Parliamentary debate on 2004 budget should focus on how to enhance Malaysia’s competitiveness to become a world-class nation, particularly in fighting corruption, becoming an international centre of educational excellence and one of the highest IT-literate nations, and not be hijacked by the Islamic State competition of UMNO-PAS
Media Conference Statement (2)
by Lim Kit Siang
(Penang, Friday): For 44 years, the mainstream nation-building agenda was to develop and sustain the democratic, secular and multi-religious nature of the Malaysian Constitution and voices calling for an Islamic state were at the periphery; but overnight, with the declaration by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad at the Gerakan national delegates’ conference on September 29 2001 (the “929” declaration), the controversy over what type of an Islamic state Malaysia should become has hijacked the mainstream nation-building agenda.
In the past four years, the question whether the UMNO Government is “Islamic state” enough has become an abiding theme in the debates in Parliament when for the last four decades, the term “Islamic state” was rarely heard.
This is also the case in the first week of the parliamentary debate on the 2004 budget, where the dominant issues as reported by the media were: “Hadi: Prayer time ignored” (The Star, 16.9.03), “Debate over sodomy issue” (New Straits Times 18.9.03), “Proposal for a mufti to be adviser to the Cabinet” (New Straits Times 18.9.03).
In the rest of the budget debate, Parliament should focus on how to enhance Malaysia’s competitiveness to become a world-class nation, particularly in fighting corruption, becoming an international centre of educational excellence and one of the highest IT-literate population, etc instead of losing all sense of direction in the UMNO-PAS competition to out-Islam and out-Islamic-State each other.
Three days before the 2004 Budget was presented to Parliament, The Sun carried the front-page headline “Graft annoys investors”, which reported that some foreign investors are put off by unfair allocation of projects to well-connected individuals and corrupt practices in the country as they have to incur “procurement costs” which can account for 20% to 30% of their total investment.
The Transparency International’s Malaysian chapter president Tunku Abdul Aziz was quoted as saying when presenting the 2003 annual report of Malaysia’s national integrity systems:
“The allocation of public projects should be transparent and conducted on a level playing field.
“Investors have the impression the allocation of such projects in this country is unfair as it is usually done on a first-come-first-serve basis or involve closed-door negotiations, more often than not ending up with well-connected individuals securing the projects.”
He said at a gathering in New York, a foreign investor named several countries in Southeast Asia where he would be willing to invest, but left out Malaysia. When asked the reason, the investor said he was put off by the attitude and requirements demanded not by the laws of the country but by the bureaucracy.
Tunku Aziz said: “These included proposals for him to start joint ventures with family members of the staff he had to deal with to get his projects off the ground.”
In his marathon budget speech of over three hours last Friday, the Prime Minister-cum-Finance Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad said one of the five strategies of the 2004 Budget themed “Building on Success, Investing for the Future” is “Enhancing the nation’s competitiveness to enable Malaysia to become a truly trading nation”.
If Malaysia is to become a truly competitive nation, one of the prerequisites is to declare an all-out war against corruption, develop a culture of zero-tolerance for corruption and institute a new commitment to the principles accountability, transparency and good governance.
The parliamentary debate on the 2004 budget should create a consensus to usher in such a new culture of public integrity with zero tolerance for corruption and a commitment to enhancing the nation’s competitiveness as having world-class universities and education system and being ranked among the world’s top ten least corrupt nations – but the first week of the parliamentary budget debate has no such focus whatsoever. This must be urgently remedied in the rest of the parliamentary debate on the 2004 budget.
Let me reiterate: The parliamentary debate on 2004 budget should focus on how to enhance Malaysia’s competitiveness to become a world-class nation, particularly in fighting corruption, becoming an international centre of educational excellence and one of the highest IT-literate nations, and not be hijacked by the Islamic State competition of UMNO-PAS.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman