Government should stop giving the people the impression that it has lost control of the economic crisis situation with the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Tuesday): The Government should stop giving the people the impression that it has lost control of the economic crisis situation with the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing.

Recently, there are more and more instances of one government leader contradicting another in sensitive areas of public policy, which is not conducive in restoring public and investor confidence.

One such example is the announcement by the Deputy Home Minister, Datuk Tajol Rosli last Saturday that one million registered foreign workers would be repatriated this year when they are laid off or their work permits expire.

The local and foreign mass media gave the report headline coverage, with one newspaper bannering the front-page headline: "1mil to go home".

There were no government denials to these reports or clarification as to conflicting reports, when some press reported that there would be a loss of one million jobs this year.

For a week, there were reactions, both internally and internationally. DAP came forward with the proposal that there should be a mechanism to ensure that no Malaysians would be disadvantaged vis-a-vis foreign workers when there is a loss of a million jobs. Foreign mass media criticised the proposal to deport one million foreign workers, with the Asian Wall Street Journal saying in an editorial:

"At a time of shrinking job opportunities, the leaders of hard-hit economies should be looking for ways to encourage more productive activity not less. By sending overseas workers home, Kuala Lumpur would be telling the world that it doesn’t expect to begin recovery anytime soon."

There was also no explanation as to how this one million figure was arrived at, when only one month ago, during his briefing to journalists on the second 1998 budget which was announced on Dec. 5, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, said 200,000 jobs would be lost this year as a result of the economic crisis.

Strangely enough, only the foreign press reported Anwar referring to loss of 200,000 jobs, but not the local mass media - but when Tajol Rosli referred to one-million job loss, it was given front-page publicity!

Anwar has now said there are no plans to repatriate one million foreign workers, saying: "Never mind the numerous statements which you have seen or read in the past few days, where people reacted as to what would happen in the event of massive retrenchment".

The issue here is that the report of one million foreign workers being repatriated or one million jobs to be lost this year was an official statement given by the Deputy Home Minister, and if an official statement by a Deputy Home Minister is henceforth not to be believed, who are the people to believe from now onwards?

This is why the problem of information deficit is increasingly getting worse in the country aggravating the crisis of confidence, with serious economic and financial consequences to the people.

The Cabinet tomorrow should seriously consider adopting a new information policy which takes Malaysians into the government’s confidence by embarking on a liberalisation of the mass mediam, giving more press freedom to Malaysians and wiping out the Information Deficit in the country.


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