38-day 2003 Budget Parliament ended ignominiously highlighting its gender insensitivity as well as national irrelevance in failing to address the great issues of day such as the "2:4:3" formula and the use of English to teach mathematics and science from Std. One and the threat and challenge of terrorism especially after the Bali bomb blasts

Media Statement
Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Thursday): The 38-day 2003 Budget Parliamentary meeting has ended ignominiously highlighting its continued gender insensitivity as well as national irrelevance in failing to address the great issues of the day such as the "2:4:3" formula and the use of English to teach mathematics and science from Std. One and the threat and challenge of terrorism especially after the Bali bomb blasts.

The 2003 Budget meeting of Parliament, which met for two months from Sept. 9 till Tuesday, 12th November, 2002 will be remembered by Malaysians for two things:

  • Firstly, the disgraceful episode on Monday where the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education, Datuk Mahadzir Khir and Barisan Nasional MPs degraded Parliament by their offensive, insulting and insensitive exploitation of double entendres laden with sexual innuendos, such as "masuk" and "tarik" during the exchange with DAP MP for Seputeh, Teresa Kok, at the expense not only of women MPs but also women as a whole; and
  • Secondly, its utter irresponsibility in failing to focus and hold wide-ranging debates on grave and important issues affecting the people and country.

It is not that Parliament has no time to debate the great issues of the country, as testified by the wasting of the entire last day of Parliament on Tuesday, where MPs were encouraged by the Speaker to drag on with utter irrelevancies as the official business of the day, four inconsequential amendment bills and two trivial custom motions, could have been disposed off within an hour.

Parliament would have done the nation a greater service and proven its relevance to the aspirations and concerns of Malaysians if MPs had instead debated on the great issues of the moment, which had been completely sidelined or ignored, such as:

  • the "2:4:3" formula and the use of English to teach mathematics and science from Std. One;
  • the threat and challenge of terrorism, especially after South-East Asia has become the second front of international terrorism after the Bali bomb blasts on October 12, 2002;
  • The question which I posed last Friday, as to what should be Malaysia's stand in a "global clash between Muslims and non-Muslims", a possibility which has been increasingly referred to by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, and which he repeated in his interview with Times of Oman on Tuesday, where he warned of a "clash of civilisations, especially between the West and Islam". Should Malaysia take the side of the Muslims because of his unilateral, arbitrary and unconstitutional "929 declaration" at the Gerakan national conference last year that Malaysia is an Islamic state and his forthcoming chairmanship of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) or should Malaysia seek to be a bridge of understanding and conciliation between the Muslim and non-Muslim world because of the confluence of the world's great religions and civilizations in the country and our unique constitutional position where Islam is the official religion but Malaysia is not an Islamic state as laid down by the 1957 Merdeka Constitution, the "social contract" and the 1963 Malaysia Agreement? And if the latter, what initial steps should be taken by the government and people?
  • Suhakam's two annual reports and various other specific reports to protect and promote human rights, which Parliament had failed to monitor with special debates on the Suhakam reports.
  • The unprecedented erosion of democratic freedoms and human rights in the past two months, with the open declaration of war by the Executive against fundamental liberties and the rule of law, as illustrated by two events: the re-arrest of an alleged KMM member Nasharuddin Nasir under the Internal Security Act (ISA) after the Shah Alam High Court had granted his habeas corpus application and ordered his release and the warning by the Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi that that "those who continue harping on the government's decision to use English to teach science and mathematics in schools will be charged with sedition".

In 1998, Mahathir said one of his Vision 2020 targets is for Malaysia to produce a Nobel Laureate by 2020. Four years have passed with 16 years to go, and is Malaysia on target to produce a Nobel Laureate by the end of the next decade?

Is the educational change to use English to teach mathematics and science in Std. One in all primary schools from next year, including the "2:4:3 proposal" for Std. One for Chinese primary schools, burdening them with the longest school hours for all primary school students as well as introducing a proposal never tried in any other country of teaching the same subject in two different languages, the formula to produce the first Malaysian Nobel Laureate by 2020?

This does not appear to be the likely result. From the roster of some 500 Nobel Science Laureates since the establishment of the Nobel Prizes in 1901, close to 50 per cent of them were from the non-English speaking countries who received their elementary education in mathematics and science in their mother-languages and not in English.

The most famous Nobel Science Laureates, such as Albert Einstein (Physics 1921 - German),  Marie Curie (Physics 1903 - French) Niels Bohr (Physics 1922 -  Danish), Enrico Fermi (Physics 1938 - Italian), as well as the Asian Nobel Prize Laureates, whether  Daniel Tsui Chye (Physics 1998), Yuan T. Lee (Chemistry 1986),  Samuel C.C. Ting (Physics 1976), Chen Ning Yang (Physics 1957) and Tsung-Dao Lee (Physics 1957), Masatoshi Koshiba (Physics 2002) or Koichi Tanaka (Chemistry 2002) were all  taught mathematics and science in their non-English mother-tongue in primary and secondary education before acquiring English proficiency.

There is a likelihood that by teaching mathematics and science in English from Std. One, going against the educational principle that the most effective way for children to learn their thinking skills is through their mother-tongues, Malaysia may be moving even further away from the objective of producing a Nobel Science Laureate by 2020.

Parliament should be the forum for a robust, rational and informed debate on what is the best way to raise the English proficiency and mastery of Malaysians to comparable international standards but this was not the case.

Similarly, Parliament failed to debate and develop a national consensus transcending party differences on the threat and challenge of terrorism especially after the Bali bomb blasts. This is particularly unfortunate, as the intensification of the hunt for the Bali bombers has given rise to a disturbing picture of al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah operatives crossing regional frontiers in South East Asia at will to orchestrate their terror campaign, which can only raise fears of a new slump in foreign investment and tourism in Malaysia and South East Asia.

As Parliament has failed to address and debate the challenge of terrorism in the wake of the Bali bomb blasts, which is attributed to a planning meeting of al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah leaders in southern Thailand in January, and the threat of a new wave of terrorist incidents with South East Asia becoming a second front of terrorism, an all-party conference on terrorism should be convened urgently without delay.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman