DAP calls on Anwar to convene an emergency meeting of Parliament early next month to present a third 1998 Budget to fully and firmly restore investor confidence through a new package of political, economic and financial reforms

Media Conference Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Thursday): Today is the last day of the budget meeting of Parliament which started on October 6. It has been a long 42-day meeting but it has failed to address the five-month long national economic crisis, just as the recently concluded ASEAN Summit and the ASEAN Plus Three Dialogues with China, Japan and South Korea have failed to come out with any solution to the deepening Asian economic crisis.

Unlike local mass media reporting, the international media's reactions had been generally unfavourable, as seen from the following headlines on the ASEAN Summit: The International Herald Tribune's "ASEAN Chiefs See No Solution - 'We Are Victims,' Mahathir Says as Free Fall Continues", Asian Wall Street Journal's "Asean Summit Ends on a Weak Note", Washington Post's "South East Asia Talks End In Mood of Helplessness" and London Times' "Rescue Summit Gives Little Hope to Asian Tigers".

What has the Malaysian Parliament to show in providing solution, leadership and guidance to Malaysians in the face of the worsening economic crisis, which would become more and more painful, imposing greater hardships and sufferings in the coming months?

Despite five months of the economic crisis, the Malaysian government and political leadership are still in a state of denial, unable to shake out of the "denial syndrome" denying that mistaken government policies and measures have also to take responsibility for the national economic crisis, with the Malaysian Parliament the national headquarters of such "denial syndrome".

This was why in the past 42 days, DAP MPs who tried to shake Parliament out of the "denial syndrome" had very vehement exchanges with Barisan Nasional MPs, just like my heated exchanges with the Barisan Nasional Backbenchers' Club, Ruhanie Ahmad yesterday and although most of these exchanges were not reported in the local mass media, the fact remains that Barisan Nasional MPs are going around either with the attitude that the national economic crisis is not serious or that the crisis is all caused by evil foreigners like George Soros.

Yesterday, when Ruhanie interrupted my two-hour speech on the Securities Industry (Amendment) Bill to try to twist and distort what I had said in Parliament, I had specifically asked him whether he was prepared to admit that the government had been responsible in aggravating the national economic crisis with a series of self-inflicted wounds which caused further plunges in the currency and stock markets such as:

Although Ruhanie promised twice to answer specifically to my question, he evaded on both occasions - showing that Barisan Nasional MPs are still suffering from the "denial syndrome", unable or unwilling to admit to government policy errors and mistakes without which, there could be no effective remedies to the national economic crisis.

During my speech in Parliament yesterday, the Deputy Minister for Human Resources, Datuk Abdul Kadir also disputed that the government was still in a "denial state", asking whether the emergency financial package announced by the Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, in early December with regard to restrictions on the banking, finance and stock market sectors were not drastic actions to deal with the economic crisis.

I reminded Kadir that I had publicly welcomed the emergency financial package announced by Anwar on 5th December at 4 p.m., which was necessary to save the economic situation, as without such an emergency media conference to announce the emergency financial package, the ringgit would have crashed through the US$1-RM4.00 barrier and might even touch US$1-RM4.500 at 5 p.m. on 5th December because of the disastrously negative market reaction to the land-bridge announcement by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Mahathir Mohamad in Langkawi the previous day.

I also reminded Kadir that I had said that the emergency financial package announced by Anwar on Dec. 5 and tabled in Parliament on Dec. 8, though welcome, was too late and not comprehensive enough, although it was more successful than the 1998 Budget presented in Parliament on Oct. 17 in confidence-building.

I had proposed on October 30 that Anwar Ibrahim should present a second 1998 Budget in Parliament on November 5 during his winding-up of the budget debate, as the 1998 Budget presented by Anwar on Oct. 17 had failed to address the fundamental issue of restoring confidence in the Malaysian economy or to check twin currency and stock market crisis, as both the Malaysian stock market and the ringgit had embarked on a sharp decline ever since the budget presentation

It was only five weeks later, on December 5, that Anwar heeded the DAP advice and presented an emergency financial package, which was akin to a second 1998 Budget.

Although Anwar's emergency financial package or second 1998 Budget was better received than his 1998 Budget on Oct. 17, as Anwar's emergency financial package at 4 p.m. on Friday, 5th December, checked the unprecedented decline of the ringgit to 3.8650 against the US dollar and strengthened it to 3.6950 an hour later as well as causing a rally of the KLSE, it could only be sustained on the following Monday as by Tuesday, 9th December, the KLSE plunged by 47.32 points.

I pointedly told Kadir yesterday that the government must learn the lesson from the five-month Asian economic crisis that delay could be very costly, resulting in actions which might have been effective if taken earlier becoming weak or ineffective because of procrastinations and prevarications. The emergency financial package announced by Anwar on 5th December would definitely have been more efficacious and effective in restoring market confidence if it had been announced four months earlier, as I had suggested on Oct. 30.

Today, the South Koreans go to the polls to elect their new President.

President Kim Young Sam must have tried his utmost to avoid becoming his nation's most infamous leader in history in surrendering South Korea's economic sovereignty by transforming the country from an Asian Tiger into an Asian Beggar and asking for bail-out by the International Monetary Fund. All he needed to do was to drag out the decision for one-and-a-half months until after the South Korean Presidential elections on December 18.

As recent as mid-November, the South Korean government said it did not need any IMF bailout and advised the IMF to use its funds for economies which were really in distress.

It has been reported that Kim Young-sam only caved in to the need to seek IMF bailout to avoid sovereign bankruptcy when South Korea was a week away from insolvency.

The Government must take effective measures to bring about a national economic recovery and turnaround when such measures would have the maximum impact and effect, and not when a runaway deterioration of the economy rendered them less effective and meaningful. This is why DAP calls on Anwar to convene an emergency meeting of Parliament early next month to present a third 1998 Budget to fully and firmly restore investor confidence through a new package of political, economic and financial reforms which will give no doubt to the nation and the world that the government and people have completely purged the "denial syndrome" which had hampered the country’s ability to galvanise the whole country in a united response to effect an economic recovery and turnaround in the shortest time possible.

I am very disappointed with the reply of the Deputy Finance Minsiter, Datuk Wong See Wah in Parliament yesterday in the winding-up of the debate on the Securities Industry Amendment Bill, whether with regard to the ten questions on the UEM-Renong deal, which was the single biggest catastrophe in the stock market in the five-month economic crisis in wiping out RM70 billion capitalisation in three days, but also with regard to his failure to give satisfactory answers about dubious mega-loans by Malaysian banks.

At a time when there is a banking crisis of confidence, the government has again lost another good opportunity to restore confidence in the banking sector by using the Parliamentary debate yesterday to show its greater commitment to greater transparency, accountability and integrity in the banking sector when dubious mega-loans are raised by MPs, instead of hiding under the protection of banking secrecy laws to avoid accountability.

The stone-walling attitude of Wong See Wah is a great disservice to the cause of confidence-building, national economic recovery and turnaround.

The Singapore government announced last week the formation of three committees to study specific areas of financial sector reform, one to look at ways to make the Stock Exchange of Singapore more competitive and robust, another to examine corporate financing and a third to consider banking disclosure standards.

The whole purpose of the exercise by the Singapore government is to consider ways to bosst competition in the financial sector to make Singapore a "key financial center" by providing greater scope for business initiative and innovation in the securities market while maintaining the integrity of the financial system.

Anwar’s third 1998 budget which the DAP is proposing should include wide-ranging proposals not only to restore confidence in the banking and financial sectors but to make them more competitive with other financial centres in the region.


*Lim Kit Siang - Malaysian Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Democratic Action Party Secretary-General & Member of Parliament for Tanjong