by Lim Kit Siang - Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Tanjong
in Petaling Jaya
on Wednesday, 15 January 1997

Is the clampdown on NGOs after the UMNO Supreme Council meeting last Saturday a sign that the UMNO Supreme Council is superseding Cabinet as the topmost policy-making body in Barisan Nasional government today?

The DAP is gravely concerned about the clampdown on NGOs after the UMNO Supreme Council meeting last Saturday calling for actions against NGOs - giving the most unfortunate and undesirable picture that the Registrar of Companies and government agencies take instructions directly from UMNO Supreme Council instead of the Cabinet.

What is also very disturbing is that there is the growing attitude that the important distinction between UMNO and government are mere niceties that need not be observed too strictly and that there is nothing wrong for government agencies and public servants to take directives from the UMNO Supreme Council as it reflects the political reality in Malaysia that UMNO wields the real power in the Barisan Nasional Government.

With the swift actions against NGOs like Tenaganita after Saturday’s UMNO Supreme Council meeting, Malaysians are entitled to ask whether this is a sign that the UMNO Supreme Council is superseding the Cabinet as the topmost policy making body in the Barisan Nasional government today?

Already, UMNO General Assemblies are treated as more important political functions than Parliamentary meetings - with the government radio and television channels virtually giving the UMNO General Assemblies live coverage, while Parliament proceedings are treated with utter contempt by both the print and electronic mass media.

It will be another sad day for parliamentary democracy when the UMNO Supreme Council meetings become even more important than weekly Cabinet meetings as the UMNO Supreme Council could usurp the Cabinet to make policies and direct government agencies to act.

The three-hour raid of Tenaganita by five officials from the Registar of Companies yesterday calls for a full explanation by the Minister for Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs as to whether his Ministry takes instructions from the UMNO Supreme Council or the Cabinet.

The ROC had conducted a thorough investigation into Tenaganita in late 1995 on its accountability and found everything in order. In fact, the Deputy Minister for Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs had said after the ROC investigations in December 1995 that the NGOs had not contravened the Companies Act and that ROC would continue to accept applications from such bodies to register as business ventures.

Why should such a Ministry position be reversed merely because of the UMNO Supreme Council meeting last Saturday calling for tough actions against NGOs?

The statement by the Registrar of Companies, Ramly Ali that the ROC had decided to act now “as many parties were questioning the credibility of the NGOs involved in the organising and planning of the APCET II conference and Tribunal Rakyat” is no credit either to the ROC or the Government, as it reinforces the impression that the government is embarking on a campaign of persecution against NGOs.

In fact, the government action on NGOs raises the fundamental question as to whether the government is really committed to the development of a strong civil society.

The government should call off its actions against NGOs and instead, should invite NGOs to a dialogue to initiate a study involving NGOs on the role and position of NGOs and how they could help foster a strong civil society in Malaysia.