in the implementation of Article 153, which was far more damaging to the stakeholders. Patently, this was an area which could only be raised in Brussels, where documentary evidence and oral testimony would have to be introduced.

Also not raised in London was the New Economic Policy (1970-1990), on paper a genuine extension and extrapolation from Article 153, but in practice an initiative that degenerated into more deviations and distortions of both the letter and spirit. The NEP, formulated in the wake of the May 1969 riots, held that poverty would be eradicated irrespective of race, that the identification of race and creed with economic function and place of residence would be eliminated and that the Orang Asal, Orang Asli and Malays would own, control and manage 30 per of the corporate wealth of the nation by 1990.

Article 153 and the NEP have not worked out in practice. Instead, what has happened is unbridled corruption – making everything one touches go bad – as witnessed in mispricing and the state of under-development in Sabah and Sarawak in particular, the marginalisation of 850,000 displaced estate workers in the peninsula and the persistence of the stateless phenomenon among 350,000 people in the peninsula. Mispricing, a World Bank euphemism, simply means that government contracts are going at double, triple and even up to ten times what they should cost the taxpayer. The difference, being lost to corruption, means that there’s that much less money for development.

Already, 80 per cent of the Federal Budget of some RM250 billion a year goes to the bloated 1.4 million-strong civil service in a permanent dole system paid for at the expense of 30 million Malaysians.

Patently, there’s a need for widespread reforms to embrace an inclusive culture that does away, for starters, with deviations and distortions in the implementation of Article 153 and the NEP, and the return of the Federation from a de facto unitary state to its true roots with the doctrine of separation of powers restored and the Prime Minister’s Department reduced from a hyper ministry to a department as envisaged in 1957. Everyone agrees that too much political power is concentrated in the office of the Prime Minister in general and in the Prime Minister in particular.

Sabah and Sarawak have their own issues with the idea of Malaysia in Borneo. They want to regain their full autonomy.

Hindraf, meanwhile, has vowed that it will never reconcile itself with the retention of Article 153 in the Federal Constitution although it claims that the Orang Asal and Orang Asli have never benefited from it and the great majority of the Malays have been left out. It’s a question of principle, according to the ad hoc human rights NGO working across the political divide.