Abdullah should give a 18-month “report card” for every Cabinet Minister, including parliamentary attendance and performance,  as well on the state of press freedom in view of Bernama report trying to hide the shocking 12-point plunge in Malaysia’s International Competitiveness, losing out for the first time to Thailand

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Parliament, Saturday): The New Straits Times reported yesterday that the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s one-day visit to Perak today  marks the launch of  his  nation-wide tour in the next few weeks to present his report card  to the country on his 18-month stewardship of the nation as the fifth Prime Minister of Malaysia.

This is a most laudable move as its underlines Abdullah’s commitment to the principles of accountability, transparency and good governance, but the question that is increasingly asked is to what extent he has been able to influence and change the “Third World” feudal  thinking  of his Cabinet Ministers to “First World mindset” of democratic accountability and good governance after operating  for years and even decades as a law unto themselves  not  having to answer to the public for their decisions and actions.


In his 18-month “report card” on his pledges for an incorruptible, accountable, trustworthy and efficient government which he will be giving in the next few months when criss-crossing the country, Abdullah should furnish a report card for every Cabinet Minister, including his or her parliamentary attendance and performance.


The report card on the parliamentary performance of the individual Ministers should list out each Minister’s  full attendance record,  i.e. the number of parliamentary sittings attended and the reason for every sitting missed; as well as the number of occasions when the Minister had to delegate to  a deputy minister or parliamentary secretary whether to answer questions or to reply in  debates in Parliament, and the reasons why.


During the debate on the MPs Remuneration (Amendment) Bill in Parliament last month, I mentioned that there is a Cabinet Minister who is absent from his Ministry most of the week, present in Putrajaya only for the Wednesday Cabinet meetings – and that as a result, the Deputy Minister was the de facto Minister as far as the day-to-day running of the Ministry is concerned although not on policy matters.


In his 18-month “report card”, Abdullah should in particular explain why he had not kept his pledge for a more people-oriented administration prepared to hear the truth from the people by loosening press controls and restoring press freedom in Malaysia.


It is not without reason that Malaysia’s international press freedom rankings have further deteriorated in the 18 months under Abdullah’s premiership, falling 18 places to 122nd out of 167 countries in the Worldwide Press Freedom Index 2004 of Reporters sans Frontier (RSF) last October.

Last month, the New York City-based think-tank Freedom House, which has been ranking countries according to their degree of press freedom since 1980, released its Global Press Freedom Ranking, with Malaysia ranked No. 152 out of 194 countries, lower than Taiwan (No. 44) , South Korea (No. 66), Philippines (No. 77), Thailand (No. 95), Sri Lanka (No. 116), Indonesia (No. 119), Pakistan (No. 126), Cambodia (No. 128), Singapore (No. 139),   Afghanistan and Bangladesh (No. 145).

In the past 18 months, there has been little improvement – and in some cases retrogression – in the controlled-mainstream mass media, whether print or electronic, to encourage freedom of information.  The Parliamentary Opposition Leader, for instance, remains a non-person in the mainstream mass media. Any foreign visitor to Malaysia depending on the mainstream mass media for their information would not know that there is such a position in the country.

The mainstream media has recently provided an example why  press freedom in  Malaysia is ranked so dismally low internationally, as they not only black out legitimate or unfavourable news, reporting only what is favourable, but also slant news to give a totally wrong impression as to make them no different from “false news”.

The Chinese press today for instance, based on a Bernama report,  carried headlines of the Malaysian “domestic economic performance” leaping to 8th position from 16th last year, attributing this to the world-renowned survey of 60 economies, the World Competitiveness Yearbook 2005 by the Lausanne-based business training centre, the International Institute for Management Development.

In small print lost in the report, which would be missed by overwhelming majority of the readers, is the real and tragic story – that Malaysia’s international competitiveness have plunged 12 places to 28th position from 16th position last year.

What should be even more alarming is that for the first time, Thailand has surpassed Malaysia in international competitiveness, being ranked No. 27 position, as shown by the comparative rankings between the two countries:

IMD World Competiveness Ranking

            Malaysia        Thailand        Singapore    Hong Kong       Taiwan         Japan

2003       21                    30                    4                      10                    17             25

2004       16                    29                    2                       6                     12             23

2005       28                    27                    3                       2                     11             21

Why is Malaysia losing out in international competitiveness to the extent of a 12-point plunge in the IMD World Competitiveness Ranking  when the Prime Minister had repeatedly said that his top priority is excellence and the enhancement of the nation’s competitiveness to  rebrand Malaysia in the global marketplace?

Why is  Bernama, as the national news agency, being less than honest and responsible in trying to purvey the  “false news” by  focusing attention on Malaysia moving from 16th to 8th position in domestic economic performance,  when this is only one of 312 criteria for the international competitiveness ranking which has seen a 12-point plunge for Malaysia?

The mainstream mass media and the government should have sounded the alarm at the worsening competitiveness of Malaysia, as illustrated by the 12-point plunge in  IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook 2005 and losing out for the first time to Thailand, which  should be regarded as a national crisis requiring urgent action by the Cabinet – instead of trying to sweep the bad news under the carpet by focusing on the few criteria where the nation had better score than the previous year.

In his 18-month report card, Abdullah should address the state of press freedom in view of the Bernama report trying to hide the shocking 12-point plunge in Malaysia’s International Competitiveness, losing out for the first time to Thailand.

Abdullah should  be fully honest and frank, not only admitting the IMD World Competitiveness Ranking 2005 as another major blow and setback for his administration, but also sending out a clear and unmistakable message to loosen controls on all media to allow a free flow of information and the restoration of press freedom as important prerequisite for Malaysia to take the first step to eradicate the “First World Infrastructure, Third World Mentality” which he had brilliantly diagnosed as the Malaysian malaise but done so little to tackle.


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