Ghafar’s complaint is valid as Ministers today are more inaccessible than during the time of Mahathir, proven  by my inability to reach the Second Finance Minister and Higher Education Ministry in the last two days on urgent public  controversies under their watch

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Parliament, Friday): I fully empathise with former Deputy Prime Minister, Tun Ghafar Baba who expressed his frustration on how difficult it is for him to meet a particular UMNO  Menteri Besar although the appointment was set six months earlier whereas it took him just one day to have the appointment with Kelantan Menteri Besar Nik Aziz Nik Mat.  (Umno vets to urge Pak Lah to 'save' Umno – 12.5.05

Despite the pledge of the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi that his administration would be open, accountable, people-oriented and prepared to listen to the truth from the people, Cabinet Ministers today are even more inaccessible than during the time of   Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad as Prime Minister.

In the past two days for instance my office had failed, despite repeated attempts,  to reach the Second Finance Minister, Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop and the Minister for Higher Education, Datuk Dr. Shafie Salleh on urgent public controversies under their watch.


As Abdullah, who is also the Finance Minister, is on an official visit to Iran, I had tried to contact the Second Finance Minister in connection with the problem-ridden RM4.6 billion Ipoh-Rawang  electrified double-tracking railway project which is not only some  four years behind the original schedule of completion but is likely to cost more than 50% higher than the original RM4.6 billion price.


In my media statement on Tuesday, I said  I had been reliably informed that the government  had terminated the contract of DRB-Hicom, the lead contractor for the RM2.58 billion  civil  and infrastructure works of the double tracking project and awarded the unfinished portion of 18 per cent of the contract to UEM at a cost of RM1.1 billion, inflating the cost of the  total civil and infrastructure contract to RM3.68 billion.


As Mitsui & Co, the contractor for the second package of the double-tracking project, i.e. RM1.9 billion for the electrification and signaling systems,  has submitted  claims for RM450 million variation orders, the total cost of the Ipoh-Rawang double tracking is likely to be inflated by more than 50 per cent of the original cost of RM4.6 billion – taking into account  the  claims which  numerous sub-contractors are entitled to make  over delay and interest costs.


I also said that DRB-Hicom had been directed to vacate all its work sites along the Ipoh-Rawang double tracking project by today, i.e. Friday May 13 to prepare for the takeover by UEM.


The thundering silence of the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Transport in the past 72 hours and failure to throw light on this issue represent  the height of irresponsibility and the mark of bad governance, demonstrating not only public insensitivity but weak commitment of the Abdullah government to the principles of openness, accountability, transparency, integrity  and good governance.


If my information is wrong, the Finance or Transport Ministry has the responsibility to clarify the true situation. If my information is correct, the government should explain the “public interest” justification for incurring another RM1.1 billion to appoint UEM to complete the remaining 18% of the infrastructure contract of the Ipoh-Rawang  double-tracking project instead of  avoiding accountability by seeking   refuge in silence.


I had wanted to contact Dr. Shafie over the new crisis in the public universities over the continued tenure of the University Putra Malaysia (UPM) Vice Chancellor Prof. Dr. Mohamad Zohadie Bardaie and the University of Malaya (UM) Associate  Professor Dr. Edmund Terence Gomez.


During the last budget debate, I moved a RM10-salary-cut motion and it was against Dr. Shafie for his speech at the UMNO General Assembly last  September that as the Higher Education Minister, he will never allow non-bumiputera students to enter UiTM and that the number of bumiputera students in public universities will always exceed the given quota.


I hope that I will not have to move another RM10-salary-cut motion a second time in this year’s budget, and again directed at Dr. Shafie, because of his mishandling of public universities, whether forcing the removal of Dr. Mohamad Zohadie as UPM Vice Chancellor as a result of the most improper and high-handed action and pressure of the UPM Board of Directors and its Chairman Tan Sri Dr. Zainul Ariff Hussain or the forced resignation UM Associate Professor Dr. Terence Gomez because of the misguided mindset of university administrators in adopting a “Good riddance to bad rubbish” attitude towards talents and quality minds in academia. What is the point of government leaders talking about attracting global talents to Malaysia when they are indifferent to the loss of Malaysians talents to the rest of the world?


It would be a most ironic twist of events if the future of Dr. Mohamad Zohadie develops into a controversy on the future of Dr. Shafie as the Higher Education Minister for failing to see the large picture and the  pressing challenges of tertiary education – how in the shortest possible time  to rebrand  Malaysia  as a truly  international centre of academic excellence and find the political will to ensure that meritocracy undergirds the entire policy and system of  higher education to transform  Malaysia from a regional centre of academic mediocrity into an international centre of academic excellence.  

Dr. Shafie has expressed  satisfaction that two Malaysian universities are listed in The Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) global ranking of the world’s best 200 universities,  with  University of Malaya ranked No. 89 and the Universiti Sains Malaysia ranked No. 111.

As Higher Education Minister, Dr. Shafie should have a  higher  goal  to have three to five Malaysian universities listed among  the world’s Top 50 or 60 universities. At present, Malaysia does  not have a single university in the world’s top ranks whether the first 50 or 60.

If Singapore has two such universities in the Top 50 (with the National University of Singapore ranked No. 18 and the Singapore Nanyang Technological University ranked No. 50) while Australia, regarded as  “the powerhouse of higher education in the Asia-Pacific region”, has  six of its universities in the Top 50 or  eight in the Top 60, it is not an “mission impossible” for Malaysia to target three to five universities  to be recognized as among the world’s  Top 50 or Top 60 universities in the world.

It is this “big picture” and lofty goal for the nation’s universities which Dr. Shafie should be concerned and obsessed with,  and not to be entangled or bogged down  in petty power-plays in the administration of the  public universities.

If Dr. Shafie has spare time, he should address the many blogs and Internet postings revealing serious hanky-panky in various university administrations, particular University Utara Malaysia, University of Malaya and Universiti Sabah Malaysia before they come under microscopic scrutiny in Parliament.


*  Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman