Malays: A statistical journey backwards in time?

By Leong Sze Hian

I refer to the articles “Malay singaporeans poised for next level” and “Malays have less social capital: Study”(Sunday Times, Mar 10).

It states that “two-thirds of Malay households now live in four-room flats or larger.

Meanwhile. a third now hold jobs in the professionals, managers, executives and technicians category, up from just 7 per cent in 1980.

Malay students at Secondary 2 level ranked in the top 10 among 42 education systems worldwide for both maths and science.”

When I spoke at the Budget forum on 1 March, organised by the Centre for Research on Islamic and Malay Affairs (RIMA), several participants and panelists talked about affirmative action.

In this connection, I would also like to support Nizam Ismail, the chairman of AMP’s research arm’s remarks, “that he hoped to see measures such as a national-level inter-agency task force set up to tackle the problems of the Malay community”.

It has been said that in “Statistics”, whenever you are given statistics to show that a particular group has become relatively better off, you should also try to find statistics that may show otherwise, so as to have an alternative and balanced perspective of the subject matter.

So, I decided to take a journey back in time to try to find some statistics about the Malay community, relating to the statistics cited above, that I have written about in the past.

Increase in % staying in HDB 1 & 2-room

The only ethnic group which had an increase in the percentage of those staying in 1 and 2-room HDB flats, was Malays – which increased from 6.5 to 8.7 per cent, from 2000 to 2010.

In contrast, the percentage of Indians and Chinese, declined from 8.1 to 4.9 and 4.4 to 4.1 per cent, respectively.

The Average Household Size (persons) was also the highest for Malays, at 4.2, compared to 3.6 and 3.4 for Indians and Chinese, respectively. (Department of Statistics, Census of Population 2010, Statistical Release 2: Households and Housing – Key Findings on Household Size and Structure)

Percentage of PSLE Students Who Scored A – C in Standard Mathematics

Malays 60.1%, Chinese 89.4%

In 2002, it was Malays 56.5% and Chinese 90.2%.

So, the performance of Malays in Mathematics has been relatively weak, compared to the other ethnic groups.

I understand that the latest statistics are that only 6.8% of Malay-Muslims had a university degree in 2010, compared to 28.3% across all races. (“Is Mendaki TTFS fully funded by Govt?“, July 31 and “‘Graduates in every family’ call“, Straits Times, July 1) (“PSLE Maths: Malays 60.1%, Chinese 89.4%“, Oct 29)

Mendaki may need to cut programmes?

According to Mendaki’s chairman, it will likely run a deficit after expanding the reach of its Tertiary Tuition Fee Subsidy (TTFS). To finance this deficit, it may need to cut some of its social and education programmes three years from now, or dip into its reserves.

Mendaki’s financial situation

According to Mendaki’s 2011 annual report, it had a net income of $14.1 million, an increase of 72% over the previous year’s $8.2 million. Its Total Funds and Reserve was $95.8 million, which was 24% more than 2010’s $77.4 million. Given the above healthy financial situation, I would like to urge Mendaki not to cut back on its programmes, as the Malay community is behind the other communities in all economic and social measurements of attainment. (“Give more funds to Mendaki“, Jul 20)

TTFS funded by Government, but may need to dip into reserves?

I am somewhat puzzled by the Minister’s reply (in Parliament) : “Sir, the revised eligibility criteria which have taken effect this year will not affect Mendaki’s financial provision for TTFS. This is due to how the Government grant is computed each year. In fact, the revised criteria means that more Malay students are now eligible compared to the past.” – It seems to be somewhat self-contradictory because if the funding comes from the Government and ‘will not affect Mendaki’s financial provision for TTFS’, why did the Minister say to the media in June, just about three weeks before his reply in Parliament, that some social and education programmes may have to be cut and that Mendaki may have to dip into it’s reserves?

As to “Previously, only Malay students from a family with a monthly household income of $3,000 and below qualify. With the introduction of the per capita income in the new criteria, Malay students in a typical four-member household with a monthly income of $6,000 and below would now qualify. Mendaki expects about 7,000 new and existing students to apply for TTFS this year.”, I understand the income eligibility criteria has not changed for about a decade or so until now, despite rising university tuition fees, cost of living and university education expenses. (“Is Mendaki TTFS fully funded by Govt?“, Jul 31)

In this connection, if I may quote from the book Singapore Malays: Being Ethnic Minority and Muslim in a Global City-State by Hussin Mutalib (2012) – “the government should review, if not tweak its implementation of some of its governing paradigms – meritocracy, multiculturalism, and secularism. To begin with, it is judicious to adopt a magnanimous approach towards the practice of ‘meritocracy’. Here, perhaps the recommendation by the UN rapporteur that the Government offer Malays a ‘stimulus package with a specified timeline’, particularly in the area of education, rather than being dismissed outright, should be given its due attention”.

105,000 Malay-Muslim recipients of financial aid programmes?

Reproduced below is a newspaper forum letter which I wrote about seven years ago about 105,000 Malay-Muslim recipients of financial aid programmes :-

“Just how many needy S’poreans are there today?
Leong Sze Hian, Singapore
8 March 2006
Business Times Singapore
I refer to the article ‘$400m to help older, low-wage earners’ (BT, Feb 18) and media reports that the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme was set up in 1985 because Harry Elias, the former president of the Law Society, and a group of lawyers were shocked by some sobering figures from the 1980 census.

According to the Law Society of Singapore’s website: ‘The 1980 census revealed that at least 400,000 Singaporeans survived on a combined family income of less than $500 per month. 90,000 of them lived in households earning less than $250 a month. While only 3,000 Singaporeans were actually on public assistance, the statistics showed that 400,000 Singaporeans waged a daily battle to make ends meet. It was a sobering, if not shocking, discovery.’

As I understand it, historical inflation in Singapore has been about 2 per cent, so $500 in 1980 would be equivalent to $820 today, 25 years later.

According to the Department of Statistics, the average monthly household income of the lowest 20 per cent of households in 2003 was $795, and their average monthly household expenditure was $1,259.

As this household income of $795 is below today’s inflation-adjusted $820 ($500 in 1980), does it mean that among the bottom rung of Singaporeans, some are not much better off today, compared with 25 years ago?

It was also reported in the media that a common electronic database detailing names and information on 105,000Malay-Muslim recipients of financial aid programmes has been launched.

If the number in just one ethnic group’s database is 105,000, what is the total for the whole population?”

The Price of Inequality

We should heed the call in Joseph Stiglitz’s new book, “The Price of Inequality – How Today’s Divided Society Endangers our Future”, which was written in response to the “Occupy Wall Street” movement – “We must continue and increase our efforts at reducing inequality amongst our communities”.