(Petaling Jaya, Wednesday): Government leaders should take Malaysians into their confidence and say in the local mass media what they tell the foreign media.
This problem is illustrated in the latest issue of the Far Eastern Economic Review (18th February 1998) which carried the cover-page story on the executive director of the National Economic Action Council (NEAC), Tun Daim Zainuddin under the heading: "Can Daim Fix Malaysia? - New Economic Tsar Daim Zainuddin".
In the lead article "Calling Doctor Daim", the FEER quoted Daim as describing the economic crisis facing Malaysia as "the worst crisis we've faced since the Second World War".
This is a statement which has never been made by Daim or any government leader in the local mass media. In fact, in the local mass media, government leaders had been at pains to ensure that the words "economic crisis" are not used at all, whether in the newspapers, radio or television, using the anodyne substitute of "economic problems", as if the avoidance of the use of the words "economic crisis" could itself minimise the severity of the impact of the economic turbulence in the country.
Tun Daim also said that "the primary task of the NEAC is to restore confidence", which is again not reflected in the statements and utterances of government leaders in the local mass media, which give the impression that confidence had already been restored.
It is in fact a sad commentary on the economic crisis-management that eight months into the economic crisis, the country is still grappling with the very basic problem of confidence-restoration.
A primary reason why the government has not broken the back of the problem of confidence-restoration is because it has yet to take Malaysians fully into its confidence, as for instance government leaders saying in the local mass media what they say in the foreign media.
For instance, the latest FEER cover-story on the Malaysian economic crisis reported:
"The NEP was introduced in 1971 following the May 1969 anti-Chinese riots. It was an affirmative-action plan to give the Malays, bumiputras, a bigger share of an economy dominated by the Chinese. Among other things, this was to be done by raising Malay holdings of corporate assets and creating a bumiputra business class. But many of the NEP-nurtured businesses have been badly hit by the collapse in stock and currency values.
"Now Daim says that the Chinese should be able to buy into strategic industries currently controlled by bumiputras. (These industries would include banking, financial services, transport and telecommunications.) He says he would approve Chinese takeovers of Malay businesses that are in trouble. 'I'd allow them to rescue ailing companies. After they recover, they can talk about ownership,' he told the REVIEW. Would foreigners also be allowed to buy into ailing companies? 'That's okay as long as they bring in capital,' he said. 'You need a few fellows to move in for confidence to come back. If you say 'no, no,' confidence won't return.'"
There is a need for Daim to explain the implications of the statements he made in the latest issue of FEER as well as how such policy changes are to be effected.
It is unsatisfactory and unacceptable for Daim or any government leader to announce policy measures only to be reported in the foreign mass media, which can only further undermine the public credibility of the local mass media which are already at a very low point in Malaysian mass media history.