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Has Malaysia got a Cabinet of
dummies, who could unanimously scrap the RM1.1 billion crooked half-bridge
after unanimously agreeing to its construction without being able to give
reasons for such a 180-degree about-turn?
by Lim Kit Siang
I fully agree with Abdullah and applaud him
for this courageous decision to cancel the unilateral construction of the
crooked half-bridge which would not be “one of the wonders of the world” but
a symbol of shame and failure of Malaysia-Singapore bilateral relations as
well as the ASEAN community and spirit although he could be faulted for not
taking it earlier or even more serious, for his sudden tough public stance
only two months ago that the crooked half bridge, euphemistically dubbed the
“Scenic Bridge”, would be constructed
regardless if it was ‘lurus,
bengkok ataupun herot’ (straight, crooked or skewed).
Mahathir deserves criticism for his stifling media control and censorship when he was Prime Minister – for which I had criticized him in Parliament in the past two days and even his long-time UMNO rival Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah had expressed surprise at Mahathir’s new role as a strong advocate of press freedom with the comment: “I read that Dr. Mahathir said the media did not want to publish or broadcast his views, yet during his time, I never had a chance to say anything to the media. But I did not complain about it.” (New Straits Times)
This does not mean, however, that Mahathir’s criticism of the deplorable current state of press freedom should not be taken seriously or addressed urgently.
Mahathir had claimed that some
newspapers had received phone calls asking them "not to print this and
that”, leading him to ask: “Where is the Press freedom? I know the reporters
are also unhappy because what they report is not published.
Mahathir’s claim that during his time as Prime Minister, there had been no phone calls from the Home Ministry to the local press to control and censor reporting is incredible as it is totally untrue, unless Mahathir claims that all those phone calls from the Home Ministry to the local press when he was Prime Minister had been made without his knowledge or authority.
Is Mahathir prepared to agree that a full public investigation be conducted on how his government had controlled and censored the press in his years as Prime Minister?
These legitimate caveats aside, Mahathir’s strictures about the current lack of press freedom (where fuel price demonstrations are blacked out in the press and the widespread perception that there are now even more phone calls to the press about news control and censorship, although it is not known whether Abdullah is personally aware of it) cannot just be brushed aside if the Prime Minister is sincere and serious about his reform pledge to “hear the truth” from the people.
Although I disagree with Mahathir in his insistence that Malaysia should proceed unilaterally to build the crooked half-bridge, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet cannot avoid or evade the many pertinent questions which had been raised by the former Prime Minister.
Mahathir had raised a fundamental issue of democratic responsibility and good governance – why the Cabinet had unanimously decided to scrap the crooked half-bridge when a few years back, the almost-the-same Cabinet had unanimously agreed under his premiership to build the crooked half-bridge.
Has Malaysia got a Cabinet of dummies, who could unanimously scrap the RM1.1 billion crooked half-bridge after unanimously agreeing to its construction without being able to give reasons for such a 180-degree about-turn?
The press interview by Mahathir’s former political secretary for Chinese affairs, Matthias Chang, who claims “detailed knowledge” of the crooked half-bridge issue as he was tasked by Mahathir to “do all the critical research and conduct a review of the negotiating strategy between Malaysia and Singapore”, had taken Mahathir’s dispute with the present Cabinet to a new level in calling Hamid a “big Napoleon” and his resignation for wrongly advising the Prime Minister on the issue.
Chang said although he was not part of the negotiating team, he knew the matter “inside out” and had compiled 14 volumes of documentation comprising over 1,500 pages.
The crux of the issue raised by Mahathir and Chang is on the international law of the crooked half-bridge issue.
The trouble with the government’s position is that its leaders had made contradictory statements – with Hamid even contradicting himself on the issue.
For instance, last Wednesday immediately after the announcement of the Cabinet decision to scrap the crooked half bridge, Hamid insisted that international law is one the side of Malaysia and that if the half-bridge issue had gone to the international court, the government is confident that it would have won the case.
Yet, in the New Straits Times yesterday, Hamid said:
“We had gone through it very
carefully and thoroughly, we just cannot act unilaterally.
When had the government and Cabinet “gone through it very carefully and thoroughly we just cannot act unilaterally” – under Mahathir’s premiership or only after Abdullah became Prime Minister?
Parliament and the nation must be told what and when was the legal advice given by the Attorney-General’s Chambers that international law is not on the side of Malaysia on the crooked half-bridge issue.
If the opinion of the Attorney-General’s Chambers on the international law implications of the crooked half-bridge had been consistent right from the very beginning, Parliament and Malaysians want to know why the former Prime Minister and the previous Cabinet overrode the legal opinion of the AG’s Chambers to proceed unilaterally to commit RM2.3 billion for the crooked half-bridge and the customs, immigration and quarantine complex (CIQ) – resulting in a RM100 million compensation to Gerbang Perdana, apart from the other unannounced hidden costs of the crooked half-bridge issue.
If the Attorney-General’s Chambers had changed its mind on the legal implications of the crooked half-bridge, there must be full accountability for this change of opinion as to its reason and timing.
The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi should personally come to Parliament during the winding-up of the Ninth Malaysia Plan debate next week to give a full explanation of the history, background, facts and reasons to answer the serious charges of former Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad that he and the present Cabinet has “surrendered national sovereignty”.
Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP
Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission
Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman