Social welfare officers’ abuse of powers under Women and Girls’ Protection Act 1973, North-South Expressway toll, millennium computer bug 2,000 and national "social" service will be among the issues highlighted in the second week of Parliamentary question time

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang
(Petaling Jaya, Tuesday):
The abuse of powers under the Women and Girls’ Protection Act 1973, the North South Expressway toll, the millennium computer bug 2,000 and the national "social" service will be among the issues I will highlight in the second week of Parliamentary question time.

The Minister for National Unity and Social Development, Datin Paduka Zaleha Ismail, would be asked to report to Parliament as to "what action she has taken to ensure that state social welfare officers do not abuse their powers under the Women and Girls’ Protection Act 1973 as happened in Penang in June resulting in the week-long detention and banishment of three 20-year-olds and three underaged girls to the Batu Gajah correctional centre for girls and women for being in a karaoke and pub in Bayan Baru to celebrate the birthday of a friend despite the strongest objections from their parents and even the Penang Chief Minister; the number of girls (I) below 21 years but above 18 ; and (ii) below 18 who had been detained under section 8 of the Women and Girls Protection Act 1973 for each month since January 1996."

Since the submission of this parliamentary question (as the deadline for the submission of all parliamentary questions for the forthcoming Parliamentary meeting was June 26), the Seremban High Court had on 2nd July declared null and void a warrant issued by a Seremban magistrate’s court on June 16 for the detention of Yie Huey Hin, 19, at the Seri Puteri Women’s rehabilitation centre in Rembau.

Until the Seremban High Court declaration, state welfare officers had been misinterpreting Section 8(1) of the Women’s and Girls’ Protection Act 1973 which was meant to give protection to "any female person under the age of 21 years whom the Court of a Magistrate believes to have been ill-treated or neglected and exposed to moral danger and to need protection".

The state welfare officers had used Section 8(1) of the Act as a mandate to become the Morals Police for women and girls below 21, arbitrarily defining any premises at its whims and fancies as "morally dangerous", and even disregarding the protests of the parents concerned.

The clear message of the Seremban High Court declaration is that Section 8(1) of the Women and Girls’ Protection Act does not make state welfare officers the "morals police" in Malaysia but only to protect girls below 21 years from abuse, whether ill-treatment, neglect or moral danger and that state welfare officers should work closely with the parents of the underaged girls to protect them from moral danger, and not to work at cross purpose with the parents concerned.

Up to now, Zaleha Ismail has yet to explain what her Ministry is doing to comply with the Seremban High Court declaration and to stop the arbitrary abuse of power by state welfare officers under Section 8(1) of the Women and Girls’ Protection Act. The forthcoming Parliamentary meeting should give the Minister adequate time to come up with a comprehensive report as to the Welfare Department’s response to the Seremban High Court decision.

In the second week of the Parliamentary meeting, the Minister for Works, Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu would be asked to give the following data for the years 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1997 with regard to North-South Expressway toll collection by PLUS under the North-South Expressway Concession Agreement: (I) (a) Supported Revenue; (b) forecast revenue; (c) actual revenue; (2) (a) Guaranteed traffic volume; (b) actual traffic volume.

Samy Vellu would also be asked whether in view of the fact that both the actual revenue and actual traffic volume have well exceeded those guaranteed by the government under the Concession Agreement, there would be a revision of the toll rates to reduce the burden on the commuters.

There would also be a question directed to the Prime Minister as to what steps the government had taken to guard against the failures of its computer systems when the year 2,000 begins, because old computers only use the last two digits of a year, stating the extent and gravity of this problem for government computer systems - and the total costs required to overcome this problem

Another question for the Prime Minister concerns the depressed socio-economic and educational plight of the estate workers in the country. The question would ask the Prime Minister whether he would give serious consideration to the proposal that estates should be placed under the Rural Development Ministry instead of the Human Resource Ministry to better look after the welfare of the estate workers, to ensure that basic amenities such as water, electricity, housing, education and healthcare are provided by the Ministry of Rural Development which has a development budget and remove the stigma of estate workers as one of the most depressed and neglected socio-economic groups in the country.

Two other questions in the second week of Parliament are:


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