(Petaling Jaya, Saturday): There cannot be a more short-sighted and self-defeating decision as the one made by the Cabinet last Wednesday imposing a gag order on academicians from public institutions of higher learning from making "negative statements about the environment", allegedly on the ground that some of their comments on the haze were manipulated by the foreign media to mar the country’s image.
Information Minister and National Disaster Management Committee Chairman, Datuk Mohamed Rahmat yesterday defended the Cabinet gag and slammed lecturers for being "too subjective" on the haze and its adverse effects on the enviroment and the health of the people.
Mohamed Rahmat said: "All these lecturers and professors say the authorities have not done much to fight haze, forest fires and open-burning, and that we have failed.
"All they have been saying are too subjective. We want concrete solutions, something solid from them".
As Information Minister, Mohamed Rahmat should be able to provide the necessary information to the public if what the academicians said about the haze are "too subjective", or he would have failed in discharging his duties, and it is he who should resign owing to incompetence rather than imposing a gag on academicians from giving their expert opinions about the haze.
Mohamed's vehement defence of the Cabinet gag has reinforced public suspicion that he is the Cabinet Minister chiefly responsible for getting the Cabinet to impose such a gag on academicians from talking to the media about the national haze disaster.
As Information Minister, Mohamed had made many statements which had been "manipulated by the foreign media to mar the country’s image", inimical to the national objective of promoting the country as an open, modern, forward-looking and tolerant society which is an ideal investment centre. Is the Cabinet going to impose a gag on Mohamed from making speeches and issuing statements?
As Information Minister, Mohamed Rahmat should have received feedbacks from the international media in the past two days to realise that the adverse international repercussions of the Cabinet gag are even worse than the so-called harm caused by academicians talking to the media about the haze and the Cabinet gag would probably drive away more tourists than discussions by academicians about the haze.
I call on the Cabinet on Wednesday to rescind its ill-advised decision to gag academicians from making comments on the national haze disaster before more harm is done not only to tourism, but to efforts to restore confidence in the economy, Malaysia's international reputation as well as the bid to transform Malaysia into an Information Society.
The Cabinet should be fully conscious that decisions like imposing a gag-order barring academicians from speaking freely on the haze and the environment would be seen as a sign that Malaysia is not politically, economically, socially or psychologically prepared to make the quantum leap into an information society, and would make international IT/multimedia corporations have second thoughts about investing in the RM5 billion Multimedia Super Corridor.
If the Cabinet can issue a gag-order on academicians from talking about haze, it would establish a dangerous precedent to allow it to issue a gag order to other sectors of society like NGOs, MPs and mass media from talking about the haze, as well as extending the forbidden "sensitive" issues to other aspects of national life, including the economy, whether it be the stock market collapse or ringgit currency tumble.
Instead of imposing a such a short-sighted and self-defeating gag-order on academicians, which tantamounts to making a declaration to the world that Malaysia is not ready to enter the 21st century with a IT mentality, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamed should drop Mohamed Rahmat with his 19th century mentality from the Cabinet and appoint a 21st century Information Minister as a matter of a urgent national priority - before greater national disaster is caused to the country.