Government’s reply to Economist has raised embarrassing questions which do not put the 22-year Mahathir premiership in entirely good light
by Lim Kit Siang
(Penang, Saturday): It would appear that I am not the only one to feel let down by the government’s “point-by-point rebuttal” to the controversial 16-page eight-article April 5 special survey of The Economist on Malaysia, as the short “rebuttal” by the National Economic Action Council executive director, Datuk Mustapha Mohamed was so skimpy and unpersuasive that it failed to justify the Cabinet Ministers-led frenzy against the London weekly.
This can only be the explanation as to why the UMNO newspaper, New Straits Times, dropped the story of Mustapha’s “rebuttal” to The Economist from its print edition today after carrying it as the lead “breaking news” on its online edition yesterday – although the MCA-owned The Star felt that discretion is the better part of valour and gave it full coverage in page 2 of its print edition.
Mustapha’s rebuttal in fact raised embarrassing questions which do not put the 22-year Mahathir premiership in entirely good light.
Is the government going to send a second rebuttal as The Economist has stood by its special survey of Malaysia “The changing of the guard”, conceding only to one of the four “factual” errors raised by Mustapha and insisting for instance that “foreign banks do indeed say they feel obliged to offer Islamic banking”? Is the Finance Ministry and Bank Negara going to send a clear and unequivocal guideline to foreign banks to remove any doubt whatsoever on this issue?
The cynicism of The Economist to Mustapha’s claim that the power and “unfettered discretion” of detention under the Internal Security Act rest solely with the police is shared not only by the Malaysian Opposition and NGOs, but also the majority of the Malaysian people.
But the most damaging part of the government rebuttal to The Economist is not in its inability to prove its opening statement “Your survey of Malaysia is full of errors”, but the open-ended questions which it posed, such as “In what way has Dr. Mahathir been a dictator?” and “how many developing countries have done better than Malaysia” in the period under Mahathir.
Are the mainstream media, both printed and electronic, prepared to provide space for Malaysians to respond to the first question: “In what way has Dr. Mahathir been a dictator?” If so, the best person to start the ball rolling to debate this question would be Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, once his anointed successor. If it is unthinkable that the mainstream media would provide space for such a discussion, it is a form of answer to the question itself.
But what is even more damaging is Mustapha’s challenge to The Economist to point out another country which had done better than Malaysia during the last 22 years of Mahathir’s premiership.
I had in fact raised this issue in my media
statement of 13th January this year, asking why Malaysia needs 40
years from 1981 until 2020 to reach developed nation status when South
Korea could achieve this in 15 years starting with lower per capita income.
Early this year, Mahathir said many people want him to do in ten months what would normally take three or four years. I had said at the time that at this juncture of the nation's history, there were undoubtedly many things which only Mahathir and nobody else in the Barisan Nasional government could do, including rectifying numerous grave errors of government policies and measures of his 22-year premiership.
At the 13th DAP National Congress on 12th January 2003, I had outlined ten tasks which he should try to accomplish before he steps down as Prime Minister in October, as they are important to nation-building to restore a proper and solid foundation for an united, tolerant, progressive and prosperous Malaysia, viz;
Mahathir has less than five months to go before stepping down as Prime Minister in favour of Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
Instead of wasting time sending pathetic rebuttals to The Economist, it would be more useful for the government and the people to engage in an extensive debate as to why under the 22-year premiership of Mahathir, Malaysia lagged so far behind South Korea despite starting off with a higher per capita income and to focus on the unfinished ten tasks outlined above.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman