Survey on plight of S'pore Malays

KUALA LUMPUR - A survey on the needs, concerns and aspirations of Malays in Singapore has revealed the minority group's sentiments.

The six-month exercise, the results of which were made public last month, tells of the community's sense of belonging in the republic, their state of economy and social consciousness.

It revealed that while the Malays had a strong sense of cultural, religious and national identity, they felt they were not fully accepted as part of their own country.

Among their key concerns included the notion of a limited Malay participation in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).

Discrimination at the workplace was also an issue among the community, with some jobs barring Malay women from wearing headscarves.

The 70-page survey by the Suara Musyawarah independent committee also revealed that some felt that the Malays were being left out of "elite or sensitive" parts of the SAF, such as commandos, armour and air defence, and excluded from naval ships.

"Participants said they were not satisfied with one or two 'poster boys' to show that Malays can thrive in SAF," Suara Musyawarah committee chairman Sallim Abdul Kadir, 57, told Singapore's The Sunday Times (ST), adding that the survey was based on anecdotes and feelings within the community without accompanying statistics.

The community's "sense of belonging" was among three key themes derived from the findings.

The survey was initiated last year when Minister in charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim announced the formation of a committee to hear from the republic's Malays.

The newspaper, quoting leaders of Suara Musyawarah, said the report "melded fact with feelings in an unvarnished, straight-from-the-heart narrative of what concerns the community".

Yaacob was expected to comment on these "conversations with the community" by this week.

The ST story compared the survey results against a 2010 census, which pointed out that Singaporean Malays lagged behind in terms of home ownership and household income.

Only 5.1 per cent of the non-student Malay population, aged 15 and above, had university degrees, a figure lower than the 23 per cent at national level.

The median income of Malay households in 2010 was S$3,844, excluding their employer's Central Provident Fund contributions, lower than the national median of S$5,000.

Less than three per cent of Singapore Malay households lived in private properties, compared with nearly 20 per cent of the overall resident households.

"While Malays have made strides in education -- more are passing and getting better grades in the PSLE (Primary School Leaving Examination), O and A levels, for instance -- there are many areas where the community has lagged behind," the newspaper reported.

Sallim, who owns a training and development consultancy, urged the government to dispel the perception reflected in the survey if it believed they were not true.

Suara Musyawarah vice-chairman Alwi Abdul Hafiz said the community had moved away from their loyalty towards the Malay archipelago, which was apparent more than two decades ago.

"Now, there is a strong sense of nationhood, of belonging to Singapore, especially among the younger generation. The issue is, we feel that our loyalty is being questioned and that we cannot be completely trusted."

The survey also pointed out that issue of "special rights" for Malays -- as guaranteed by Article 152 of Singapore's Constitution -- was hardly raised.

On the economic state of the Malays, the survey found that the community faced widening income gaps and a lack of social mobility, situations made worse by the fact that Singaporean Malays tend to have larger families.

However, a rise in social consciousness among the community has led more of those "wanting to help others (to) improve their lives". Many participants urged for a more consultative style of leadership to manage Malay matters.

Among the anecdotes obtained during these "conversations with the community" are:

A cleaner who has to compete for jobs with foreigners, some of whom are willing to accept S$450 per month for working 18 hours a day - something Singaporeans raising families simply could not afford to do;

Two lawyers who applied for jobs - one at a government-linked company and the other at a well-known bank in Singapore-- claimed their applications were rejected because of their race; and,

A delivery man, who spent six months job hunting, told a prospective employer about the need for him to master Mandarin even though the job (delivery services) did not require much verbal communication.