DAP will go nation-wide with the SARS
public awareness campaign to ensure that Malaysia does not suddenly become
another Singapore or Hong Kong shunned by the rest of the world, where a
cough or sneeze is more frightening than terrorists or bombs
Media Conference Statement (2)
DAP campaign to raise
public SARS awareness at Bayan Baru market
by Lim Kit Siang
State Executive Councillor for Culture, Arts and Tourism, Datuk Kee Phaik
Cheen, said yesterday that city and beach hotels recorded an occupancy rate
of under 50 per cent over the past nine days, attributing the "bad"
occupancy rate of 45 per cent to the outbreak of the Severe Acute
Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and describing Penang as going through the worst
tourism crisis in 12 years.
She said that the US-led invasion in Iraq last month was damaging to Penang
tourism but the situation was under control, while "the SARS outbreak has
got out of hand and tourists, especially those from Hong Kong, China and
Singapore, have stopped coming to Malaysia".(New Straits Times)
The worst tourism crisis in Penang in the past 12 years as a result of SARS
outbreak for the past 10 days shows that even before the Cabinet meeting of
April 2 which overruled the denial syndrome of the Health Minister, Datuk
Chua Jui Meng and decided on a new policy of full transparency on SARS,
there is general national and international suspicion about the actual SARS
situation in the country and lack of public credibility of the Health
Ministry's stance for three weeks that Malaysia was "SARS-free".
This should be a lesson to both the Penang and Federal Governments that in
the era of IT, when information travels at the speed of light 24 hours a
day, there is no way to hide or suppress information.
The authorities may succeed in denying information to the local people,
because of their dependence on the radio, television and the print media
which could be controlled by the government, but there is no way to deny
information to the people outside the country, resulting in the frequent
phenomenon of people outside Malaysia knowing more about what is happening
in the country than Malaysians inside the country and a fertile ground for
all sorts of rumours to take wing.
The over 50 per cent drop in hotel occupancy rate in the Penang city and
beach hotels which started as far back as ten days ago, even before the
Cabinet had decided on a policy of full transparency on SARS, is the best
example of the speed and the un-suppressible nature of information in the
era of IT.
At present, the authorities are not practising a "smart" information policy
on SARS which gives full, accurate and timely information about the SARS
situation to the public which could secure their full confidence and trust
giving no room for any doubt or suspicion of any 'cover up' whatsoever.
This is why I had suggested that the Penang Chief Minister, Tan Sri Dr. Koh
Tsu Koon should set an example of full transparency to all other states by
giving daily updates of suspected and probable SARS cases in Penang to
assure the people and investors that the new killer virus is fully under
In the IT era, there is no more dumb, short-sighted and self-defeating
information policy than the "gag" mentality of Chua Jui Meng, demanding a
monopoly to give information about the SARS situation and gagging the state
government authorities from being prompt, open and frank about the SARS
situation in their respective states.
It is an open knowledge that wild rumours about SARS were flying around
Penang yesterday which should have been confirmed or scotched immediately.
This was not done because there is no mechanism in Penang or in any other
state where the local people and media could get instant information about
the latest SARS situation - as there are only three people in Malaysia, Chua
Jui Meng, the Health director-general and his deputy, who are authorized to
give information about the SARS situation in the country.
This is a very dumb and unsatisfactory arrangement, not conducive to
enhancing public confidence in the government handling of the SARS outbreak,
where the latest update on SARS could be given in a timely manner -
including instantly, if the situation warrants it.
Under the "gag" policy devised by Chua, where all information is centralized
in three out of 23 million Malaysians who are mostly in the Federal capital,
there is bound to be a time-lag of 24 or even 48 hours before information in
the various states like Penang, Kelantan, Johore, Sabah and Sarawak could be
announced - when what is needed is instant and timely information to the
people who are directly concerned about local developments in the different
states and areas.
The national daily SARS update by Chua or his director-general or deputy
should continue to be held as they give the national picture, but this
should not preclude or prohibit the various state authorities from their
duty and responsibility to give full, accurate and timely information on the
SARS situation in their respective areas - or public confidence will
continue to be the casualty!
DAP will go nation-wide with the SARS public awareness campaign, which had
been launched in Penang in the past four days, to ensure that Malaysia does
not suddenly become another Singapore or Hong Kong shunned by the rest of
the world, where a cough or sneeze is more frightening than terrorists or
bombs, and the right of the people to have a smart information policy on
SARS to get full, accurate and timely information. Every state should have
at least one hotline, with a top officer in charge and available at any time
24 hours a day and authorized to give the latest update on SARS information
to the local media and people.
Lim Kit Siang, DAP National