Government’s aim to eradicate poverty and to strengthen national unity

Speech by Member of Parliament for Bandar Melaka (DAP) Mr.Lim Kit Siang, in the Dewan Ra’ayat on the debate on the Royal Address from the Throne on 9.3.1971

Mr.Speaker, Sir, His Majesty, the Yang di-Peruan Agong, in his Royal Address, spoke of the government’s aim to eradicate poverty and to strengthen national unity.

We do not quarrel with these objectives. But there is considerable room for disagreement as to whether government policies and measures are aimed at these objectives, or whether, on the converse, they can only aggravate economic inequality and undermine national solidarity and unity.

Despite the government’s multi-pronged economic policies, the single most important economic and social problem continues to be unemployment, which condemns hundreds of thousands of Malaysians to a sentences of poverty, social humiliation and disgrace.

In 1969, when the Ipoh Municipal Council wanted to fill 21 vacancies for labourers, over 2,000 people jammed the Municipality Padang for the posts. In the same year, when a new hotel in Kuala Lumpur advertised for 110 vacancies for waiters, receptionists, cashiers, bellboys and supervisors, over 4,500 people, including 3,000 School Certificate holders, applied for the positions.

Has the unemployment improved? The Budget Summaries of the Federal Government Expenditure for the years 1969 to 1971 illustrate the deterioration of the spectre of unemployment in our country.

Under the section on the Public Services Commission, we learn that in 1967, the PSC received 64,000 applications for a slightly more number of posts. In 1969, for 4,700 posts, 150,000 people applied. And in 1970, 165,000 people applied for 5,000 posts.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, we must remember that these are applications for Division One, Two and Three posts. In other words, the applicants come from the educated section of the population, or those who had received formal secondary education.

We can imagine how grave the problem is among those who did not have the benefit of secondary education.

When the First Malaysia Plan, 1966-1970, was implemented, it was estimated that the rate of unemployment was 6% of the labour force. One of the Plan’s objectives was to reduce this rate of unemployment to 5.2% by the end of the Plan in 1970 by the creation of 380,000 new jobs in West Malaysia.

We are on the eve of launching the Second Malaysia Plan. Have we been able to reach our targets to combat unemployment, to free Malaysians from the curses of unemployment, poverty and want?

Far from it, Mr.Speaker, Sir. We have failed to achieve our target to reduce the rate of unemployment. What more, we have today an even graver unemployment problem than before we started the First Malaysia Plan.

The Bank Negara Report for 1969 has this to say, and I quoto (p.61):

“Latest available official data from a sample survey undertaken in West Malaysia in 1968 estimated the unemployment rate at about 6.8 per cent of the labour force as against 6 per cent in 1962. Unemployment is highest among youths, particularly in the age groups 15-19 and 20-24 with rates as high as 20.5 per cent and 11.5 per cent respectively. Furthermore, it occurred mainly among youths who had little education or training.

More than half of the unemployed had only a primary education with no technical skill or training of any kind. Finally, unemployment was highest in the urban areas with an average rate of 10.1 per cent, compared with the national average of 6.8 per cent and 5.4 per cent for the rural areas.”

As the same report commented, this situation would indicate tat investment in both agriculture and industry has not been of a sufficient magnitude or of an employment-generating nature to an extent sufficient to absorb most of the labour force entering the market.

Approximately two-thirds of these unemployed are seeking jobs for the first time. This is proof that in recent years, new jobs opportunities had not kept pace with the number of new entrants into the labour market.

The actual unemployment position, however, is darker and gloomier than that painted by the Bank Negara Report, for the Hon’ble the Finance Minister said in his 1971 Budget speech last year that the present overall unemployment was estimated at 9$.

So, Sir, the First Malaysia Plan was launched to reduce the unemployment rate from 6% to 5.2% of the labour force. We have completed the

Plan by doing exactly the opposite-increasing the unemployment rate from 6% to 9% of the labour force.

We believe that this figure of 9% is a conservative one. But based on these government figures, the total unemployed will be in the region of 300,000 people.

Taking into consideration the workers who were retrenched or declared redundant during the Plan period, particularly in the rubber industry where there had been a shrinkage of about 60,000 jobs and the 30,000 Malaysians who are affected by the British troops withdrawal, the total unemployment figure will be in the region of 400,000 people.

This is a very grave situation. The First Malaysia Plan, in so far as it is designed to “generate employment opportunities at a rate sufficient to provide productive work for new entrants to the labour force and lower the rate of unemployment” is a total failure.

This is why under the Alliance government, the poor have become poorer and the dispossessed even more dispossessed. The total human suffering and hardships have increased in the past years rather than decreased.

A more dynamic economic policy is called for to promote a faster economic rate of growth in both the agriculture and industrial sector to grapple with this problem of unemployment.

Even in the much-vaunted sphere of new land development, the main government agency, the Federal Land Development Authority, has failed to
meet the national needs or even its own targets.

In June 1958, the Federal Land Development Authority estimated that there were 200,000 outstanding applications for land in Malaya.

In June 1960, the FLDA estimated that on the average, some 40,000 new families would be added to the population each year, and that not less than one quarter of which must be absorbed into agriculture.

At 10 acres a family, the FLDA calculated that 10,000 families will need 100,000 acres of land each year. It estimated that it would have to develop 50,000 acres a year as it seemed unlikely that the normal processes of land alienation would exceed 50,000 acres.

This target is endorsed by the First Malaysia Plan. In the Mid-term Review of the First Malaysia Plan, the total acreage to be opened up annually
was given as 120,000 acres.

If we look back to 1958, with the initial backlog of land requirement of 200,000 and the FLDA’s own target of developing land for 5,000 settler-families a year, the present grand total of settler-families. In other words. The performance is a long way from its own stated objectives and the national needs.

This is only one aspect of the immense problem of rural poverty. Related to the question of land is the problem of the mass of peasantry working on uneconomic plots of one to five acres which they do not own. The problem of absentee landlordism and fragmentation of farming plots must be bravely tackled if the back of rural poverty is to be broken. This is why we have in particular advocated the abolition of absentee landlordism in the padi sector.

There are some 10 million uncultivated acres of land suitable for agriculture in Malaysia. But side by side with this large uncultivated arable acreage is the acute problem of landlessness.

An enlightened agriculture policy aimed at eradicating poverty must have as one of its main planks the distribution of land to the tillers, not for a small number of lucky Malaysians, but for the majority of the Malaysian landless.

It must aimed at the accelerated expansion of output and employment in the agricultural sector by increasing the land under cultivation to bring in the participation of hundreds of thousands of Malaysian landless so that they can not only profitably employ themselves, but contribute to the economic growth and prosperity of the country.

It is all the more deplorable, in this context, that Hamid Tuah, the peasant leader who championed the right of the landless to have land to work and be useful citizens of Malaysia, should new be incarcerated in the Muar Detention Camp under the Internal Security Act instead of being asked to help in the fight against the problem of landlessness in Malaysia.

The government’s treatment of Hamid Tuah and his followers over the development of the Sungei Panjang settlement in Selangor in 1969, is not proof of its sincerity in wanting to solve the problem of landlessness by embarking of a meaningful ‘land for the tillers’ programme for the mass of Malaysian peasantry,

I do not intent to make an assessment of the First Malaysia Plan here. __ more appropriate occasion will be whemn this House debates the

Second Malaysia Plan, which we have been informed will be in June when this House holds its second meeting. I hope that the government will give us ample time to study the Second Malaysia Plan before tabling it for debate, instead of the past government practice of expecting MPs to debate bills and papers without giving them sufficient time to study the papers.

The point I wish to make here is that it is no use talking about Malaysia being the third Asian country with the highest per capita income when the common man and woman in the kampongs and the urban slums could not find a square and decent meal, when poverty oppresses. Degrades and humiliates them.

Economic growth and prosperity must be translated into personal terms of every Malaysian, particularly the poor. For a peasant who for the last decade had been eking out a living on $40 a month, grandiloquent statistics and figures of economic progress means nothings.
Rise in price of essential commodities

It will not escape the notice of Hon’ble Members of this Houses that in the past months and years, the price of essential commodities, like soap, rice, cooking oil, meat, sugar, salt, flour, beverages like ovaltine, have one after another kept rising.

While the cost of living is rising sharply, the earning capacity of the majority of the people have remained static. The well-off and the upper class are not concerned by the price increases as they constitute a small part of their budget. It is the poor and the lower-income bracket who are the hardest hit.

This is why we had opposed the blanket doubling of surtax on all imports from 2% to 4% at the end of last year. The $45 million which the government hopes to net from the doubling of the surtax will not be borne by the rich, but by the lower income group mass of consumers, as the price increases will be finally passed in to them.

This is why we had proposed that there should be exemption of basic consumer imports from duty taxation as such levies bear more heavily on the poorer section of the community. By exempting these goods, the increase in the post of living arising from import duties will be distributed more in accordance with the ability to pay.

As spiralling prices in basic commodities have seriously upset the budget of the poor and the low-income bracket, we as the people’s representatives must do all we can to arrest this trend and fight the profiteerism of capitalists.

Another dismaying thing to Malaysians is that the protection of local industries seem to be the cover for Malaysian industrialists to exploit local consumers behind a tariff wall. Prices of local products, after putting up the tarriff wall, have gone up higher than that of the former imported

There is a strong case for the establishment of a Parliamentary standing committee to protect the interests of the consumers against profiteerism of manufacturers. Such a standing committee should have power to hold public hearings and subpoena interested parties and others concerned to give evidence and views in the course of its duty to uphold the interests of consumers, as in determining for instance, whether recent price increases of sugar were justified.

Switch of language media in English schools

I wish here to speak on the question of the switch of the media of instruction in all National-type (English) primary schools.

All National-type (English) Primary Schools have now switched the media of instruction from English to Bahasa Malaysia for Standard One and Standard Two Classes.

For Standard Four and Five classes, all subjects, apart from Science and Mathematics, are being taught in Bahasa Malaysia.

The question I want to ask is this: Has the Ministry of Education made adequate preparation before making this switch to ensure that the teaching and education standards in these schools do not fall, and that the students do not become victims of an unplanned or very poorly-planned switch in the media of instruction.

Is the Minister of Education aware that a large number of teachers affected by the switch in the teaching media are not qualified to teach their subjects in Bahasa Malaysia?

This is not the fault of the teachers, who were educated in the English schools and trained to teach in the English media.

Although there were in-service Bahasa Malaysia courses, I gather that these courses do not really equip these teachers to have sufficient teaching knowledge of the language, which is not merely to read the lesson in the prescribed text book to the class, but to explain, converse and discuss the subject in depth with the class.

This calls for fluency in the language which not many teachers in this category possess. In fact, there are teachers who do not know what they are teaching, because despite their plea to their principal that they could not teach in Bahasa Malaysia, they are nonetheless assigned to teach in Bahasa Malaysia because of the shortage of teachers in the school.

A situation is arising where teachers go to their classes without really imparting knowledge. A number of them confine their teaching activities to giving notes in Bahasa Malaysia, because they are not fluent in the language.

The result is students go home with very vague and hazy idea as to what they are taught in schools. An entire generation of students are growing up in the National-type (English) primary schools who are not getting the best education and teaching they are entitled to because as a result of the switch in media of instruction, qualified teachers have become unqualified teachers.

Mr.Speaker, Sir, the teachers, the teachers’ unions, the principals, the education authorities, members of the public and parents are aware of this shocking state of affairs. But nobody dare speak up for fear of being branded as disloyal, anti-national and traitorous.

Mr.Speaker, Sir, I submit that this is very serious problem which we must discuss sanely, rationally, and removed from emotionalism and hysteria.

Let us try to find a solution to this problem, without trying to look for scapegoats, or to apportion blame, or to embark on a tirade of character assassination.

It is our duty to see to it that the new Malaysian generation of children get the best education we can give them,

I propose a committee of inquiry be set up with government representatives, Opposition leaders and teachers’ representatives, to

1. ascertain how unprepared the National type-(English) primary schools and teachers are for this switch in medium of instruction from English to Bahasa Malaysia;

2. the effects it had on the educational and teaching standards in these schools;

3. propose measures to remedy these adverse effects on education and teaching standards, to ensure that the schools children do not suffer as a result of the implementation of the switch without adequate preparation and planning.

Mr.Speaker, Sir, I must stress that such a committee can only produce results if there is sincerity and goodwill all round in wanting to give the best education for our children, and there is no highly-charged atmosphere of allegations of disloyalty, anti-national and treahcery from and at any quarter.

Let us work together to find solutions to this problem of how to ensure that the teaching standards of the students do not suffer in the switch in the medium of instruction from English to Bahasa Malaysia in the former English primary schools.

For if this discussion or committee is held in a highly-charged atmosphere of allegations if disloyalty, being anti-national and tracherous or traitorous, then no teacher or Malaysia would come forward to co-operate in giving views or suggestions solutions to this problem. We will then be failing in our duty to our children.

Foreign Relations- China

His Majesty, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, spoke of the government pursuing “an independent foreign policy consistent with the ties and situation and compatible with our national interest as an independent, sovereign and developing country.”

We welcome the more realistic foreign policy of the government, in particular with regard to China.

We have always advocated that Malaysia should support China’s admission into the United Nations. And establish normal economic and diplomatic relationship with China.

In those days, our stand on China was virtually regarded in some quarters as traitorous and disloyal. We are glad that the Malaysian government is coming round to our view.

In the last few months, Italy and Canada has established full diplomatic relationship with China, and other countries, like Austria, Belgium and Chile are following suit. In the last United Nations General Assembly, the majority of the member countries voted for China’s admission into the United Nations but was frustrated by United States’ insistence on twp-thirds rule on the ground that it was a substantive issue.

Many other countries are seriously reconsidering their relationship with China. We in Malaysia must also do the same.

It is not enough that we should only pay lip-service to the desire to have and friendly relations with China, but we must take concrete steps to bring about such a relationship.

Malaysia has greater reasons to establish friendly and normal relationship with China than either Canada or Italy.

Firstly, for economic reasons. Full economic, trade and commercial relationship between China and Malaysia will greatly beneficial to Malaysia.

The case of rubber is a good example. Malaysia depends on rubber for her livelihood. The price of rubber has for the past months nosedived to below 50 cents, because of the threat from synthetic rubber and from unsatisfactory sales to the industrialised countries of Russia and the United States.

The country with the greatest potential rubber market is China, with her 700 million people and industrialisation programme.

We must explore all possibilities to encourage greater China purchase of Malaysian rubber for our own self-interest, for the interest of our national economy and standard of living of the people of Malaysia. We are glad that we have decided to stop strutting the world stage as a great anti-communist nation to be in the good books of Uncle Sam.

The second reason is that in South East Asia, permanent peace and stability can only be achieved with the participation of China. Just as it had been short sighted to exclude China from the world council of nations, it is equally short-sighted for Malaysia to try ignore the existence of China and her influence and role in South East Asia.

While the Malaysian government is showing realism in foreign affairs in her public pronouncements, this realism still to be matched by her action and deeds.

The relationship between China and Malaysia all these years is a history of distrust, suspicion and mutualy hostility.

This is an abnormal and undesirable relationship, not conducive to the establishment of a stable and harmonious South East Asia.

We should therefore seek as normal and fruitful a relationship with China as possible.

Last November, Peking declared that she is desirous of being friends with all countries, based on the principles of equality, respect for each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Just only last week, Peking’s aid to Malaysian flood victims arrived in Malaysian ports.

These are healthy signs. I propose therefore that Malaysia take the first steps to respond to pave the way to establish normalisation of relations with Peking by the following measures:

1. Until the establishment of formal diplomatic relationship with Peking, establish informal bilateral contacts and lines of communication with Peking, to put across our viewpoints and ideas. With this informal relationship, we need not depend on a third country to transmit our views as we had hoped Canada would do.

2. Allow the Bank of China to operate in Malaysia. This will underscore our desire to have commercial and economic relations with China, which will be beneficial to us as an increased purchase of rubber from China will be a great stimulant to Malaysian economy. This commercial economic relationship will pave the way for a diplomatic relationship.

3. Relax travel restrictions between Malaysia and China.

4. Announce Malaysia’s dissociation from the American-sponsored World Anti-Communist League, which Malaysia through the ruling Alliance Party, sponsored in forming in Taipeh some six years ago.