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6 curious questions about the Bumi-only Low Yat 2 answered

If you are a Malaysian, confirm you’ll know about the Low Yat incident.

The Low Yat riot earlier this year. Pic from The Malaysian Insider

The Low Yat riot earlier this year. Pic from The Malaysian Insider

If you can’t remember it, it was basically how a Malay guy got caught trying to steal a handphone and fought back, which somehow ended up as a racially-charged incident. So the solution to it? Simple laa. Let the Malay folk have their own digital mall!

This all-bumi IT gadget outlet caused a lot of debate in the CILISOS office, so we thought we’d pay a visit there too while writing this article. The name of the mall, that was planned because of a lot of people getting angry, was announced during the launch as MARAH MARA Digital Mall.

When you realise how bad that pun was. Gif from risaellen.tumblr.com

When you realise how bad that pun was. Gif from risaellen.tumblr.com

It was recently officiated by none other than Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yakoob. If that name seems familiar that’s probably because of THAT turtle egg incident.

Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri on the left with the turtle eggs on his plate. He definitely totally didn't eat them tho. Pic from Malay Mail

Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri in the now infamous picture. Pic from Malay Mail

The politician recently launched the new Medan MARA Digital Mall, more commonly known as the Low Yat 2, which will only have bumiputera store owners in it. If you haven’t heard of it, then you can read up on it here, here, here and yeah you get the point.

He launched it as he held the portfolio of Minister of Rural and Regional Development. Hold on… rural development?!

 

1. Wait. Why is the Minister for Rural Development opening a DIGITAL MALL?

Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yakoob’s portfolio in the Cabinet is the Minister for Rural and Regional Development. Which got us thinking: How is opening up a mall for urban KLites, in the middle of KL, that sells digital gadgets and stuff like that FOR RURAL AND REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT?!

Well to put it simply, the mall is technically opened by MARA which is under Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri’s care. MARA, which stands for Majlis Amanah Rakyat is a council of sort that was initially set up to help the rural folk. It then became a council aimed at helping the poorer Malay people to develop themselves and get them out of poverty. Imagine Oprah giving out gifts but only for bumiputeras.

'Selamat datang ke Rancangan Oprah Winfrey!'

‘Selamat datang ke Rancangan Oprah Winfrey!’

So since MARA is basically an agency to give the bumiputeras a helping hand, when Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri wanted to open up a Bumi-only digital mall, it went under MARA. And so that explains how Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri got involved with this plan in the first place and managed to open up the MARA digital mall which already has 36 tenants already, with more soon to move in to the mall.

 

2. Wait. MARA Digital Mall? Not Low Yat 2?

Originally it was going to be called the ‘Low Yat 2’. This sparked some reactions as some people began wondering why a digital mall with only Malay retailers should have a Chinese name. The owners of the original Low Yat Plaza also voiced out against calling it Low Yat 2, claiming the name Low Yat is a family name that shouldn’t be disrespected. Others who didn’t agree with the plan ridiculed Datuk Seri Ismail’s idea with suggestions to name it Plaza Ismail Sabri (cos he planned it).

This one article even called the idea “brilliant” (note: sarcasm) and suggested that since got Low Yat 2 for Malay people, open a Low Yat 3 for Indian people, and while at it open a Masjid India 2 for non-Indians. With all the negative criticism, Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri announced that it wouldn’t be called Low Yat 2, and that there would be a competition for the name and the logo of the new digital mall.

In the end, it was launched as the Medan Mara Digital Mall, hence that really bad pun in the beginning of this article.

MARA digital name

 

3. Wait. How come so many shops signed up so fast?!

Well maybe it has something to do with the fact that they don’t have to pay rent or renovation costs for 6 months! That’s right, retailers are actually operating there absolutely free of charge for half a year as Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri believes that would allow the shops there to gain a customer base first.

So now who’s actually covering the rent? According to The Malay Mail, a ‘federal vendor program’. Our closest bet would be MARA’s ‘Lanskap Pembangunan Vendor’ program. Means MARA is sorta covering the rent and renovation for the MARA Digital traders which again is puzzling as there have been claims that MARA is actually running out of funds for education loans and scholarships! 

When you realise got no more scholarship but got iPhone. Gif from Mashable

When you realise got no more scholarship but got iPhone. Gif from Mashable

Does that now mean that the hard-earned money of everyone in Malaysia that goes into the tax department is being used by MARA for a bumi-only digital mall? Walao, since they got no rent all, their prices can be damn low right? Sure a lot of people right?

 

4. Wait. Got people go or not wor?

So as we’ve mentioned we paid a visit to the MARA Digital Mall. And we got there, we saw that business is… um… well… see for yourself.

More kosong than my 2-in-1 kopi. Pic taken during the afternoon on a weekday.

It’s okay… but let’s just say that it definitely could be better. Saying that, there still were people who were interested in buying some of the goods there laa. We’d also like to note that we went on a weekday, so maybe on a weekend you’d see a much larger crowd.

Customers checking out stuff at MARA Digital. Pic taken during the afternoon on a weekday

Customers checking out stuff at MARA Digital. Pic taken during the afternoon on a weekday.

I know most of y’all would be wondering, ‘Got discount ah?‘ and the answer is technically got laa. We spoke to one of the vendors and they did mention that while discount sikit is possible, they still need to sell it as close as possible to the listed price by the product’s company.

In the end there would likely be not much difference in terms of pricing between MARA Digital and Low Yat except maybe for certain promotions and discounts by the retailers, mainly because the selling prices are actually set by the product’s company. For example, a Lenovo U41-70’s selling price in a store in Low Yat is RM2699.00, while a handout by a seller at the MARA Digital lists the same laptop at the same price. In fact, online sellers like Lazada are probably gonna give discounts a lot more often than Low Yat or MARA Digital.

NAH, BACA:
We made Malaysians draw out things in the air… can you guess what these are?!

That begs the question…

 

5.  Wait. Can challenge Low Yat meh?!

Based on what we saw it seems unlikely that the MARA Digital Mall will be providing any serious threat to Low Yat anytime soon, despite speculation it was going to. That is probably why Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri announced that the mall will not be aimed at actually competing with Digital Mall or Low Yat but simply “giving the people more choices”.

Even Obama approves. Unedited pic from TripAdvisor

Even Obama approves. Unedited pic from TripAdvisor

Another possible reason for the poor turnout on Day 2 of the MARA Digital Mall could be because of where it’s located. First of all, it’s located at the Busana Mall, which judging from our visit there, despite being next to other major shopping centers in the heart of KL, is a pretty small mall with not as many people as you’d expect. On top of that, the MARA Digital Mall is actually just ONE FLOOR with not much space and for some reason, despite the mall itself closing at 10pm, the MARA Digital Mall closes by 7.30pm in the evening.

Busana Mall, with MARA Digital at Level 3. Unedited pic from skyscrapercity.com

Busana Mall, with MARA Digital at Level 3. Unedited pic from skyscrapercity.com

But don’t just take it from us. Even bumiputera traders that can apply for a space there (complete with free rent for 6 months somemore) have decided not to, with most claiming that the location of the mall just isn’t good enough.

“Although I didn’t get a chance to do business there, Low Yat is still more strategic and is known for selling a bigger variety of IT gadgets,” – A Bumiputera IT storeowner, as quoted in The Malaysian Insider

UPDATE (16/12/15): Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri however doesn’t seem to be affected however by the worries of traders. In fact, he now plans to open up even MORE DIGITAL MALLS that would again, have bumiputera traders only.

“I’m really hoping for the support of the Malays and Bumiputera to make MARA Digital successful. My plan is to open it nationwide so that more Malay IT entrepreneurs will come up,” – Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri said, as quoted in The Malay Mail

 

6. Wait. Non-Malay can apply also?!

Yes. Well sorta.

Technically speaking, it’s an all-bumiputera mall. So that means the key criteria is being a bumiputera, not being Malay. On top of that, Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri actually did say that non-bumiputeras can actually apply, although priority would be given to bumiputeras.

So basically if you Chinese or Indian but wanna apply caaaaan, but it’s very likely that you won’t get it.

If it seems a little racist to you you might be wondering why no one influential protested against it. Well thing is, actually got. And you’d be quite surprised who was one of the more vocal voices.

Superhero in disguise? Pic from the MCA mobile app

Superhero in disguise? Pic from the MCA mobile app

Yup that’s right. The Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA). When Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri mentioned that he intends to open Low Yat 2 as a purely for Bumiputera digital mall, MAAAAAAAAAAAANY MCA politicians spoke up against the proposal. They even went so far as to call the idea ‘apartheid’.You can read what they said here, here, here, here and here, but we feel like the best argument was made by Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai.

“As a leader in the Government, he (Ismail Sabri) should not propose a single-race (supermarket), especially in a multi-racial market. Such a statement will only disrupt harmony in our country. It (the supermarket) should not be only a bumi supermarket. In our multi-racial society, it should be a multi-racial supermarket. There are no race differences here,” – Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai, as quoted in The Star

Not only did MCA object to the idea of an all-Bumi mall, Gerakan, DAP and even BN politicians all made vocal their objection of Datuk Ismail Sabri’s plans. But if so many influential people voiced out against it, how did Datuk Ismail Sabri manage to get it approved?

Well for a start, he made a claim that the new MARA Digital Mall was not meant to be a racist project, arguing that all he did was to provide a platform where bumiputera businessmen could have a chance to enter the IT industry. He also asked for everyone regardless of race to come and buy stuff from MARA Digital. In fact, he said that people should be ‘colour blind’ when buying things and linked opening a bumi-only mall with Tun Abdul Razak’s time as Prime Minister.

 

But will this all-bumi mall REALLY help the bumiputeras?

Potentially yes. The MARA Digital Mall would’ve opened up a decent number of jobs for the Malays especially. One could also argue that it has a ripple effect of opening up spaces and jobs for shopkeepers in Low Yat as well, as shopkeepers from Low Yat move over to the new digital mall.

The gomen may in fact have some legitimate reasons behind ‘favouring’ the bumiputeras. Statistics show that the bumiputeras earn on average 38% LESS than the Chinese. While using only the average income is not enough to correctly judge how to help the bumiputeras earn more, this move to allow bumiputeras an advantage may be justified to a certain extent.

HOWEVER, it is crucial to acknowledge that too much of a good thing is never good at all. There’s an actual theory for when too much of a good thing leads to disaster called hormesis. Providing too much for a certain group of people may not improve their situation, but instead make them more dependent on the person or group providing the assistance. This could also be a reason why bumiputeras are not earning as much as others. The most obvious case for this would be Africa, where financial aid is given every year to African nations since last century and yet the only difference is that African nations now DEPEND on these financial donations from other countries (not RM2.6 billion donation tho, that one you can read here).

What is happening here in Malaysia however is the threat that too much assistance from associations like MARA may end up hurting the bumiputera people from improving themselves. Despite this, if these traders use this opportunity well, we may actually see them rise up in the IT sector.

UPDATE (14/12/15): One of our Facebook users made a very good point that we feel we should add on to our article.

Screenshot taken from Facebook

Screenshot taken from Facebook

Competition was one of the key factors in Low Yat’s success as Malaysia’s top IT store. Retailers had to lower prices and think of new ways to improve their store and products to attract more customers. However, at the MARA Digital, it seems that all the traders have the added security of being supported and funded by MARA, which might lead to a false sense of security, with everything they want handed to them. It remains to be seen if the traders at MARA Digital can really keep up with the customers’ demands when their own demands are already met with ease.

There’s still a long time before we can judge the MARA Digital mall tho. So until then, maybe we should give this mall a chance?

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