Monday 17 September 2012

Malays can do without burden of affirmative action

I read last Sunday's report ("Ex-AMP head critiques 'myth of meritocracy'") and felt saddened by Mr Nizam Ismail's call for affirmative action.

The Malay-Muslim community in Singapore has risen in education, family togetherness, employability and quality of life over the years through consistent effort.

The community started on a lower base and battled many social problems. And it has progressed much on its own steam.

Mr Nizam's refusal to see the improvements made but to instead lean on phrases like "stubborn gaps" and "social inequality among the races" is puzzling.

His lack of confidence in the ability of his own community is a put-down for the growing number of Malay-Muslims doing well as students, undergraduates, skilled workers and professionals; and as parents raising healthy families. They have risen with fellow Singaporeans purely on merit.

Racial quotas will only lead to a loss of respect for the very people they seek to benefit. Would he want the doctors, firemen, soldiers, or teachers of any one ethnic group to be seen to be lesser than those from other groups?

Our self-help groups have backed national programmes with community support and cheered on the less well-off. By sharing responsibility and enhancing outreach to the vulnerable, these innovative arrangements have nurtured self-reliance and growing confidence within communities. They have helped prevent both dependency tendencies and socially divisive inter-group competition which are often the by-products of affirmative programmes.

Singaporeans should be given all the means of accessing resources. And efforts - big or small - must be respected for the human spirit behind them. But to insist that all efforts must bear the same outcomes sounds strange.

For Singapore, meritocracy with compassion is the best way to allow opportunities of equality to continue to transform us - regardless of race, language or religion - into a model progressive society that is just and united. Rather than quick fixes that lead to more fissures, let us build on our efforts, so that in time to come, we leave behind a community that our children and their children will be proud of.

The Malay-Muslim community will do well without the burden of affirmative action.
Zainudin Nordin
MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC
ST Forum, 16 Sep 2012

Meritocracy no myth for Malay-Muslims
WE ARE concerned with assertions made by Mr Nizam Ismail, former chairman of the Association of Muslim Professionals, about the National Day Rally speech delivered by Madam Halimah Yacob, Minister of State for Community Development, Youth and Sports ("Ex-AMP head critiques 'myth of meritocracy'"; Sunday).

Madam Halimah had emphatically stated in her speech that Singapore has not departed from our founding principles. Singapore continues to give opportunities to everyone who is prepared to work hard.

Our meritocratic system must provide opportunities for all Singaporeans, regardless of their backgrounds.

Madam Halimah said every Singaporean must receive the proper education and training to succeed. Every talent, not just those in the academic fields, must be nurtured.

She said that with meritocracy and focused efforts, she is confident that the Malay-Muslim community will climb higher up the ladder of success.

She pointed out that society must also help those who, due to personal circumstances or through no fault of their own, are unable to help themselves.

She cited the stories of Ms Chong Hui Xian and Ms Nurulasyiqah Mohammad Taha, who represent the true Singapore spirit that we must value, nurture and grow.
Charlene Chang (Ms)
Community Relations and Engagement Division

Ex-AMP head critiques 'myth of meritocracy'
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 9 Sep 2012

A former chairman of the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP) yesterday critiqued the "myth of meritocracy" at the core of the Singapore system.

Mr Nizam Ismail, 45, also took issue with Minister of State Halimah Yacob's National Day Rally speech, saying it suggested that the reason the Malay-Muslim community has not succeeded "as much as we can is because we did not work hard".

Her statement took a "very broad-brush approach" that ignored real problems, he said, adding that meritocracy glosses over social inequality.

Mr Nizam was speaking at an AMP dialogue on the National Day Rally.

He pointed to "stubborn gaps" that the Malay-Muslim community faces in education and issues like juvenile delinquency and high divorce rates. Without addressing inequality, these gaps will widen, he said.

In his view, meritocracy also breeds elitism when those who succeed think they deserve it and look down on those who fail.

"I fear that perception is already ingrained in the minds of our policymakers," he said.

He suggested it was time to look at some forms of affirmative action.

Three other speakers spoke at the forum, including Economic Society vice-president Yeoh Lam Keong, who said the Malay-Muslim community's economic vulnerability at the bottom of the income ladder is its Achilles' heel. It threatens to undermine its main strength - strong social cohesion.

He called for the Government to move back to its old stance of "thoughtful government intervention" in public service areas where the market does not do a good job. He named six key social policy areas which need rethinking and restructuring: the social security system and safety net, public housing, education, health care, public infrastructure and transportation, and population and immigration policies.

Mr Yeoh said public housing used to be affordable, with flats priced at two to three times annual income. Now, as a result of public housing being pegged to market prices, it has become markedly more unaffordable and threatens to become even more so.

He referred to former senior parliamentary secretary Mohamad Maidin Packer's open letter to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Mr Maidin had touched on housing and immigration to warn of the eroding social compact and trust between Government and people.

Agreeing strongly, Mr Yeoh said if wide-ranging social reforms in these areas are not put in place, "unfortunately, one of the most relatively negatively affected are likely to be members of the Malay-Muslim community".

Dr Faizal Yahya of the Institute of Policy Studies warned that with many Malays working in the manufacturing sector, there will be implications as Singapore moves to a service and knowledge-based economy.

Also discussed yesterday was Our Singapore Conversation. Mr Nizam and lawyer and Aware activist Halijah Mohamad said the conversation should include alternative views and the voices of civil society.

Separately, the Singapore Democratic Party also held a forum yesterday to discuss issues faced by the Malay-Muslim community and the role it plays in Singapore's future.

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