Opening statement by DAP Secretary-General and Member of Parliament for Bandar Melaka, Lim Kit Siang, at the meeting in Parliament House (Committee Room 2) on Saturday, April 13, 1974 at 10.30 am. to discuss the formation of an all-party united front of Members of Parliament to wage a campaign for the preservation of Chinese and Tamil primary schools
I have proposed this meeting and invited Members of Parliament, including Ministers and Senators, from the MCA, the MIC, the Gerakan , the Pekemas, the PPP, to discuss the formation of a united front of all interested Members of Parliament to campaign for the preservation of Chinese and Tamil primary schools.
The continued existence of Chinese and Tamil primary schools now hang in the balance, as all those who are sensitive to developments in this country have come to realise that at the rate things are going, it will not be long before Chinese and Tamil primary schools go the way of English primary schools – and cease to exist in Malaysia.
This is why not a day passé without some organisation or society expressing concern and anxiety about the future of Chinese primary schools. The time seems at hand when the power which Parliament gave to the Minister of Education in the 1961 Education Act to convert any Chinese and Tamil primary school into a national primary school when he deems it suitable will be fully exercised and used.
Although the Minister if Education, Tuan Mohamed Yaacob, has given a guarantee that the Chinese primary schools would not be converted by 1975, this is most unsatisfactory.
The people at large do not want Chinese primary schools to be allowed to exist until 1975, which means merely for the next 21 months or for another 720 days, and see the Chinese primary schools converted into national primary schools after the next general elections.
The people of Malaysia have a right to demand that Chinese primary schools should be allowed to exist not merely for another 720 days, but to grow and expand for as long as Malaysians want their children to be educated through the medium of their mother-tongue.
Malaysia is a multi-racial, multi-lingual and multi-cultural nation, and Chinese primary schools must be regarded as an integral part of the Malaysian an education system, and not something to be eliminated or abolished.
The preservation of Chinese and Tamil primary schools is not a sectional or communal issue, but a national issue.
The people are told that the efforts of the New Economic Policy and the Second Malaysia Plan to promote the bumiputras in business and commercial participation, the occupation of top managerial and administrative positions, and the preservation of capital shares, is not a racial programme, but done in the national interest.
In the same way, the preservation of Chinese and Tamil primary schools is not a racial or sectional matter, but a national objective of a multi-racial nation.
Furthermore, the preservation of Chinese and Tamil primary schools will be fully in consonance with the spirit and letter of the Constitutional guarantee embodied in Clause 152 of the Malaysian Constitution which provided (that though Malay shall be the nation language, (a) no person shall be prohibited or prevented from using (otherwise for official purposes) or from teaching or learning, any other language, and (b) nothing in this clause shall prejudice the right of the Federal Government or of any State Government to preserve and sustain the use and study of the language of any other community in the Federation.
Thus, the aspirations of Malaysians who wish to see the continued existence, eternally, of Chinese and Tamil primary schools, are not only Malaysian and national aspirations, but fully Constitutional as well.
It is crucial, if we at this critical juncture to check the forces working towards the conversion of Chinese and Tamil primary schools that the people at large should fully organize and manifest their deep-seated feelings through the democratic process and within the ambit of the law.
If the government is left with no doubt that substantial sections of the people of Malaysia want Chinese and Tamil primary schools to continue to exist, grow and develop, then no government which wants to rule through the democratic process can ignore these views of the people.
In this task, Members of Parliament have a special responsibility. This is because under our present system of government, Parliament is the supreme law-making body, and if there is to be any legislation ot repeal of legislation, the proper forum is Parliament.
In this particular case, for instance, it is Parliament which in 1961 enacted provisions empowering the Minister of Education to convert Chinese and Tamil primary schools at the discretion of the Minister, without having to consult the parents or to heed the wishes of the parents, which pose such threat to the continued existence of Chinese and Tamil primary schools.
The battle for the preservation if Chinese and Tamil primary schools can only be won if this power vested with the Minister of Education is removed, which must mean an amending legislation in Parliament.
As the preservation of Chinese and Tamil primary schools is a issue of such far-reaching consequences and which will affect our generations to come, and as it is an issue which transcends party or political affiliation, I am of the view that Members of Parliament from all parties, including Minister and Senators, who are concerned and feel strongly about this issue, should band together to form a united front to campaign for the preservation of Chinese and Tamil primary schools.
This All-Party Parliamentary Committee for the Preservation of Chinese and Tamil primary schools will not only unite the energies and efforts of all those MPs, regardless of their party affiliation, committed to this cause, but would work out a strategy to achieve this objective. If political parties or Members of Parliament are not prepared to take a firm stand on this issue in Parliament, and work with all like-minded MPs on this single objective, then it is clear that they are not very interested whether Chinese and Tamil primary schools exist or die.
I am disappointed by the poor response to this proposal for a All-Party United Front of MPs to campaign for the preservation of Chinese and Tamil schools.
Thus, the President of Pekemas, MP for Batu, Dr. Tan Chee Khoon, has turned down the idea of forming such a united front. In this letter to me, he said:
“Dear Kit Siang,
Thank you for your telegram.
The future of Chinese and Tamil primary schools is an important matter but the debate on the King’s speech due to 16.4.1974 will give us an opportunity to speak on this subject and I intend to do so.
In view of this I regret that we will not be able to attend the meeting that you have called on Sat. 13th 1974.”
If the Pekemas is not prepared to join the DAP in forming an all-party united front to campaign for the preservation of Chinese and Tamil primary schools, it makes me wonder what is the purpose of an Opposition United Front for?
Dr. Lim Chong Eu of Gerakan has also replied regretting that he could not attend the meeting. In fact, I have earlier written to him to ask whether he would second my motion in the forthcoming session of Parliament to repeal Clause 21(2) of the Education Act 1961.
This is Dr. Lim’s reply: “I am sure you will find someone from your own Party to second your motion and for that reason, I regret I am not able to assure you of my support in this proposed motion.”
Although the responses have been so disappointing, my colleagues and I shall not be deterred or discouraged. We believe that if the goal of the preservation of Chinese and Tamil primary schools is to be achieved, in every Parliament, there must be a Parliamentary Committee for the Preservation of Chinese and Tamil schools to campaign for this objective.
We propose to proceed with the formation of such a Parliamentary Committee, and we still hope that all those parties and MPs who claim that they are concerned about this issue would rise above party or personal considerations so that we can come together to work for a common objective.