Speech by Ketua Pembangkang and Member of Parliament for Bandar Melaka, Mr. Lim Kit Siang, in the Dewan Rakyat on the Constitution (Amendment) 1973 Bill on 26.4.1973
The Malaysian Constitution is probably one of the most amended constitutions in the world. Today this House is asked to give its approval to another fresh batch of constitutional amendments.
The present amendments concern principally two subjects. Firstly, there is the proposed establishment of the Education Service Commission, responsible for the appointment, dismissal and exercise of disciplinary control over teachers and other members of the education service.
Education is a vital subject which affects the future of every citizen in the country, and will determine the future destiny of the nation as a whole. This is amply evidenced by the public consternation and country over the unprecedented mass failures in the 1972 MCE examination.
I do not propose to repeat what I have said on this grave subject during the debate on the Royal Address. I must put it on record, however, our disappointment that the Prime Minister and Minister of Education could not resist the pressures which opposed an enlightened and liberal education policy and practice. It is a matter of even greater regret that the Minister should choose deliberately to twist and distort what I have said to score cheap debating points, and play to the gallery.
In rejecting the call for the establishment of a Royal Commission of Inquiry to ascertain the real causes for the mass failures, the Minister of Education said there were a number of causes which were not unknown to the government, and the setting up of a Royal Commission of Inquiry would not serve much purpose. If the Government knew the reasons, why is it hiding them from the public? Why not let the public, the parents and the students know these reasons? And why hasn’t the Government taken concrete steps long before this to resolve this problem, as this is the third year in which thousands of students are failed because of Bahasa Malaysia; en masse and more that the third year were there is a high rate of mathematics and science failures in national schools.
There are today in schools in the country an inadequate member of teachers competent to teach in Bahasa Malaysia, and many classes are going without teachers. Thus in Batu Pahat High School, although one school term has ended and a second one has started, there is no teacher to teach geography in Bahasa Malaysia in Form One. There are other teacher shortages for other subjects in other forms. This is typical of other schools, and no wonder that year after year, tens of thousands will be failed at MCE level.
I will like to know whether this Education Service Commission, when established, will also be concerned with quality of teaching by our teachers, which can make or break not only the education system, but our hopes and aspirations for our children.
As a father of school-going children in Malaysia, unlike many Alliance Minister and MPs who send their children overseas for schooling betraying their woeful lack of confidence in their own education system, I can state without fear of contradiction that in many of our primary and secondary schools, it is not uncommon for students not to know the meaning of up to 80% of the Bahasa Malaysia words in their textbooks.
These children are not morons or mentally retarded, but of average intelligence. Something is radically wrong with the education and the teaching, but who is going to be responsible for the upgrading of the quality and standard of teaching of our students?
An index of how competent and efficient our teaching service is and how satisfactory the quality and standard of teaching can be measures by the state of private tuition. It is no exaggeration to say that never in the history of Malaysia education has the private tuition industry been more flourishing, which is a sad commentary on the formal education and teaching system for it implies that the schools have failed to perform its first basic task of providing elementary formal education to our children. This task, the teaching of our students has to be substituted by private tutors. For the poor, of course, this is an especial handicap and disadvantages.
In view of the vitally importance place of Education, and the hundreds of millions of dollars which the government spends every year on education, it is important that the teaching service provided to our children should be competent and satisfactory.
In this connection, I commend to the Government the proposal that the Dewan Rakyat establish a Parliamentary Education Standing Committee to be a public watchdog on educational issue and trends in the country, to ensure that the people are given the education and teaching service they deserve.
In the last few days, we heard in this House voices which attacked the loyalty of Malaysians who send children to Chinese schools. It is a matter of regret that none of the Alliance Minister, including MCA Ministers, had come out openly to repudiate this view, which resurrects the chauvinist view that all students o Chinese schools are basically disloyal to the country.
The DAP calls on the government to take legislative measures to entrench the constitutional right of every parent to send his child to the language- media school of his choice, and public dissociate itself form such narrow views and utterances.
Finally, before I leave the subject of the Education Service Commission, I will like to take this opportunity to urge the teachers and teachers’ unions and organizations that they must play their role in upgrading the quality and content of teaching and education in our society. They should not concern themselves only with the bread-and-butter issue of more pay and better conditions, but as teachers directly involved with educating Malaysian children, contribute professionally as a collective group to the betterment of the education system. I am surprised that on the recent MCE failures, the teachers’ unions and organizations, like the NUT, have been terribly silent.
