Taib Mahmud should be more specific and state whether he is referring to me when he threatened to take legal action against those who questioned his motives of going overseas during the haze emergency


Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Tuesday): Sarawak Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Haji Abdul Taib Mahmud has said that he might take legal action against those who questioned his motives of going overseas during the haze emergency.

Taib Mahmud should be more specific and state whether he is referring to me when he threatened to take legal action against those who questioned his absence from Sarawak during the height of the haze emergency.

Instead of going around issuing threats, Taib Mahmud should give a full and satisfactory explanation why he had secretly left Sarawak during the height of the haze emergency, and whether he is aware that his explanation on Sunday that he had left Sarawak with his family to seek the international help of haze and health experts in the United States had been met with derision from the people both in Sarawak and Malaysia.

Rightly, Sarawakians and Malaysians regard Taib Mahmudís explanation as adding "salt to the wound" of his abandonment of his duties and responsibitilies as Sarawak Chief Minister, who should be with the people to provide leadership and guidance when the state was faced with the worst environmental disaster in history.

Yesterday, during my speech on the haze motion moved by the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, I had criticised the government for not giving full, accurate and timely information and data about the dangers of the haze to the people.

As an example, I faulted the government for not providing proper information about the adverse health effects to the people when the Air Pollutant Index (API) reached the hazardous level of above 301. Information which the government released with regard to effect on health when the API level is between 301-500 is as follows: "Severe aggravation of symptoms and endangers health." This is so general that it is virtually meaningless.

In contrast, the information released by the Environmental Protection Agency under the United States Clean Air Act about the adverse health effects when the air pollution reaches the "hazardous" level is more specific and illuminating. Although the United States uses somewhat different standards, and its index is known as "Pollution Standards Index (PSI)", its hazardous level is also from 301-500, although it is sub-divided into two categories.

For the "hazardous" index of 301-400, it warns of "Premature onset of certain diseases in addition to significant aggravation of symptoms and decreased exercise tolerance in healthy persons" while for the "hazardous" index of 401-500, it warns of "Premature death of ill and elderly. Healthy people will experience adverse symptoms that affect their normal activity."

This is why American, Canadian, Australian and European embassies and firms allow their employees to leave the country when the API exceeds unhealthy levels, for they are more aware about the adverse health effects, particularly when they reach hazardous levels when they are likely to cause "premature onset of certain diseases" and even "premature death of ill and elderly".

One MP stood up to seek clarification and asked whether this could be the reason why Taib Mahmud left Sarawak - a question which only Taib Mahmud himself could answer.

This is why Taib Mahmud should be in Parliament this evening during the continued debate on the haze motion to give a full and satisfactory account of his disappearance from Sarawak with his family during the height of the haze emergency.

Last Sunday, Taib said that as a result of his trip to the United States, the Sarawak State Government, with the help from the American experts, will draft a masterplan to tackle the haze problem in the future. He added that the masterplan will include effective measures to reduce the health effects of the haze. "I had discussed this with the experts while in America. They will visit Sarawak soon to have a first hand look on the haze situation in the State," he said.

Is Taib Mahmud suggesting that the Federal Government and Malaysia at present do not have the expertise to draw up a masterplan to deal with the haze problem, and that Sarawak would have an anti-haze plan which would be superior to the national anti-haze plan?

(7/10/97)


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