Abdullah's commendable start as Acting Prime Minister - DAP offers full co-operation to eliminate the Malaysian malaise of "Third World mentality", root out the Ugly Malaysian and fight corruption

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang,  Friday): Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has made a commendable start as Acting Prime Minister with his attack at the Oxbridge Society on "the Malaysian malaise" of having "First World infrastructure and Third World mentality", his condemnation of the Ugly Malaysian and call to Malaysians to fight corruption and abuse of trust.

He has rightly posed the question as to whether despite the many "world-class facilities" in the country, like the Multimedia Super Corridor, the Kuala Lumpur International Airport and the Port of Tanjung Pelepas, Malaysians have been able to "execute effectively" to achieve the Vision 2020 objective of a fully developed nation.

The KLIA is the best example of the lack of "world-class management and working practices" for Malaysia to be competitive - or as Abdullah put it: "From poor execution and inept management to shoddy maintenance and appalling customer service, Malaysia is in danger of possessing the hardware but little software."

A day before Abdullah's speech at the Oxbridge Society, the Transport Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Ling Liong Sik had announced that the RM400 million "world's fastest and most sophisticated baggage handling system" in the RM12 billion KLIA, which boasts of the capacity "to detect any passengers who fail to board their flights and pin-point a passenger's luggage and retrieve it within seconds" had become "obsolete" and needs to be upgraded (The Sun 6.3.03)- without ever having proved its capacity or money's worth in the past four-and-a-half years.

The RM400 million "world's fastest and most sophisticated baggage handling system", which started in total chaos at the opening of KLIA in mid-1998, creating mountains of luggage with passengers having to queue up for up to five hours for their luggage to be found, is now ending in further infamy, with the fourth breakdown last Sunday in the past two months.

Liong Sik's comment that the latest breakdown of the KLIA baggage system was "a minor glitch" is the best illustration of the malaise of "First World Infrastructure, Third World mentality" prevailing at the highest reaches of the government, going all the way up to the Cabinet.

Liong Sik's comment actually raises a most pertinent question, as to why the country is set to spend a few more hundreds of millions of ringgit to upgrade the "world's fastest and most sophisticated baggage handling system" if it only suffers from "minor glitches"! Or is this another trait of the Ugly Malaysian mentality - minor glitches but mega upgrades and expenditures?

The Malaysian malaise of "First World infrastructure, Third World mentality" and the Ugly Malaysian do not appear overnight, but is the direct result of the government's development and nation-building policies of the past few decades. If they are to be rooted out, the clean-up process must start from the top, beginning with the elimination of the "First World infrastructure, Third World mentality" malaise and the Ugly Malaysians in the Cabinet.

The country is in fact in the throes of one of the worst manifestations of the "First World infrastructure, Third World mentality" and the Ugly Malaysian in the past several months - the cruel, inhumane and even inhuman mishandling of the worst dengue epidemic in the nation's history since the World Health Organisation (WHO) warning eight months ago last July, causing a record number of dengue cases and deaths, and still raging on unchecked without any effective anti-dengue campaign nationwide.

No First World country would mishandle the dengue epidemic the way it had been done in Malaysia - by a deliberate blackout of information and refusal to sound a national alert and even emergency. In fact, Malaysia is doing what even respectable Third World nations won't do - relegating itself to a sort of "Fourth World" status after more than 100 dengue deaths last year, at least 20 dengue deaths in the first two months of this year and more fatalities until the end of the epidemic in May or June.

In the First World, there will be a daily media watch on any dengue outbreak as could be verified from an Internet search of media coverage of dengue outbreaks in developed countries in the past few years.

The Health Minister, Datuk Chua Jui Meng, can profit from how respectable Third World countries handle dengue outbreaks and epidemics, e.g. El Salvador which declared a national emergency in July last year to battle a dengue epidemic after it had claimed nine lives since January, Honduras which declared a national emergency last July after dengue killed a dozen people; or Saudi Arabia, where there is a public outcry at the lack of information about the dengue outbreak after discovery of seven dengue cases but without a single death in Jeddah yet in the past week, causing the following Saudi Arabia media comment:

"Many people will regard the outbreak of Dengue fever in Jeddah as far more worrying than the possibility of war against Iraq. And with good reason. War has not happened, and may not happen. But Dengue fever is, for the first time, in the country's commercial capital - and it is lethal if not treated in time."

Abdullah laments that "Malaysia is in danger of possessing the hardware but little software". It is even more serious than that - Malaysia suffers from not only having little software but even less humanware!

I applaud Abdullah for focusing on corruption and abuse of trust, both in the public and private sectors, as the first of the "key concerns" that "cannot be ignored or set aside" but must be addressed if Malaysia is to compete effectively on the global arena.

Abdullah has not expressed his concern in as dramatic a fashion as Zhu Rongji when the latter assumed office as Chinese Prime Minister and announced that he would deal with corruption by preparing 99 coffins for his enemies and one for himself, to underline his commitment to reform and transform the Chinese economy and to battle corruption.

However, Malaysians have heard for too long speeches about fighting corruption not backed up by deeds, and what they want to see this time are simply results.

DAP is prepared to fully co-operate with Abdullah in the national agenda to eliminate the Malaysian malaise of "Third World mentality", root out the Ugly Malaysian and fight corruption. I will write to Abdullah to ask for a meeting to present our ideas and concrete proposals for a blueprint to eliminate these three vices of the Malaysian society which stand in the way of the Vision 2020 objectives.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman