Malaysia might have avoided the worst of the twin currency and stock market crisis in July and August if there had been more press freedom allowing for diversity of opinions and views


Speech - Opening of the Negri Sembilan DAP State Convention
by Lim Kit Siang
(Seremban, Sunday):
The latest issue of BusinessWeek carried an interesting interview with the Government Economic Adviser and former Finance Minister, Tun Daim Zainuddin, described by the magazine as "the godfather of Malaysia Inc." and "the person Mahathir Mohamad listens to most closely before making major economic or fiscal-policy decisions". The BusinessWeek interview focussed on "the critical moments in late August and early September when Mahathir rocked Asia's markets before reversing course".

The interview carried by the BusinessWeek is as follows:

At its worst point, the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange fell by some 45 per cent while the ringgit depreciated by over 20 per cent.

It is now officially recognised by the government that the major cause of such plunge in the ringgit and the KLSE is the loss of investor confidence as a result of the ferocious attacks by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamed on "rogue speculators", saboteurs and traitors out to subvert the Malaysian economy and the refusal of the government to respond to the signals that the market is concerned about the mega projects and the huge current accounts deficit.

Although the government has changed course, and is hard at work in restoring investor confidence, the question is whether the country could not have averted the worst of the twin currency and stock market crisis in July and August if better advice had been offered to the Prime Minister, whether in the Cabinet, or as a result of more press freedom in allowing for diversity for views and opinions.

Unfortunately, during the months of July and August, those Cabinet members who made the headlines were those who want to prove their total loyalty to the Prime Minister, and show that they were even more "Mahathir than Mahathir".

One such Cabinet Minister was the MCA President and Transport Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Ling Liong Sik, who even demanded action to be taken against journalists and analysts who differ from the then official line that everything was fine with the Malaysian economy and that it was only those who wanted to subvert the Malaysian economy who could write otherwise.

He even had a highly-publicised meeting with Chinese community and business leaders to get them to pledge "solid support" for the fight against economic sabotage.

However, such pledges did not prevent the Kuala Lumpur stock exchange from plunging to an all-time low until the Prime Minister announced an abrupt change of course to restore investor confidence.

It is very significant that when the Prime Minister announced on Thursday night the previous week about the change of government course, the decision was made at the UMNO Supreme Council meeting and the Cabinet was never consulted at all. This raises the question as to what significant role the Cabinet and the Cabinet members play in important decision-making in government.

In retrospect, the Chinese business and community leaders who were corralled by the MCA President would have done the nation a greater service if they had added their advice of caution instead and contributed to the Prime Minister’s decision to change course.

A New DAP which is relevant to the needs of new generation of Malaysians must be based on the close co-operation of party veterans and new blood

At the Bagan by-election second anniversary dinner last Tuesday, I stressed that DAP leaders, members and supporters must realise that the world has changed radically since the party’s establishment 31 years ago, that DAP must not be seen to be a party to restore the past but one to chart out the future, that DAP of yesteryear cannot meet the aspirations of the new young generations and that the DAP must make itself relevant to the needs and dreams of Malaysians in the new millennium by remaking ourselves into a New DAP.

This is the new challenge of the party leadership and membership – whether we can collectively create a New DAP, comprised of veterans and new blood – to meet the challenges of the new era, to make the DAP the automatic hope of the new generation of Malaysians for a better tomorrow as the DAP had been such a beacon to the young generation in the first three decades of the DAP.

A New DAP must be based on the closed co-operation between party veterans and new blood, combined by a common vision for a better tomorrow where all Malaysians can enjoy freedom, justice and ever-increasing quality of life.

A New DAP must understand that we should not be fighting old battles but should be meeting the new challenges of the advent of the next millennium and the Information Society.

This is why DAP leaders, whether veteran or young blood, should be in the forefront in understanding the revolutionary changes that would be wrought by Information Technology to the lives of the people, the nation and the world.

It is for this reason that the DAP has given such a great emphasis on popularising IT-awareness, IT-literacy and IT-usage among all sections of the Malaysian population, and we propose to launch an "IT For All" campaign inside and outside the party to ensure that there would not be a new gap between the "Information-rich" and the "Information-poor" in our country, which would become a more serious disparity than other traditional divisions in our society.

(14/9/97)


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