DAP calls on government to abandon the ISA mentality, repeal Internal Security Act and to allow for greater press freedom as two lessons from the currency and stockmarket turmoils


Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang
(Petaling Jaya, Sunday):
DAP calls on the government to abandon the ISA-mentality, repeal the Internal Security Act and the allow for greater press freedom as two lessons from the currency and stockmarket turmoils.

Firstly, there is no doubt that the threat to use the Internal Security Act for alleged currency and stock market manipulation had such a chilling effect on the financial community, both local and foreign, that it brought investor confidence to a new low as reflected by a plunging stock market despite repeated assurances by the Prime Minister of a new upturn.

Secondly, it was the announcement by the Prime Minister on Thursday night reversing earlier policies and measures both on the stockmarket and the economy, such as the deferment of mega projects like Bakun, KLLC and the Northern Regional International Airport in Kedah to deal with the worsening current account deficit problem as well as the removal of trading curbs on the 100 components of the KLSE Composite Index, rather than the RM60 billion Fund to shore up the stock market, which was responsible for the 90-point rebound of the Composite Index, which at 12.37 was the biggest one-day gain in recent years.

In fact, the RM60 billion Fund to shore up the stock market had itself raised many questions, whether about its propriety - World Bank president James Wolfensohn had been quoted as saying "I have never heard of an equities support fund" - and the transparency and integrity of the process, especially with regard to buying shares from locals at the premium to the market price.

It is no exaggeration to say that recent foreign and local press coverage of the currency and stock market turmoil had never been more different, which is moist unhealthy if Malaysia wants to compete in the global marketplace.

Malaysia should never return to a situation where on economic and financial matters, Malaysians are feel so constrained from expressing their views for fear that certain congruency of their views with comments in the foreign press would be regarded as "anti-national" and traitorous for being pawns and stooges, whether consciously or unconsciously, of international financial forces out to sabotage Malaysia’s economy and therefore liable to penalised under the draconian Internal Security Act.

Even before the recent currency and stockmarket crisis, there had been voices in Malaysia calling for deferment or scrapping of mega projects which aggravate the currernt account deficit - not because they are serving any foreign agenda, but because of their concern for sustainable economic development in Malaysia.

Although the death of Princess Diana as a result of being hounded by paparazzi photographers have highlighted the abuses of press freedom in the West, it should not be an excuse to justify continued restraints on the mass media in Malaysia - for the currency and stock market turmoils have shown that we urgently need a more open and transparent climate for Malaysians to discuss and debate the various policy options open to the country to promote sustainable economic development and integrity in public life.

There should be no dispute as to the urgent need to promote sustainable economic development, as the national haze which should have been a top national concern but which has been sidelined because of the twin currency and stockmarket crisis, should bear powerful testimony.

(7/9/97)


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