DAP’s Zairil Khir Johari has recently called out for the new Skim Amanah Saham Buniputera 2 (ASB2) and claimed that it is not helping average Bumiputera investors. In his statement, the Bukit Bendera MP said that the ASB2 is one of the many newly implemented policies and schemes introduced by Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Najib Razak to materialise his promise on national unity. “He [Najib Razak] promised national unity in the form of 1Malaysia and a New Economic Model (NEM) that preached needs-based economic intervention in favour of the bottom 40% of household income earners regardless of race,” said Zairil. This, according to Zairil, initially signalled a departure from the race-based policies from the past and was a clear indication to include every Malaysian. However, Najib Razak’s new Bumiputera agenda today, which includes the new ASB2, is an indication of the complete opposite, said Zairil. “Dubbed the Bumiputera Economic Empowerment Agenda (BEEA), it entails a variety of race-based initiatives including the setting up of a powerful Bumiputera Economic Empowerment Council, the creation of Bumiputera Development Units in every ministry, an assurance that major Government-Linked Companies (GLCs) will increase Bumiputera vendor participation, as well as the launch of 10 billion units of new Skim ASB2 shares by Permodalan Nasional Berhad (PNB),” he added. He further argues that while the NEM then offered market liberalisation and needs based affirmative action that would focus on narrowing the gap between the rich and poor, the BEEA today appears to be a reversion to the old New Economic Policy (NEP) that has been proven to benefit mostly a selected class of UMNO-linked Malay capitalists at the expense of poorer, unconnected masses. “This is made obvious by the fact that, despite four decades of supposed Bumiputera-targeted assistance, the bottom 40% of Bumiputera households today earn a measly average income of RM1,686 per month. At the same time, the politically-connected rich are able to purchase RM7 million bungalows at a whim,” he added. When announcing new Bumiputera economic empowerment programmes at Universiti Teknologi Mara last September, Najib Razak introduced ASB2 as a way to strengthen the Bumiputera equity ownership in the corporate sector. In his speech, he said the maximum limit for each individual in Amanah Saham Bumiputera (ASB) is RM200,000 and to encourage participation, he introduced ASB2, which will be launched by Permodalan Nasional Berhad (PNB) with an injection of 10 billion units of shares. But, Zairil argues that the amount of units being injected into the scheme is highly questionable. “Who is set to benefit from more ASB shares made available? Would the bottom 40% of Bumiputera households be able to invest in these high-yielding shares considering that they hardly earn enough to get by?” he questioned. Zairil pointed out that according to PNB’s annual reports, the average investment of Bumiputera investors stands at RM14,097 per person as end of 2012. From a distance, that appears to be a decent amount suggesting that many Malays have a significant amount of savings. But upon closer inspection, Zairil said this figure is misleading, as it turns out that three-quarters of Bumiputera unit holders have an average investment RM611 per person. He argued that it is only the top quartile of Bumiputera unit holders who are able to invest heavily in the shares. “How then, would the availability of more units benefit the average Bumiputera, when they are unable to take advantage of even the current available ASB shares? “In fact, a study by economist Dr Muhammed Abdul Khalid found that the disparity of wealth is massive, whereby the top 0.1% of Bumiputera investors have an accumulated portfolio that is 1,526 times more than the bottom 80% combined. Hence, the likelihood is that this elite group of Bumiputeras will eventually reap the benefits of the additional 10 billion ASB2 units, rather than the common Malay who is able to invest only RM611 on average,” said Zairil. “Thus, the question is – who is the ASB2 really for? Certainly not the average Bumiputera.”In response, writer, businessman, ex-banker and NEAC Economic Advisor Syed Akbar Ali disagrees that the schemes only benefit the rich Malays and UMNO cronies. “The maximum investment was (or is) RM250,000 per person. Even the richest Bumiputeras can only invest a max of RM250,000. Rich Bumiputeras do not depend on RM250,000 Amanah Saham investments to become rich. This is a scheme to help the middle income and the poor,” he said. Syed Akbar also believes that the purpose of the ASB2 is to allow ordinary Bumiputeras to own shares with the quantum not in question. “This has been the case since the Amanah Saham schemes were launched in 1990. This is not a new scheme that was just launched yesterday. Is Zairil saying that the Amanah Schemes since 1990 have not benefited the Bumiputeras? This is just an extension of an old and very successful scheme,” he said. Syed Akbar explains that the ASN, ASB and ASB2 are designed to mobilise Bumiputera resources to ensure Bumiputera participation in the nation’s economy, being owned and managed by PNB. “PNB is a major shareholder in numerous corporate giants like Maybank, Sime Darby and many other countries. Through equity holdings in these companies (using ASN/ASB investors’ funds), PNB is also able to provide employment and professional opportunities to thousands of Bumiputeras. “It is no secret that successful PNB companies like Sime Darby and Maybank are managed by Bumiputera professionals. That alone is a major return on investment by all those Bumiputera ASB investors. It is a very successful self-help mechanism for the community,” said Syed Akbar. While the launch of ASB2 is slated to come in a few months, PNB is still mulling over the fund structure options and has yet to decide whether the units will be of fixed or variable price.