The Bumiputeras include a few ethnic groups which comprise mainly of Malays, Orang Asli, Sabah and Sarawak ethnic groups. Though Bumiputeras held power politically, historically, they were among the largest group living in poverty and earned very low average wages compared to the Chinese. Various policies and agencies have been introduced over the years as a form of affirmative action meant to empower this targeted segment of the population.
Over the years, the percentage of Bumiputeras living below the poverty level has been reduced tremendously, although there still exists a wide average wage gap between them and the Chinese.
Recently, there has been public backlash against this affirmative action, with many Bumiputeras questioning whether these policies are still necessary and/or whether they were necessary at all to begin with. Some claim that such policies are in fact causing the opposite effect from what was intended. There are rumblings that only the already affluent Bumiputeras are deriving financial benefit with little ‘trickle-down’ effect on the poorer Bumiputera demographic; while other claims assert that only a level playing field will encourage the Bumiputera population to rise up without the help of the government.
Although it is not clear whether these NEP/Bumiputera policies have had an adverse impact on foreign startups in terms of operations, there are certain hiring guidelines that apply to certain types of companies (e.g., those sponsored by the MIDA) that need to be examined. Also, having a Malay new business development person could be advantageous for certain GLC-heavy industries and dealing with government agencies. At the very least, the ability to speak Malay is a sensitive issue when interacting with the government and GLC officials.
Malaysia vs. Singapore
Malaysia is a country with people proud of their heritage and resources. When Singapore was kicked out in 1963, it was viewed as a Chinese country in the middle of the Malay Archipelago. The intention was to wait for Singapore to request to rejoin Malaysia. As recent as 1980s, the Ringgit was stronger than the Singapore Dollar, and Malaysians used to drive to Singapore to buy groceries.
This all changed with the weakening of the Ringgit and the strengthening of the Singapore Dollar. Singapore became a modern and developed city-state. Malaysians generally felt left behind and often compared themselves to their more successful “cousin” down south. Topics such as Singapore’s lack of natural resources, or sillier notions like the accusation that they stole Malaysian ideas (e.g., Hainan chicken rice), were common talking points.
The truth is both Singapore and Malaysia are very much linked economically and Malaysians should find a way to leverage what Singapore has, and vice versa .