It's been a couple of months since the incident at Low Yat, and now we have a brilliant minister who is all gung-ho to want an exclusive digital mall for the Malays. I personally find the idea ridiculous because I grew up in a majority Malay community in Shah Alam with multiple malls which were occupied by mostly Malay traders.

And quite frankly, it does not work.

Shah Alam is rife with Malay businesses and honestly, the community thrives on micro and small scale successes sans the digital market.

What I mean is, you can find many brilliant food joints operated by the Malays in this city such as Restoran Soto in Section 8, budding Kopimeo in Section 9, and even Azira and Hatinie in Section 10, all of which cater to their specific markets.

But to find any Malay retailer in a digital market is a doozy. Maybe it is due to the Malay emphasis on food culture which is thriving, or maybe it is the simple fact that we haven't the contacts and suppliers to make it happen on a beneficial economies of scale.

So when a sitting minister insists we need a digital mall specific for Malays - with even Utusan backing him up - I will ask only this. Take a look at your mobile phones, your tablets, even your wide screen television sets and tell me, where did you get all those from?

Be very honest with yourselves, because I'm looking at these same appliances and gadgets thinking none of them were bought from a sure 100 percent Bumiputera company.

But more than that, I grew up in a city with Malay dominated malls such as Kompleks PKNS, SACC Mall, Plaza Alam Sentral and even Plaza Masalam. If you head out of central Shah Alam, you have more diverse malls such as Gamuda Walk in Kota Kemuning and Setia Eco Mall in Setia Alam.

Yet the Malay businesses in and around these areas are not focused as a majority in IT ware. Instead, they are tailors and Arabic clothes sellers, food and beverage entrepreneurs, and perhaps the odd pharmacist and Islamic medical goods supplier.

Among the Malays ourselves we have been saying this; in a whole stretch of shop lots, if one Malay open a tomyam restaurant, there will be four others doing the same to compete amongst each other instead of complementing one another.

It is a cynical view on the current Malay business model. For all we know, some would probably pay more to a bomoh to sabotage their competition rather than fix their own issues in the kitchen.

Imagine such a thing taking place in an entire IT mall!

The minister needs to understand Malay trading history before he speaks. Since ancient Malaya, even the Melaka sultanate did not make itself a "Malay only" trading entrepôt, they traded with the Chinese, Indians, Arabs and even the Thais (even when this one hated the idea of trading with the enemy) and I can guarantee you they would have had the minister in the stockade to throw rubbish at for suggesting something so ridiculous.

Bringing it to a more modern era, Anggerik Mall in Shah Alam is a Malay mall and it has failed to kick off to the point that the traders would rather close shop for entire days without opening. Before that, we had Imbi Plaza and Pertama Complex.

And now, let us talk about the elephant in the room; race.

I honestly believe that having anything that is just "Malay only" on the grand scale of retail is a mistake. To explain this, I would suggest looking north to Gurney Drive. In the 1990s, it was a thriving food haven where everyone congregated to eat, where the entire concept of race, halal or not, or even plates and cutlery were mingled together without a worry.

Then came this idea of segregation that brought the whole area down. Malaysian friends of mixed religions and races now had to go dine separately, so instead chose to abandon the Drive and dine somewhere else.

Then the hawkers had to move because there weren't enough profits.

The scenarios in the past have shown that the only way Malaysian businesses can thrive has always been through complementing one another under the one roof. Heck, it was how we got to become a country in the first place.

While the political climate may have blinded our ministers and his ilk from seeing this, we all need to know that race is no longer a significant determinate factor in retail. Prices, branding and quality still are.

Come to think of it, since our government is still adamant on signing the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) in 2018, perhaps the minister would like to ask his colleagues in the Ministry of International Trade and Industry if a "Malay only" gadget mall is accepted.

Because I can assure you it would not allow preferential treatment of such a kind either.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Astro Awani’s editorial policy.