by Joshua Chiang
On Nomination Day for the 2006 General Elections, PAP candidate and Chairman of Yayasan Mendaki Dr Yaacob Ibrahim declared there would be no Malay issues in that General Elections. While it remains to be seen if Malay issues will be ‘hot’ in the upcoming General Elections, the consensus among those who attended the National Solidarity Party’s (NSP) closed-door forum on Friday evening was that the government was not doing enough to address the concerns of the Malay/Muslim community.
According to NSP President Sebastian Teo, the “Reflection Forum” (Forum Cermin in Malay) was organized by the party’s Malay Bureau to understand the issues concerning the Malay community in Singapore, issues which are “real and genuine but have been brushed aside too often for one reason or another.”
About 70 people attended the forum.
Malay/Muslims organisations not doing enough
One of the key issues raised was that despite the existence of institutions to help disadvantaged Malay/Muslims, they were not doing enough. A member of the audience gave an account of how his application for funds to attain a diploma from a private polytechnic was denied on the grounds that his parents were working and thus should be capable of paying for his studies. According to him, the officers did not even ask for his parents’ combined income. As a result, he discontinued his studies.
NSP Malay Bureau head Ms Nor Lella Mardiiiah Mohamed, who volunteered regularly with Redstar Community Services recalled the time she went to a Christian shelter for women and was shocked to see that 80% of people staying there were Malay/Muslims.
Another member of the audience recounted how his sister who was a single-parent tried applying for grants with Mendaki to pay for her child’s studies but was rejected.
“Adult working Muslims have to contribute monthly to the Mosque Building and Mendaki Fund (MBMF). Should Mendaki not offer help to those who need it?” he asked.
Meritocracy or Exclusion?
Another issue raised was whether there were equal opportunities for Malays in Singapore.
“As a Malay, I feel very sad because I don’t see any Malay generals and Malays holding high positions in civil service,” said a member of the audience.
NSP chief Goh Meng Seng agreed, “How can you have a system of meritocracy but no Malay generals and machine gunners?”
(Anecdotal observation suggests that Malays boast a disproportionate representation in the rank and file of the infantry and logistical units of the Singapore Armed Forces. Although a Malay general was recently appointed, the military remains slow in integrating the Malay/ Muslims into their higher echelons and ‘sensitive’ vocations. – Editor)
A need for self-reflection
However, some felt that while the Government had to bear some of the blame for the poorer socio-economic position of the Malay community in relation to the other races, the community as a whole also needed to look within itself.
Ms Lella told the audience that in her previous job in a HR department, she often came across many Malay job applicants who were not to particular about their salary as long as they get the job. She asked if this was due to Malays being taught not to ask for more at a young age.
One member of the audience suggested looking at it as a class issue. “The underclass lacks sophistication to go about getting assistance,” he said.
He further suggested that perhaps a more ‘academic approach’ was needed to understand the underlying causes of the problems the community face.