MPs from both BN and BA must insist that the RM3 billion economic stimulus be first  presented in the Dewan Rakyat for parliamentary scrutiny and sanction before implementation

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Monday): Members of Parliament from both the Barisan Nasional and Barisan Alternative must unite to  insist that the RM3 billion government  economic stimulus package be first presented in the Dewan Rakyat as a mini-budget for parliamentary scrutiny and sanction before implementation  as Parliament cannot be by-passed in any major government  budgetary expenditures.

MPs cannot compromise on the  principle that parliamentary sanction must first  be sought before the government makes any major budgetary commitment as in the RM3 billion economic stimulus package of "pre-emptive measures" announced by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad  last  Tuesday  to  sustain the country's growth momentum in the face of US economic  slowdown. Otherwise,  MPs would themselves be responsible in marginalising Parliament into unprecedented irrelevance.

There should be a joint meeting of Barisan Nasional and Barisan Alternative backbenchers to work out a common strategy to protect the traditional Parliamentary privileges from being eroded by an Executive which is increasingly contemptuous of parliamentary conventions, legal rules and the Constitution.

The Dewan Rakyat is to begin debate on the Third Outline Perspective Plan (OPP 3)(2001-2010) tomorrow, but up to now, with less than 24 hours to go,  MPs have not received a copy of the OPP 3 - which is the latest example of the most disgraceful treatment of Parliament by the Cabinet Ministers.

The Barisan Nasional government had spent a few years, and even established the Second National Economic Consultative Council (NECC)  in 1999  to make recommendations,   to draft the OPP 3 to chart out the growth prospects and the strategies and policies that go with them for the next ten years. Yet it is giving MPs hardly 24 hours to read and digest it, seek public feedback as well as expert opinions, before they are required to conduct a  knowledgeable and informed debate on the Plan.

MPs must insist on their right to parliamentary scrutiny  and sanction of the RM3 billion economic stimulus package as it has not proved to be very stimulating, as evident from the 21.64 point plunge of the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange Composite Index (KLCI) to 647.48 in the four days since its announcement, which is not only the lowest level of the KLCI for this year but for the past 23 months.

Manufacturers and  analysts have begun to say that the government’s new  measures to bolster the  economy against a US slowdown may be inadequate to achieve even the revised-down growth forecast of five to six per cent, especially as the government has not been able to restore market and investor confidence.

Among the matters which Parliament should  debate in its scrutiny of the RM3 billion mini-budget for 2001 are:

Two recent incidents  illustrate the gross inefficiency of the public service and waste of public funds:

(1) On the same day that the Prime Minister announced the RM3 billion economic stimulus package, the Penang Freight Forwarders Association (PFFA) was making a desperate appeal to the Federal Government to intervene to ensure that Malaysia Airports Bhd (MAB) cargo complex at the Penang International Airport is brought into full commercial operation as soon as possible.

For two years, the spanking new RM80 million Penang Airport cargo complex was standing  idle and was  not operational at all despite completion  because of some bureaucratic wrangling.  All their pleas to the Penang Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr. Koh Tsu Koon to resolve the problem was to no avail.   It was only recently that the MAB Complex started operations, but at a  shocking rate of  under-utilisation.

The new cargo complex, built on a 18ha land, has larger storage capacity of 360,000 tonnes compared with only 100,000 tonnes of the existing Malaysia Airlines cargo complex. The complex also have an apron which can house three Boeing 747s.  However, construction of 74 units of agents’ warehouses and offices at the new complex has been delayed.

(2)There appears to be a competition involving Federal and state governments  in the building of “white elephants”. Up to now, the claim to be the country’s biggest “white elephant” must go  to the RM350 million Miri port in Kuala Baram, which was as good as abandoned on its completion.
The RM350 million Miri port in Kuala Baram was conceived as "a giant step the gateway to northern Sarawak" and with "the innovative design and futuristic look" it is to become "a showcase of port development for the state".

It has achieved neither of these ambitions, as it has turned out to be  a "giant step" and "gateway" to nowhere and has become a "showcase of port development" not only for the state but for the world as to how not to build a port which is immediately abandoned on its completion!

Although the  Miri Port at Kuala Baram was planned to have deeper approach channel to receive bigger vessels as compared to the old Miri port, i.e. a channel 150 km wide and 5 metre depth at lowest tide,  the siltation of the river means only shallow draft craft can use the new  RM350 million port facility, as vessels with drafts greater than 2 metres are unable to pull alongside.

Instead of facing up to the hard fact and brutal reality  that the new Miri port at Kuala Baram represents  a colossal development folly in building the biggest "white elephant" in the country by siting it at the wrong location and that the best option now is probably just to abandon the new Miri port,  the Sarawak  state government has now decided on a cure which is worse than the disease.

In order to salvage the Miri Port at Kuala Baram, the state government has embarked on a RM200 million project to dredge six miles of channel between the Baram river mouth and the sea.  This would not  really resolve the problem of the Miri Port in Kuala Baram, which is 10 km from  the Baram River mouth, and I understand that it would cost RM300 million to dredge this stretch of the Kuala Baram River.

What is most shocking however is that such dredging would have to be repeated annually because of the serious problem of siltation of the Baram River.

The cure is definitely worse than the disease if it is going to cost some RM500 million annually just to make the RM350 million Miri port in Baram usable.

Parliament has a duty to ensure that the RM3 billion economic stimulus package will not be spent or  squandered away whether in the instance of the Penang Airport cargo complex or the Miri Port in Kuala  Baram, which explains the need for  parliamentary scrutiny and sanction  of the mini-budget.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman