Mahathir should explain why he is now more optimistic about Malaysia’s economic growth than before he went on his leave in early March despite the intervening triple whammy of the Iraq War, SARS epidemic and the resurfacing of the threat of a new wave of international terrorism
by Lim Kit Siang
(Petaling Jaya, Tuesday): The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad should explain why he is now more optimistic about Malaysia’s economic growth than before he went on his leave in early March despite the intervening triple whammy of the Iraq War, SARS epidemic and the resurfacing of the threat of a new wave of international terrorism.
Just before he went on his official two-month leave, Mahathir said at the opening of the Langkawi Lagoon Resort on March 1 that the government had set a minimum target of a four per cent economic growth this year but a war in Iraq could derail this target.
In the intervening 12 weeks, the Iraq war had not only erupted and ended, there was also the global SARS epidemic which is generally regarded as economically worse than the Iraq war and now the resurfacing of the threat of a new wave of international terrorism which could be even more damaging than the SARS epidemic, which appears to be tapering off except for China and Taiwan – yet Mahathir said yesterday that he expected the Malaysian economy this year to grow at a rate better than the 4.2 per cent of gross domestic product recorded in 2002.
When presenting the repeatedly delayed economic stimulus package which is expected tomorrow, Mahathir should explain the reasons for this new found optimism for economic growth for Malaysia this year, despite the intervening triple whammy and the generally gloomy forecasts which have led to serious downward revisions of growth figures this year by economists, analysts and research houses and institutes.
Last month, the Malaysian Institute of Economic Research (MIER) slashed its growth projection to 3.7 per cent from the 5.7 per cent forecast provided there is a credible economic stimulus package – and this was before the resurfacing of the threat of a new wave of international terrorism with the Pakistani, Saudi and Morocco attacks. Last weekend, Rating Agency Malaysia Bhd (RAM) revised downwards its forecast for economic growth this year to 3.8 per cent from 5 per cent in January because of the shadow of Iraq War and SARS although it maintained its 6 per cent GDP growth forecast for 2004 in anticipation of an estimated RM2 billion to RM5 billion economic stimulus package.
In the economic stimulus package, Mahathir should compute the economic fall-out from the threat of a new wave of international terrorism, especially with Malaysia named in the terrorist alert travel advisories of the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Australia and New Zealand and the international image the nation had acquired as a “terrorist centre”.
The Government must work out a serious but rational and effective response to the growing international image linking Malaysia with terrorist activities, not only because of the travel advisories of the Western countries, but becoming part of the public psychology and conventional wisdom in the rest of the world as illustrated by two articles in the UK press yesterday.
A report in yesterday’s daily Guardian, entitled “Hope in the carnage of Casablanca – Al-Qaida’s soft-target strategy could eventually be its downfall” by Peter Preston contained the following paragraph:
“Will this agglomeration of terror come to central London or, again, to Manhattan? Perhaps. But it's rather likelier to visit downtown Cairo or Kuala Lumpur first. That, strategically, is the PR boon left over from September 11: you don't need to take big risks to garner big headlines any longer. More ordinary mayhem as usual will serve just as well. One unspecified threat to Kenya blanks out east Africa for the duration.”
Another article in the same newspaper yesterday, entitled “Al-Qaida is back and stronger than ever – Security agencies say latest attacks show new level of planning and recruitment” by Richard Norteon-Taylor contained the following reference to Malaysia:
“Whatever the significance of these developments, European security and intelligence sources say it would be a mistake to regard al-Qaida as a centralised, disciplined organisation along the lines of groups such as the IRA. The sources describe, rather, a network of ‘local Islamist groups affiliated to the aims of al-Qaida’.
“Thus the Bali bombing was carried out by Jemaah Islamiya. In Morocco, extremist groups with links to al-Qaida include Salafia Jihadia and Attakfir wal Hijra. There are hosts of other groups with links to what is seen as a burgeoning al-Qaida movement, ranging from Morocco to Malaysia and the Philippines.”
These article are not anti-Malaysia and are not even about Malaysia. They are about the consequences of Al-Qaeda, “relentlessly low-tech”, with “no command and control system to disrupt”, switching to soft targets against civilians in restaurants and residential areas and the snapping “one lifeline of progress – tourism”.
It is precisely because such references linking Malaysia to international terrorism are written in so incidental and matter-of-fact fashion and have become so ubiquitous in the West that they are so insidious and damaging, which cannot be undone or countered by a special briefing by the Foreign Minister to foreign envoys in Kuala Lumpur.
Malaysia is in great danger of losing the war against terrorism – as far as the psychological battle in the world on the international image of the country as a “terrorist centre” with far-reaching economic repercussions to the country.
Will the economic stimulus package be able to give some light as to how to win back this war against terrorism vis-à-vis Malaysia as a centre of international terrorism?
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman