Mahathirís TV MHI appearance a mistake as it failed to restore confidence in both the ringgit and the stockmarket


Media Conference Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang, Friday): The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamadís unprecedented 90-minute television appearance on TV3ís Malaysia Hari Ini must have provoked mixed feelings among the audience, firstly admiration for his grit and commitment to explain the various aspects of the national economic crisis to the people; and secondly, the feeling that something is amiss that seventh month into the national economic crisis, the government could not find another person to perform such a chore, which in fact should have been accomplished several months ago if the government had been serious about the gravity of the crisis.

The people had high expectations when it was announced that the Prime Minister would be making the unusual TV3 MHI appearance this morning at 9 a.m., at the start of trading of both the stockmarket and the money market, expecting some important announcements to restore the badly-shattered confidence in the market in the disastrous first week of the new year.

In the event, nothing happened. What was worse, the Kuala Lumpur stockmarket started on a nosedive from the start of the Prime Ministerís interview, opening at 505.64 points, which was below yesterdayís close of 507.16, and went all the way down to 487.36 at the end of the Prime Ministerís television appearance at about 10.30 a.m. while the ringgit also weakened to 4.7300 against the US dollar.

It is a sad commentary that the Prime Minister had not been able to prevent the KLSE CI from crashing through another psychological barrier, i.e. the KLSE CI 500-point level - another watershed in the prolonged national economic crisis.

Was it wise for those responsible for the communications policy of the government to slot the Prime Ministerís television appearance during the first 90-minutes of the opening of this morningís stock and bank money markets - knowing that it would be regarded as a barometer as to the ability of the Prime Minister to inspire and restore the confidence of the people in general and the market in particular?

The Prime Ministerís TV3 MHI appearance started on a very unfortunate note, when he denied that Malaysia was in anyway responsible for the national economic crisis and pinpointed the whole cause on currency traders; which was compounded by the sense of government helplessness when he said that everytime the government wanted to restore confidence, its efforts would be undermined so long as the currency traders could sell the ringgit to push down its value!

There were also various contradictions in the Prime Ministerís statements in the 90-minute television appearance which have created a lot doubts and confusions, which are unhelpful in restoring market and public confidence.

I do not propose to enumerate these contradictions but overall, Mahathirís TV3 MHI appearance is clearly a mistake as it failed to restore confidence in both the ringgit and the stockmarket. This is the first time where Mahathirís live television appearance has failed to rivet the audience to their seats.

Mahathirís TV3 MHI appearance has not helped to reduce the information deficit (ID), which is now a main cause why the government has failed to restore confidence both among investors and the Malaysian public at large, for the people are not convinced that they have been taken into the governmentís confidence and are given access to all available information to allow them to make informed judgments on the national economic crisis.

The Information Minister, Datuk Mohamed Rahmat and those responsible for the governmentís communications policy should seriously review and overhaul their communications policy which has resulted in the massive problem of information deficit, with Malaysians losing faith in the local mass media, both electronic and printed, preferring to believe the foreign press, even when they are wrong or superficial.

The Cabinet should come to grips with the reality that unless the Information Deficit is overcome, Malaysia is going to suffer a lot of avoidable hardships and sufferings in the crisis, making it longer and more painful than necessary.

Mahathir said this morning that if the people are smart and co-operate with the government, then the country might be able to pull through the crisis in six months to a year. The crux of the problem now is how the government is to restore the confidence of the people, which is not achieved by exhorting the people to co-operate with the government, but the government showing that it is prepared to co-operate with the people by removing the root causes of the crisis of confidence.

I propose seeking an appointment with the Prime Minister as a follow-up to the meeting with him in Langkawi on Dec. 6 where he invited me and the DAP MP for Kepong, Dr. Tan Seng Giaw for a discussion on the national economic crisis to convey to him the concerns of increasing number of Malaysians that the government is not prepared to completely shake out of the "denial syndrome" which has continued to blind the government to its own mistakes and weaknesses whether in policy and practices which have driven the Malaysian ringgit and the stockmarket to new historic lows.

I would seek to convince the Prime Minister that the Information Deficit must be eliminated if investor and people confidence is to be restored and the people to tide through the national economic crisis in the shortest time possible and with the minimum of avoidable pain, suffering and hardship for the people. At present, the people feel very lost as to why an economy which the government has described as being of world-class standard has suddenly been brought down so low so quickly in so short a time. Furthermore, the people believe that they have not been told the truth, whether by the government or the mass media.

This is the time for all political parties and NGOs to organise public meetings on the national economic crisis, not to finger-point who should be responsible, but to explain to the people the real nature of the national economic crisis, remove the information deficit, restore the peopleís confidence and rally and galvanise the government, society and people as one unit to tide through the national economic crisis and effect a national economic turnaround and revival in as short a time as possible.

DAP has been organising various forums and ceramahs in the country to try to address the problem of information deficit and to better prepare the people to face the economic crisis which will become worse before it could become better, and we welcome Barisan Nasional leaders to attend and even speak at these functions, just as DAP leaders are prepared to accept any invitation to speak at Barisan Nasional functions on the national economic crisis - to impress on the people that this is the time for all Malaysians, regardless of party politics, to come together to unite to face the national economic crisis.

(9/1/98)


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