(Dewan Rakyat, Wednesday): When I spoke in the parliamentary debate on the 1998 Budget on October 20, I had declared that although the DAP is an opposition party, we will give full support to Mahathir if the United States or any Western nation attempts to interfere in the domestic affairs of Malaysia by wanting to force a change of political leadership not to its liking. This is because whether Mahathir remains as Prime Minister is a matter strictly to be decided by Malaysians, and it is no business either of the United States or any other Western nation to dictate to Malaysia as to who should be the Prime Minister.
For the first time in my three decades of political experience, I was given the most prominent treatment not only by the English and Bahasa Malaysia printed media, but also the electronic media, even making the first item over the 8 p.m. Radio 4 news update the same night.
Since Monday, following my return from a conference in New Delhi, I issued three statements in the past two days, asking the Cabinet to reconsider whether it is appropriate for the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to move a Parliamentary motion on a vote of confidence in Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad as Prime Minister just because a handful of United States Congressman had given notice of an outrageous draft resolution calling for Mahathir’s resignation, and suggesting that the issue of the outrageous and arrogant Wexler draft resolution should be decoupled from the issue of Petronas and the Iran-Libyan Sanctions Act and that both these issues should be separated from the issue of motion of confidence in the Prime Minister. I also proposed that there should be three separate motions in Parliament instead of lumping all the three separate issues into one omnibus motion.
However, I was not so fortunate this time, and all my statements, which made it very clear that the DAP fully supported the denunciation of the Wexler draft resolution and the attempt by the US Government to apply the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act on Petronas, were completely blacked out by the English and Bahasa Malaysia printed media.
In Penang on Monday when opening the 30th International Chinese Newspaper Convention, Mahathir said that there is press freedom in Malaysia and that the Malaysian press are "very responsible". However, the criticisms and attacks of Mahathir against the West, ridiculing the "press freedom" in the world as only the "freedom to ampu", also applies to the Malaysian press - as illustrated by the blackout of my statements in the past two days.
It is not that I was doing or saying anything disloyal, anti-national or treacherous.
The DAP position is very clear right from the very beginning - that the DAP would give full support to Mahathir if there is an international conspiracy to force him to resign as the decision whether he should continue or resign as Prime Minister is a matter which should be decided by Malaysians themselves and no others.
This was why on Oct. 17, I had suggested that if Mahathir felt it necessary to demonstrate to the world that he still commanded the confidence of the people to continue as Prime Minister, the proper way to do so is by way of a motion of confidence in Parliament rather than to hold public meetings, demonstrations, placards, car stickers and even wearing of badges expressing support for Mahathir.
I reiterated my proposal in Parliament but apparently, Mahathir did not feel it necessary to ask Parliament to move a confidence motion to demonstrate to the world that he still commanded the confidence of Malaysians as Prime Minister.
In fact, despite attempts by certain Barisan Nasional leaders to place Mahathir in a no-win situation in turning the Sungai Bakap by-election into a confidence test for Mahathir, the DAP saved the Prime Minister from national and international embarrassment as the Barisan Nasional majority was certain to be reduced by making it very clear that DAP did not regard the by-election as a confidence test for Mahathir!
Why should things change just because a handful of US Congressman acted with outrageous arrogance, presumptuousness and temerity by giving notice of a draft motion against Mahathir. Is the Malaysian Parliament to be asked to pass a confidence motion in Mahathir every time a handful of legislators in the United States or some Western countries circulated a draft motion which uses intemperate language attempting to interfere in the political domestic affairs of Malaysia?
Furthermore, the draft resolution in the name of Robert Wexler, has not been introduced or discussed in the House of Representatives but merely referred to the Committee on International Relations and circulated to members, and the US Congress has gone into recess for 11 weeks.
According to a congressional observer, such a resolution would probably "die" or "get killed" before it gets a hearing at the sub-committee level and such a resolution is not binding nor is it a piece of legislation that could be enforced, but merely states the sentiment of congressional members about a certain issue.
All Malaysians would find the draft Wexler resolution arrogant, presumptuous and an international outrage.
The Wexler draft resolution referred to the Committee on International Relations on October 22 reads:
Expressing the sense of Congress regarding the anti-American and anti-Semitic remarks of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed.
