(Dewan Rakyat, Tuesday): Firstly, let me thank the government for agreeing to a debate on the latest strain in Malaysia-Singapore relations arising from the Malaysian Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) checkpoint at Tanjong Pagar railway station.
The purpose of my moving a motion of urgent, definite public importance is not to provide an opportunity for a Singapore-bashing, but for the Malaysian Parliament to make a contribution in the amicable settlement of the CIQ issue as well as other outstanding Malaysia-Singapore issues.
This is because the majority of Malaysians and Singaporeans would want the two governments to resolve the CIQ issue and the other outstanding Malaysia-Singapore issues as good neighbours and in the spirit of over three decades of ASEAN goodwill and solidarity, rather than to see Malaysia-Singapore relations deteriorate and escalate to a level as to transform ASEAN from a model of regional co-operation into an international laughing-stock!
It would be most unfortunate if this debate in Parliament is an occasion for unrestrained bashing of Singapore, although Malaysians have good reasons to be unhappy with the Singapore Government's handling of Malaysia-Singapore relations, and in particular for its failure to respond to calls from Malaysians, including myself, that it defer its move of CIQ to Woodlands on August 1 to give time or an amicable settlement of the issue.
However, the Singapore Government’s refusal to give topmost priority to the maintenance of sound and healthy bilateral relations between the two countries in postponing the move of its CIQ to Woodlands should not discourage continuing efforts to restore proper Malaysia-Singapore ties, whether at the people-to-people level, government-to-government level or Parliament-to-Parliament level.
This is not just in the best interests of Malaysia, but also for Singapore and ASEAN as a whole.
This is why I advocate that Singapore and Malaysian Ministers and leaders should observe a moratorium and stop mutual bashing to create conditions for the amicable resolution of the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) and other outstanding Malaysia-Singapore issues.
Threats and counter-threats by Cabinet Ministers warning of "dire consequences" to the other country if the "patience of the people" in one country runs out are not going to help to create the conditions and atmosphere conducive to an amicable settlement of outstanding bilateral issues, in keeping with the three-decade-old ASEAN spirit and solidarity.
One year after the worst economic crisis in the region, ASEAN countries should be developing closer relationships to forge a common response to the Asian economic turmoils which had shattered the past economic achievements of the region instead of turning against one another with a long series of strains, threatening to escalate into a full-fledged conflict if not a cold war.
This is self-defeating to all the countries in the region for it would undermine the ability of the ASEAN countries to forge a common regional and international response to the Asian economic turmoils.
The National Economic Recovery Plan (NERP) prepared by the National Economic Action Council (NEAC) has proposed regional and international initiatives to respond to the year-long currency crisis, such as:
This is why I cannot support the aggressive and tortuous UMNO Youth call for a suspension of bilateral relations with Singapore until Singapore Prime Minister, Goh Chok Tong has stated his stand on several issues affecting both countries.
This is the time for cool heads and good senses both in Malaysia and Singapore to keep the bilateral relations on an even keel, for we must always remember that after all the fierce statements and aggressive actions from both sides, the twe countries must finally sit down to try to resolve our differences because we cannot run away from the geopolitical reality that as the two closest neighbours, either we make life miserable for both people and countries, or we try to put into practice the concepts of Prosper Thy Neighbour and Smart Partnerships, not only between Malaysia and South Africa, but even more important, between Malaysia and Singapore.
DAP has made our stand on the CIQ issue very clear, fully expressing our support to the Malaysian Government on the issue and our regret that the Singapore Government had preferred to take a position which is very legalistic, unfriendly, offensive and violates the ASEAN spirit, to the extent of committing a very serious diplomatic faux pas in releasing exchange of confidential correspondence between the two Governments on the issue even before the talks broke down on July 28.
We have also made our stand on the Central Provident Fund issue, fully supporting the Government's stand that Singapore Central Provident Fund should not discriminate between Malaysians from Peninsula and from Sabah and Sarawak and should allow all Malaysians to withdraw their CPFs when they quit their jobs and leave Singapore.
It has been estimated that there are about 50,000 Malaysians who are CPF members with total savings of about S$1 billion or RM2.5 billion.
It is 33 years since Malaysia and Singapore have gone their separate ways in nation-building, and it is time that the Singapore Government realise that it is in the interest of good neighbourliness that it acknowledges that such discriminatory treatment of Malaysians from the peninsula and from Sabah and Sarawak, though as a result of "historic links", are now completely untenable.
It is a test case of the Singapore Government’s readiness to maintain the best possible relationship with Malaysia by taking the initiative to end the 33-year discrimination among Malaysians with regard to CPF withdrawals, without having to go through protracted and unpleasant diplomatic and bilateral negotiations and discussions.
The Singapore National Trades Union Congress have claimed that Malaysians workers prefer to place their savings in the CPF instead of withdrawing. This is a poor excuse, for the issue in question is whether Malaysian workers have the right to choose whether to withdraw the CPF monies or to keep them in the CPF.
On KTM land, there is a general perception in Malaysia that the CIQ issue is because of the intention of the Singapore government to acquire the 500 acres belonging to KTM, and that during the time of economic crisis, property value would be dirt cheap should there be any goodwill compensation.
Other outstanding issues include supply of raw water to Singapore, Singapore media coverage on the KLIA, Pasir Gudang port, Pulau Batu Putih and the high interest rates offered by Singapore banks on Malaysian deposits.
Singapore banks offer a return for the ringgit that once touched 40 per cent for a month's deposit, but one can still get more than 20 per cent per annum for deposits of upwards of RM500,000. The amount of deposit in ringgit found in the foreign banks in Singapore is staggering and according to one estimate, may have already touch RM40 billion ringgit, and is clearly a genuine cause for concern.
However, I am horrified to hear a call by an MP just now calling for a war between the Malaysian mass media and the Singapore mass media.
I do not think Malaysians should be so offended that the Singapore mass media had played up problems in the KLIA, for I have no doubt that the Malaysian mass media would have similarly played up stories if rats are to be found at the Singapore Changi International Airport, or if the baggage handling system, dubbed as the most sophisticated and fastest in the world which could locate a baggage in seconds, continue to delay passengers at the KLIA for five to six hours.
Be that as it may, at the end of the day, what the Malaysian Parliament should decide today is whether it should play a role in the restoration of proper and healthy Malaysia-Singapore relations.
The last paragrah of my motion for an urgent, definite public importance reads: "However, in view of the increasing number of issues which are likely to set Malaysia and Singapore on a path of conflict and confrontation, and in order to help defuse a new round tensions and bad blood between the two countries, Parliament should formally invite the Singapore Parliament to a Malaysia-Singapore Parliamentary Conference with parliamentary delegations from both countries fully mandated to seek solutions to the CIQ issue and other outstanding Malaysia-Singapore issues."
I understand that there are some reservations among Barisan Nasional MPs to this proposal, and in the spirit of wanting to reach a Malaysian Parliamentary consensus that the Malaysian Parliament should play a role to contribute to the amicable settlement of the CIQ issue and other outstanding Malaysia-Singapore disputes, I withdraw this proposal.
In its stead, I propose that we reach an All-Party Malaysian Parliamentary Consensus that Malaysian and Singapore Parliamentarians should have a standing forum to discuss the CIQ and other outstanding Malaysia-Singapore issues to resolve them as good neighbours and in the spirit of ASEAN goodwill and solidarity, and that we made clear our position, leaving to the Singapore Parliament to make its response.