NEW YORK: Malaysia's affirmative action policy that favours ethnic Malays has helped many in the community succeed and prevented disparity from growing and leading to racial tensions, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Wednesday (Sep 25).
"Many (Malays) are helped and many have succeeded," he said at the World Leaders Forum at Columbia University.
Dr Mahathir, who is in New York for the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, emphasised that the policy is needed to prevent tensions from growing between the different races and economic classes in the country.
“If you do away with affirmative action, what do you want to do? If you do nothing the disparity is going to be worse and there will be tensions between races and between the rich and the poor,” he said.
Dr Mahathir cited the example of the medical field, in which measures taken to correct imbalances in the profession have led to the presence of more Malay doctors.
“In other professions too we have made some corrections, it is not satisfactory but at least we have made some corrections,” he said.
"And there are now Malays who are doing quite well in business.
“I was talking to a man last night. He flies helicopters and owns a lot of helicopters not just in Malaysia but all over the world. He was given a chance, and he made good use of the chance.”
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While in the past opportunities were given freely without considering people’s capabilities, the government will be more selective in providing support going forward.
"Now we’re going to be very selective to overcome this habit of selling contracts and other opportunities given to them", said Dr Mahathir.
"We want to ensure those who got the contracts to carry them out," he added. "If they don’t, we will take it back."