Whereas over the last several weeks, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed of Malaysia has publicly made inflammatory anti-American and anti-Semitic statements;
Whereas his characterization of a ‘Jewish agenda’ to destroy the Malaysian economy is hateful bigotry recalling the horrors of Nazi doctrine and history’s darkest moments;
Whereas it is the responsibility of the United States Congress to respond to the dangerous scapegoating of ethnic, religious and cultural groups throughout the world; and
Whereas the United States and Malaysia have had a close and enduring relationship since 1957, and the negative and volatile remarks of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed violate the spirit of friendship and co-operation between our two nations: Now, therefore, be it
Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That it is the sense of the Congress that -
1. the democratically-elected Government of Malaysia should, on
behalf of the Malaysian people, specifically condemn the verbal attacks
articulated by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed;
2. the Prime Minister of Malaysia should himself apologize and acknowledge the destructive and divisive nature of his words, or as an alternative, resign as the Prime Minister of Malaysia; and
3. the United States and Malaysia should continue to strengthen their bilateral co-operation and work to ensure the human rights of all ethnic, religious, and cultural groups.
The language in the draft Wexler resolution is highly offensive and intemperate and not used by one who cherishes good and friendly Malaysia-United States relations, and the calls for the resignation of Mahathir as Prime Minister and the government of Malaysia to condemn Mahathir are unacceptable interference with the sovereign right of Malaysians to decide their domestic political affairs.
Whatever their differences of political opinion, Malaysians cannot tolerate such arrogant and presumptuous Amercian attitude which violates the fundamental international norms of conduct not to interfere in the domestic political affairs of another country.
It is for this reason that DAP give full-hearted support to the motion tabled by the Deputy Prime Minister with reference to the impertinence of the US Congressmen, namely:
"This House views seriously the letter dated Oct 27 sent by the 34 US Congressmen to Dr. Mahathir, alleging that he is anti-Jew and the motion by several congressmen in the US Congress demanding the Prime Minister openly apologise in connection with the allegation or to step down" and
"OBJECTS to the motion by several US Congressmen for their baseless allegation and their dispute on the sovereignty and the right of the people and seeks that the international community respect the rights of the people of any nation to determine their own leadership and national policies through the process of democracy and consensus."
However, there should be room for consultation and disagreement whether a motion by the Deputy Prime Minister in Parliament on a vote of confidence in Mahathir as Prime Minister just because a handful of US Congressman had given notice of an outrageous draft resolution calling for Mahathir’s resignation is an over-reaction or inappropriate response.
Similarly, on the issue of the US Government's attempt to statutorily apply the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act 1996 - a piece of US domestic legislation - on Malaysia because of Petronas' dealings with Iran, DAP gives 100 per cent support to the Malaysian Government to brook no interference with the sovereign right of Malaysians, whether individuals, companies or corporations, to do business with other countries, whether they are friends or enemies of the United States.
DAP fully supports the Malaysian Government in the stand that the US Iran-Libya Sanctions Act 1996 is an American law which applies in the United States, to American citizens and American companies and cannot be extended to foreign citizens or companies.
The US Government's attempt to arbitrarily and unilaterally give extra-territoriality to its domestic law has no international legitimacy whatsoever and must be challenged by the international community, as is being done by Malaysia, France, Germany and the European Community.
The Americans must be told in no uncertain terms that it cannot export or impose its foreign policies towards its long-time enemies Iran, Libya and Cuba beyond its borders and it must not be allowed to establish a dangerous precedent in international trade. The world community cannot tolerate a superpower arrogating to itself the prerogative to pass laws to bind the entire world in an overt infringement of the sovereignty of other countries. In fact, the US Government must be warned that its unilateral action to punish foreign companies for investing in Iran could spark off an international trade war, and instead of isolating Iran may have the effect of isolating the United States.
This is why DAP whole-heartedly support the motion by Anwar on this issue, where it states:
"And also to express regret on the efforts by the US Government to use the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act on Petronas for investing in Iran's gas industry" and
"OBJECTS to the decision made by the US Government to investigate the Petronas investment in the Iranian gas industry because it is against the spirit of free trade."
The US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Sanctions and Commodities, William Ramsay, who is in Malaysia to probe Petronas' gas deal with two foreign partners, namely Total SA of France and Gazprom of Russia, in the US$2 billion (RM6.6 billion) South Pars gas project in Iran should be told of the unanimous stand of all MPs, whether government or opposition, rejecting the arbitrary and unilateral US Government attempt to apply the US Iran-Libyan Sanctions Act on Petronas.
While the DAP has made it very clear that we would give full support to Mahathir as Prime Minister if there is any international conspiracy involving foreign powers, whether the United States or any Western nation, seeking to topple the Prime Minister as unwarranted and intolerable foreign interference in domestic political affairs, we have also made it clear that the DAP's support would not be blind or uncritical, reserving our right to question, criticise and even oppose policies and measures which are wrong, misguided or counter-productive to the national interest.
In my statement on Monday, I had suggested that MPs should be allowed a viewing of the RTM recording of Mahathir's speech in Kuala Trengganu about the purported international Jewish conspiracy and agenda to sabotage the Malaysian economy, which had been denied by Mahathir - so that MPs know what was actually said by Mahathir in Kuala Trengganu.
Yesterday, Mahathir reiterated that he had already explained his alleged reference to the Jews. Although Mahathir's subsequent clarification is most welcome, the question remains whether in his speech in Kuala Trengganu, he had indeed referred to an international Jewish conspiracy and agenda to sabotage the Malaysian economy.
During my speech on the 1998 Budget on Oct. 20, I had raised this issue, stating that all the confidence-boosting efforts of the 1998 budget could easily be undone by confidence-shattering statements or pronouncements by the Prime Minister. At that time, I said that his speech in Kuala Terengganu on an intenational Jewish conspiracy and agenda to undermine and subvert the economy of Malaysia and other Muslim countries was still haunting Malaysia - although Mahathir had denied the next day that he had either said or implied that there was such an international Jewish conspiracy. I had not expected that one month later today, Mahathir's Kuala Trengganu speech is still haunting Malaysia.
The problem is that Mahathir's Kuala Trengganu speech was reported by the local press as well as the national news agency, Bernama, which was then given extensive coverage in the international media, whether it be the Washington Post, the New York Times, the International Herald Tribune, the Los Angeles Times or the Sydney Morning Herald.
Unless all the local reporters had been involved in a conspiracy to smear Mahathir, then it is fair to conclude that Mahathir had referred to an international Jewish conspiracy and agenda to sabotage the Malaysian economy although he had not meant to do so. If that is the case, then Mahathir should have the humility to openly admit his mistake and apologise for it, as to err is human and to forgive is divine.
I await an answer whether the Information Ministry is prepared to let all MPs view the RTM's recording of the Mahathir's Kuala Trengganu speech.
I must express surprise when I read on my return from New Delhi on Mahathir's response last Thursday (November 13) on the two telephone calls to the US Embassy threatening harm to American citizens.
Although Mahathir described as baseless the fear that American nationals would be harmed in the country as Malaysia was a peace-loving country, his further statement that the threats was "only an expression of anger of the people in Malaysia" was most unbecoming and unfortunate sending out the wrong signal that such threats had the understanding, sympathy or at least the condonation of the Prime Minister, especially as Mahathir had not deplored or condemned such threats.
Yesterday, in response to the call by the US Ambassador John R. Mallot for an end to the rhetoric and emotionalism on both sides of the ocean to improve on Malaysia-US relations, Mahathir said that Malaysians have the right to hold gatherings and express their feelings, and it is not easy to "switch on and off" the people's feelings. How much the Opposition and NGOs hope that Malaysians have such rights of peaceful assembly and expression of their feelings, without attracting the Police Act, the Penal Code and the Internal Security Act!
Be that as it may, the part in Anwar's motion on the need to safeguard good Malaysia-US ties is important for both countries in this era of globalisation, and this is also why the DAP fully supports the motion where it states:
"Strive to ensure the continuity of good relations with the USA in all aspects and to enhance that relations".
It would have been superb and history-making if all MPs, regardless of political party, whether government or opposition, can vote with a powerful unanimous voice in this motion to tell the whole world that the outrageous and arrogant act of a handful of US Congressman in demanding for the resignation of Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad as Prime Minister has gone beyond acceptable bounds of international conduct and relations, and that Malaysians, regardless of political differences, stand as one to denounce such ugly presumptuousness of Americans who think they have the divine right to dictate who should be leaders of other countries.
Similarly, it would have been wonderful and another history if all MPs., regardless of political opinion, are able to stand as one to denounce the US Government for seeking unilaterally to violate Malaysia’s sovereignty and to apply its domestic law, the US Iran-Libya Sanctions Act 1996, on a Malaysian corporation, Petronas, for its oil deals in Iran.
This was why in my statement, I had suggested that the government should fully consult the Opposition in the framing of the motion so that all MPs could give an unanimous vote to support it to show the United States and the world that MPs in Malaysia, both from the ruling and opposition parties, can stand united against any attempt to infringe our national sovereign rights or interfere in our domestic political affairs.
Such a motion should neither embarrass the Prime Minister nor the Opposition by making it difficult for any MP to support the motion - which would be a grave national disservice in failing to seize a historic opportunity to show the world that Malaysians are united in standing up for their sovereign rights.
The motion in the name of the Deputy Prime Minister is an omnibus motion covering three issues, which should rightly be the subject of three separate motions: namely the outrageous Wexler draft resolution, threat of sanctions against Petronas under the US Iran-Libya Sanctions Act and the of vote of confidence in the Prime Minister.
We want to express our full support in condemning the Wexler draft resolution and the US Government's attempt to impose sanctions on Petronas, but we find we cannot do so, as there is the third element of a vote of confidence in the Prime Minister.
Both the issues of the Wexler draft resolution and the US sanctions on Petronas have nothing whatsoever to do with a confidence motion on the Prime Minister.
In a debate on confidence motion in Mahathir as Prime Minister, the issues are not the draft Wexler resolution or the US Government's attempt to impose sanctions on Petronas under its Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, but an inquest into Mahathir's governance of the country, whether it be democratic practices, human rights, economic policies, corruption, transparency whether in government or in the market-place, nation-building, education, international relations, etc.
This should be the subject of a completely different debate under a separate motion and should not be mixed up with the nation's condemnation of the Wexler draft resolution or US Government's attempt to impose sanctions on Petronas.
While it is none of the business of the Americans to interfere with the Malaysian political domestic process in calling for the resignation of Mahathir as Prime Minister, our condemnation of such American impudence and arrogance should not deprive Malaysian MPs of their right to conduct a full inquest into the record of governance by Mahathir in a motion of confidence on the Prime Minister. In fact, with the country faced with multiple economic, political and environmental crisis, there is an urgent need for a separate and full debate on a confidence motion on the Prime Minister on his stewardship of the country.
This is particularly the case today, when the country is plunged into a new crisis of confidence, which will destroy whatever residue of confidence investors, both national and international, still have in the Malaysian financial markets.
This is caused by United Engineers (M) Bhd surprise RM2.4 billion bail-out of Renong to the detriment of UEM minority shareholders which has created a new crisis in the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange by plunging a very volatile investor confidence in Malaysia to a new low because of acute lack of transparency.
Yesterday, KLSE Composite Index fell to a new five-year low of 622.09 points, down 45.20 points, which is a drop of 6.8 per cent in one day.
Bearing the brunt was UEM, one of the bluest of blue chips in Malaysia, whose shares tumbled 38 per cent to RM3.86, its lowest level since February 1993 - and in the morning's trading yesterday, it broke the 30 per cent limit down in about one-and-a-half hours, falling from RM6.25 to RM4.38 per share.
This morning, KLSE Composite Index crashed below the 600 point, ending at 596.84, down 25.25 points, or another drop of 4.1 per cent at the end of trading
There is both outrage and panic in the market - outrage that the cash-rich UEM would be used for what amounted to a corporate bail-out of UMNO's chief financial arm and that regulators would allow such a move, and so speedily.
Fund managers are furious over the UEM deal, in which its cash infusion will go to the vendors of Renong shares, probably the majority shareholders, instead of the troubled company.
The Singapore Business Times today quotes one fund manager who held UEM shares, saying: "It would be one thing if UEM bought into new Renong shares, but this cash is going into the pockets of major shareholders. It's the rape of the century, its unethical and it puts the credibility of the whole market at risk."
Another research manager said: "The deal puts any cash-rich company which is closely linked to the government at risk. It's a trend no serious investor will find acceptable."
Another fund manager said: "Malaysia's dreams of being a financial centre are over. They hurt investors and then they blame them. This move will even alienate bumiputra entrepreneurs who will say, 'Why not help me'"
Financial Times today reported analysts as saying that the deal "showed that there was something wrong with corporate Malaysia", quoting one of them as saying: "We have seen this before and it is called Japan. Investors are terrified Malaysia is going down the same route, with cash-rich companies bailing out parents’ or affiliates’ debts".
Fund managers also believed that "The fact that this happened probably means that there are more bail-outs down the road."
The Singapore Business Times also reported that the bitterness of the fund managers went beyond the share purchase, as Renong and UEM management had privately assured them that UEM would not be party to any asset injection. That was in response to talk that either Renong's Light Rail Transit System or its telecommunications unit Time Telekom would be injected into UEM.
The circumstances of the announcement that UEM had acquired 723 million Renong shares at RM3.24 each involving a total price of RM2.4 billion is also very mysterious.
Firstly, although the purchase was made in a series of transactions on the open market, the minority shareholders were completely kept in the dark. The 723 million shares were bought at an average of RM3.24 per share, which is 11.7 per cent higher than Renong's closing price on Monday of RM2.90, when the deal was announced.
However, analysts challenge the claim by Renong's Executive Chairman, Tan Sri Halim Saad at a press conference this morning, that the 723 million Renong shares were bought by UEM on the open market, as in the past month, the trading volume of Renong shares on the open market amounts to some 112 million shares, which represents only about 15 per cent of UEM's deal even if every share was bought up by UEM. This would mean that some 611 million Renong shares (or 85 per cent ) were bought through off market trading. Such blatant misleading statement is most astounding!
Secondly, the Foreign Investment Committee has granted UEM a waiver of the requirement to extend a general offer to minority shares. Thirdly, the announcement was made at 8 p.m. on Monday night, and which was missed by almost all local mass media, being reported only in the foreign press, heightening the mystery and the acute lack of transparency of the deal.
What was the justification of the waiver? Is the UEM using the shareholders' funds to bail out Renong? The fact that the authorities granted UEM a waiver from making what should have been a mandatory general offer to buy all of Renong’s shares shook investors’ faith in the principlews of Malaysian corporate governance.
It has been estimated that UEM-wise investment, UEM has lost approximately RM 925 million as a result of this Renong purchase, taking into consideration that UEM paid an average of RM3.24 per share while the price of Renong has plummetted to RM1.96 at midday today.
Fourthly, have the disclosure requirements under the Companies Act that any change in the interest or interests of a substantial shareholder in a company should be declared within 14 days to the KLSE been complied, as the deal was transacted over a period of a month, and if so, how the deal could have been kept under such great secrecy.
In his press conference this morning, Halim Saad spoke of the "great possibility of turning Renong into a private company if Renong shares fall further". The prospect of the delisting of the Renong conglomerate is only likely to further undermine market confidence.
Unless the many questions crying out for answer in the UEM surprise purchase of Renong is given, there can only be a further plunge in investor confidence.
The latest asset shuffle has been seen as aimed to get UEM to shoulder Renong's cash burden to protect UMNO interests and has been received very badly in the market. One UK-based fund manager has been quoted in the foreign press as saying: "This isn't surprising. This sort of deal is another example showing that the Malaysian playing field is not level for foreign and other minority investors. They won't be keen to invest in a country which allows deals of this nature."
The UEM-Renong scandal has caused not only RM925 million losses to UEM in a matter of one-and-a-half days, but tens of billions of ringgit of losses to all the investors. Furthermore, it has further caused the ringgit to reach a new low, which is RM3.46 per US dollar.
The whole economic vision is now very bleak and the possibility of the KLSE Composite Index falling to 500 points is no more regarded as an impossibility.
The implications of the UEM-Renong scandal would be very far-reaching, affecting not only the North-South Expressway toll rates, but even the future of the Multimedia Super Corridor, as Renong is responsible in the drive to build two new cities, Putrajaya for RM20 billion and Cyberjaya for RM10 billion.
This is why I had called on the Finance Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to make a Ministerial statement in Parliament on the UEM's surprise bail-out of Renong in the RM2.4 billion purchase to restore investor confidence by answering all the nagging questions about the deal and to establish full transparency in the KLSE.
With the latest show of lack of confidence in the economy, with the outrage and panic in the KLSE, how can Parliament pass a vote of confidence motion without a full debate on all aspects of the Prime Minister's governance in the country?
Parliament will become a laughing-stock if it passes a motion of confidence in the Prime Minister without adverting to the latest economic crisis, when investors are voting with their feet, and the KLSE CI plunge to a new low tomorrow.
This is why I am proposing amendments to the Deputy Prime Minister’s motion to delete various portions of his motion to ensure that Parliament will focus only on the outrageous impertinence of the US Congressmen as well as the US Government’s attempt to impose sanctions on Petronas, taking out all references to the vote of confidence in the Prime Minister - which should be the subject of a separate and comprehensive debate on the state of the nation.
Someone has compared the state of the Malaysian stock market and the economy to an acquarium, where there are dead fishes, dying fishes and healthy fishes. Two questions are paramount: Firstly, when will the healthy fishes die. Secondly, would the acquarium crack and if so, when.
I end my speech with these sobering thoughts for all MPs.