KUALA LUMPUR — Finance Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz has defended Putrajaya’s decision to earmark a large share of next year’s federal budget for the Bumiputera communities, calling the criticism against it disheartening as he accused detractors of cherry-picking portions of the spending plan.
In a letter penned for The Star, Zafrul said Bumiputera communities make up 70 per cent of the country’s 33 million population and are still trailing ethnic Chinese and Indians in equity ownership and median income, which means they require the most help.
The former banker said Budget 2022 was formulated to embody the “Keluarga Malaysia” spirit, the brainchild policy of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob that supposedly espouses inclusivity. He denied crafting the spending plan from a racialist lens.
“Budget 2022 is formulated to embody this noble spirit, as well as the principle that no member of a family should be left behind,” the minister wrote.
“In fact, since I became Finance Minister, we at the Finance Ministry (MOF) have always crafted the annual budget based on needs, not race, religion or creed,” he added.
“This is why, over the weeks since its tabling, it has been disheartening to see how some quarters of our society have cherry-picked portions of the speech to insinuate how the Budget prioritises the bumiputra community at the expense of the non-bumiputra beneficiaries.”
The ruling coalition tabled a record RM332.1 billion federal budget in October, with over RM70 billion earmarked for development as it sought to revive an economy devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic and put money back into the pockets of low and middle income households.
But critics of the government alleged less than a tenth had been allocated for ethnic minorities — just RM300 million compared to RM11.4 billion slotted for the ethnic majority communities.
Zafrul responded to the allegation by citing income data that shows the Bumiputera, accounting for two-thirds of the population, trailing behind other communities.
He dismissed suggestions that the large allocation was racially-motivated as “complete nonsense”, and stressed that Budget 2022 was planned after extensive consultations with key stakeholders, including opposition lawmakers.
“Here’s an undeniable fact: Close to 70 per cent of Malaysians are Bumiputera, who include indigenous groups from Sabah and Sarawak, as well as the Orang Asli,” he wrote.
“Keluarga Malaysia must support its members who have fallen behind economically, just as parents would send their children to tuition classes for subjects they have yet to master… naturally, as the numerically dominant segment in our rich and colourful racial tapestry, these people would receive the most assistance,” he added.
“The logic is straightforward: if the dominant community continues to be left behind, so will the country. By the same token, should the dominant community thrive, the country will thrive, too.”
As of 2018, bumiputera equity ownership was only 16.9 per cent, far off the 30 per cent target set by previous administrations. Right wing leaders of the ruling coalition often cite the low numbers as justification to maintain race-based affirmative action, but analysts said low Bumi equity ownership was more a result of corruption and abuse than policy failure.
In terms of absolute poverty, the bumiputera account for 7.2 per cent compared to the Chinese at 1.4 per cent, and Indians at 4.8 per cent, according to Zafrul.
In 2019, the median household income for the bumiputra was RM5,420, compared to RM7,391 for the Chinese, and RM5,981 for the Indians.