The second amendment seeks to enable the State Legislative Assemblies to redefine and change the state assembly boundaries by a simple majority, whereas as at present, a two-thirds majority is required.
The history of the Malaysian constitution is a history of progressive erosion and removal of the constitutional rights and safeguards of the people against arbitrary rule.
Recent examples are the amendment to the Constitution to ban discussion of certain sensitive issues and the deprivation of the parliamentary immunity of Members of Parliament and State Assemblymen; the earlier amendment to the Constitution to enable the Federal Government to declare an emergency in Sarawak to topple Dato Stephen Kalong Ningkan as Sarawak Chief Minister for alliance political purpose; the 1962 amendment to the Constitution to remove from the Elections Commission the free and unquestionable right to revise electoral boundaries without fear on favour of the Alliance Government.
One of the cardinal principal of representative democracy is that one man is entitled to one vote, and not more. But in Malaysia, our parliamentary democracy ala Kuala Lumpur enables one man to have one vote which is equal to six other men’ s votes.
Thus, during the 1969 general elections, the parliamentary constituency of Johore Tenggara had an electorate of 13,821, while the Bangsar parliamentary constituency has an electorate six times as large, viz. 81,086.
This means that one vote in Johore Tenggara is equal to six votes in Bangsar, and that the Bangsar electorate are under-represented politically and deprived of having another five Members of Parliament to represent them.
That a system which gives to one person the voting power equal to six others is undemocratic is recognized and conceded by the Alliance Government.
Thus, on 19th January 1962, when introducing the Constitution Amendment Bill 1962 to remove from the Elections Commission untrammeled right to redelineate electoral boundaries, the Hon’ ble Prime Minister, then Deputy Prime Minister, said:
“These are known and accepted principles and were taken into account when delimiting the present constituencies. There is therefore no new principle which has been brought in. One of these principles is the weightage of rural constituencies for area. Basically, the number of electors in each constituency ought to be approximately equal except that, having regard to the greater difficulty of reaching electors in country districts and other disadvantages affecting rural constituencies, weightage for area may be given to rural constituencies to the extent that in certain instances rural constituencies may contain as little as half the number of electors in an urban constituency.”
But rural constituencies, for several years now, have contained as little as one-sixth the numbers of electors in an urban constituency.
We understand from the Prime Minister that the Elections Commission has submitted its report on new delimitation of parliamentary and state constituency boundaries to the Cabinet.
We hope that in the new delimitation of parliamentary and state assembly constituencies, the principles enunciated by the Prime Minister himself in 1962 that “basically, the number electors in each constituency ought to be approximately equal except that…… in certain instances, rural constituencies may contain as little as half the number of electors in an urban constituency” will be scrupulously observed to the letter.
In this connection, it is appropriate here to ask the Prime Minister to declare the Government’s intention with regard to the new electoral boundaries, as to whether these new boundaries are going to come into effect for the coming general elections, or after.
Constitutional provisions and safeguards on two- third majority before any particular law can be altered are not amended without reason.
It would be a safe guess that his constitution amendment proposal was prompted by the Election Commission’s Report on new electoral boundaries and the Government’s own intention on the matter.
In fact, it has become the news about town that the Government had decided to declare Kuala Lumpur as a Federal Territory and abolish all the eight constituent Selangor state Assembly seats, namely Bukit Nanas, Kampong Baru, Sentul, Ampang, Kepong, Penchala, Salak and Pantai; and the purpose of this constitutional amendment was to enable such wide- ranging proposals to be enacted by the Selangor State Assembly by a simple majority.
If this story is true, then it will be another black day for democracy in Malaysia, as it would involve mass disenfranchisement and the denial of close to a million people of Kuala Lumpur from the democratic right of being represented in the Selangor State Assembly.
I ask the Government to declare its intentions on this matter and for an assurance that there are no plans abolish the constitution amendment bill.
Without such a declaration of intention on the part of the government, it will not be possible for the DAP to give any support to the constitution amendment bill.
If this be the intention, then I submit it is the height of impropriety for the government to ask the House to amend the constitution to enable it to carry out its purpose, without disclosing to the House this purpose.
I urge the government to desist from any steps, such as the abolition of the Selangor State Assembly seats in Kuala Lumpur, as this will be a grave setback to democracy, national unity and the hopes of building a united, prosperous and peaceful Malaysia.