Abdullah should encourage rather than discourage a searching debate on Mahathir’s 23-year premiership and in particular whether one of his most worrisome legacies is the “First World Infrastructure, Third World Mentality” Malaysian malaise
by Lim Kit Siang
(Penang, Friday): Acting Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi should encourage rather than discourage a searching debate on the 23-year premiership of Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and in particular whether one of his most worrisome legacies is the “First World Infrastructure, Third World Mentality” Malaysian malaise which he had so brilliantly diagnosed last month.
The sudden furore kicked up by the UMNO Vice President and Defence Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak yesterday and which was immediately taken up by Abdullah over the 16-page article in the April 5 issue of The Economist with the heading “The Changing of the Guard: A Survey of Malaysia” is most surprising, not at their reactions but why it has taken them more than two weeks to react!
The articles in the April 5 issue of Economist are debatable and arguable, but as they were already available more than two weeks ago - appearing on a Malaysian online mailing group, beritamalaysia, on April 8, 2003 (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/beritamalaysia/message/57872) - the question that begs an answer is the reason for such belated reaction after more than a fortnight, whether the real reason is not so much the contents in the Economist as the increasingly ferocious political undercurrents in the jockeying for power in post-Mahathir UMNO, which of course is denied by every UMNO leader!
Be that as it may, Abdullah and the government should not discourage a public debate of the 23-year premiership of Mahathir, as it is better this is conducted in his last six months as the fourth Prime Minister of Malaysia, instead of after he had stepped down from office in October this year. In this way, Mahathir can also take part in this national assessment of his premiership.
Abdullah said yesterday that nobody, including the Western media, can dismiss Malaysia’s achievements under Mahathir’s leadership. I do not believe Abdullah was suggesting a total clamp down on debate on the achievements and failures of Mahathir’s premiership, but expressing his confidence that in any such debate, Mahathir’s achievements will overshadow his failures.
Abdullah’s critique of the Malaysian malaise as “First World Infrastructure, Third World Mentality” is in fact a most appropriate criteria to examine and assess Mahathir’s contributions in his 23 years as Prime Minister – as symbolized by the world’s tallest buildings together with the sorry state of human rights, the rule of law and the principles of accountability and transparency in the country.
The shocking disclosure by the Malaysiakini report yesterday that the Cabinet had decided that Suhakam should forward all its requests for information relating to human rights from government agencies to the Foreign Ministry is the latest example of the insidious prevalence and tenacity of such “First World Infrastructure, Third World Mentality” Malaysian malaise.
This was the reason for the abortion of the follow-up dialogue between government officials and residents opposed to the controversial mega-incinerator project in Broga, Selangor arranged by Suhakam at its Kuala Lumpur headquarters yesterday.
Suhakam complaints and inquiry working group chairperson Prof Mohd Hamdan Adnan said the commission had received a letter early this week on the new procedure and requiring it to get the clearance of Wismaputra for all information from government agencies.
DAP calls on the Cabinet to immediately revoke such a directive, which is a public slap in the face of Suhakam and the first concrete testimony of government hostility and non-co-operation since the establishment of the human rights commission three years ago, making a mockery of the pledge by the Foreign Minister, Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar to Parliament during the debate on the Human Rights Commission Bill in July 1999 that Suhakam will be able to “play an effective role in addressing human rights issues.” How can Suhakam play any “effective role” to protect and promote human rights when it is denied the most fundamental of all resources – information?
Instead of putting obstacles in the way of Suhakam, Hamid should be facilitating the work of Suhakam to carry out its statutory duties to protect and promote human rights, such as getting Cabinet approval to set up a Human Rights Division in every Ministry and important agency to directly address requests and communications from Suhakam.
Nobody believes that the Foreign Ministry is in any manner qualified or equipped to be the one-stop government agency to vet requests by Suhakam for information relating to human rights complaints from Ministries and government agencies. It will be fully competent if its role is to be the one-stop agency to pigeon-hole, KIV and blackball Suhakam requests for information on human rights from the various government agencies.
Abdullah brilliantly diagnosed the “First World Infrastructure, Third World Mentality” Malaysian malaise last month. But the more important question is whether there will be any meaningful effort to eliminate this “First World Infrastructure, Third World Mentality” Malaysian malaise or whether it would get even worse and become more entrenched in the country in the coming months and years.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman