The Undemocratic Ban

(Speech by the Parliamentary Leader, DAP Secretary-General and Member of Parliament for Petaling, Lim Kit Siang, in the Dewan Rakyat on the 1979 Budget on October 23, 1978

One reason why the 1979 budget did not occupy the first place of national attention is because of the unreasonable exercise of executive and police power last Thursday. The government ban on the proposed Merdeka University meeting in Kuala Lumpur on Oct. 22 was highly unfair, undemocratic and one – sided.

As the Home Affairs Minister, Tan Sri Ghazalie Shafie, admitted to directors of Merdeka University Sdn. Bhd. when he called them up for a meeting on Oct. 19 – the Merdeka University directors were roused from bed at midnight or the early hours of that morning to be informed of the meeting with the Minister – the Merdeka University meeting would be lawful and disciplined. What the Minister feared was that the meeting would lead to counter – meeting which would be a threat to public order and national security.

If this was the case, then it is these ‘counter – meetings’ which should be banned, especially as there is no reason for any such counter – meetings at all.

For reasons best known to themselves, some irresponsible political leaders had allowed sections of the people to believe that the proposed Merdeka University constitutes a grave threat to the rights and interests of the Malays, when there is not a single iota of evidence that could be given to support this contention. The biggest threat to public order and national security are these irresponsible political leaders who ran emotional and racial feelings by picturing the Merdeka University as a threat to Malay interests.

When in the past, there had been several Bumiputra Economic Congresses, nobody objected and complained that this would pose a threat to public order or national security; why should this time, the Merdeka University meeting be treated so summarily and cavalierly?

In Malaysia, we seemed to have come to a stage where the pursuit of legal, constitutionally – sanctioned objectives by lawful, democratic and constitutional means has become a threat to public order and national security.

This can only deeper the despair and disillusionment of substantial sections of the reputation in the legal, democratic and constitutional processes – and this clearly cannot be beneficial to economic development and progress.

The Merdeka University Council has sent a cable to the Prime Minister, and I hope the Prime Minister would intervene to life the ban on the meeting imposed by the chief Police Officer who invoked the Internal Security Act regulations.

The reason given the Ministry of Home Affairs that the Merdeka University issue would be debated by Parliament is no valid ground for imposing the ban. Parliament does not operate in a vacuum. There is no law or constitutional convention to say that issues cannot be discussed by the public just because there is a parliamentary motion on it.

In fact, if democracy means anything, it must mean that there must be opportunities and processes for the people to participate in a national debate on questions of national concern outside Parliament, to guide Parliament, whether before or after Parliamentary deliberation or decision on the matter.

For the interests of racial harmony, it is vital and essential that immediate opportunities be furnished to allow for instance the Merdeka University authorities to explain and communicate to the Malay community that the Merdeka University does not constitute a threat to the rights, interests of the Malays; and that the Merdeka University is not meant to threaten Malay interests. So far, this important point has never been allowed to reach the Malay community especially through the mass media.

I call on the Prime Minister to give this matter urgent attention – so that through, radio, television and the Malay press, the impression that is being spread that Merdeka University is mooted to threaten Malay rights and interests can be countered and clarified. This is not only for the purpose of rectifying the misperceptions about Merdeka University; but even more important, for the longer – term understanding and harmony of the various races in the country.

Only three per cent of Malaysia’s university age group receive higher education

In the Chapter on socio – economic indicators on the Quality of Life in Malaysia (Chapter VI) in the 1978 – 79 Treasury Report, Table IV, Malaysia compares very unfavourably with other countries in terms of the percentage of university age group who are enrolled in higher education institutes.

Thus for the year 1975, only 3% of the university – age group aged 20 – 24 in Malaysia are enrolled in the higher education institutes; compared to 8% in Singapore; 20% in Philippines; 10% in the Republic of Korea; 22% in Australia and 25% in Japan. Only Thailand has a smaller percentage with only 2%.

Clearly, there is room and need for a doubling of higher education opportunities in our own country – either through public funds by expansion of existing universities and establishment of new universities; or the establishment of private universities.

The Government is spending $1,943 million for education from the operating expenditure of $8,709 million for 1979; but equally worthy of note is that security itself will appropriate a comparable figure of $1,924 million.

These are clearly too massive an expenditure on security sector, which not only has within it the seeds of a future military take – over in the future, future, but which money would be more profitably spent on education and other social services. I am not advocating a neglect of the importance of security and defence in our country – but finally, the surest foundation and assurance of security in Malaysia is to have a united, contented and happy Malaysian citizenry, rather in the billions spent on defence hardwares and cantonments.

I believe that the siphoning of expenditures from security sector to provide jobs for jobless, houses for homeless and land for landless, and educational opportunities for the educational denied, will do more to strengthen the national resilience than the over – massive expenditure on the security sector alone.
Pepper farmers of Sarawak
When I visited Sarawak at the end of last month, I met pepper farmers who belong to a very poor and hard-working lot. During the recent general elections, they were promised that there would be a 60 per cent reduction in the export duty of pepper to help pepper farmers. This got the Sarawak Barisan Nasional, and in particular SUPP, a lot of votes. But when the details of the change in the pepper export duty was announced, the pepper farmers found that they had been taken for a ride.

For all practical purposes, the pepper farmers had not benefited from the export duty change, but had been adversely affected by it. Although it is true that after July 20, 1978, the dutiable price for black pepper is now above $110 per picul instead of $40 per picul, while that of white pepper is above $130 compared to $55 per picul previously, this is no great improvement. The reason is that when the price of black pepper is $40 per picul or white pepper at the price of $55 per picul, the pepper farmers would not be able to recover their costs of production, and would have gone bankrupt.

Under the revised export duty for pepper, the rate went up as high as 50 per cent, or in other words, after a certain market price, the government collects 50 cents from every dollar. From what I understand, when this price level is reached attracting a 50% export levy, the pepper farmer’s income is only about $250 to $300 a month. How can the government, which claims to be committed to wipe out poverty, have the social conscience to impose a 50 per cent tax on such a category of farmers? Under income tax laws, the government imposes 50 per cent incidence of tax only where a taxpayer’s income exceeds $50,000 a year, or over $4,000 a month. But for pepper farmers, who make $250 a month, they have to pay export duty of 50 per cent for their product – without yet deducting fertiliser and labour costs!

My meeting with the pepper farmers have convinced me that the government should give special consideration to the pepper farmers to help them stand on their own feet. Pepper cultivators face many problems and high risks in their planting efforts – the most common of which is the fatal pepper disease such as ‘foot rot’. In Sarikei, the pepper death rate because of ‘Foot – Rot’ Disease is as high as 40 per cent. I met many who were previous pepper cultivators, but whose crops had been wiped out by foot – rot disease, and who lost not only their meagre savings invested in the pepper vines, but who are reduced to destitution.

As far as I know, the Government has no special grant or help for pepper cultivators whose plants have been wiped out by ‘Foot – Rot’ Disease. And although there is a Pepper Subsidy Scheme in Sarawak, I understand its implementation is most unsatisfactory and irregular. There are genuine pepper cultivators who could not get subsidy because the land in is not in their names – while the subsidy is distributed as if by way of lottery through chance.

Pepper takes two – years of gestation period, and if on the third year or fourth year, the pepper vines are all wiped out by disease, clearly acute poverty is caused. It is because of the high risk nature of pepper cultivation that there are no large pepper estates. Pepper cultivators put in their labour in family – units to cultivate the vines – and until pepper cultivation is more secure in the sense of prevention of ‘foot – rot’ diseases discovered, the government should help them in all way possible.

The pepper farmers would prefer this aid in the form of an abolition of the pepper export tax – for this accrue directly to the benefit of the pepper farmers; rather than the pepper subsidy scheme which is sometimes inequitably distributed, and the genuine farmers do not enjoy the benefit.

Educational tax rebate for Malaysian students studying abroad

It is also regrettable that the Finance Minister has not introduced innovations to relate the income tax laws to the national and social needs. For instance, the Government should grant tax reliefs or an educational rebate to Malaysians with less than $15,000 annual income to meet the educational expenditure of their children abroad, where their children could not get local university places. This should be considered both on grounds of equity – as this will help remove social injustice and make the lower – income Malaysians more able to compete with higher – income Malaysians; and on grounds of national interest – as this is a valuable form of national investment in human skills. I hope that in future budgets, this proposal of tax reliefs or educational rebate for Malaysians with less than $15,000

The loss of revenue in the above instances could be made up by higher income tax rates for the higher income brackets and more efficient collection of income tax and combating income tax evasion and avoidance.

Apart from the 50 per cent reduction in the import duty on fruits, which we in the DAP welcome and had right from the very start of imposition of high duty on foreign fruits called for, the other taxation variations are either inconsequential or benefit the well – to – do class. It is probably no surprise, considering the class which Barisan Nasional MPs derive from, that the tax change which received the greatest applause and table – thumping was Tengku Razaleigh’s announcement that import duties for cosmetics and perfumery was being reduced from 60% to 45%.

But I think what the overwhelming majority of Malaysians are more interested about is why the prices of essential commodities have not been brought down, especially with regard to sugar.

The Malaysian Government’s sugar deal with Australia has so far been blanketed in secrecy. All that the people knows is that although the world price of raw sugar has plummeted, Malaysians have still to pay 65 cents a kati for sugar in Peninsular Malaysia and 70 cents for Sabah and Sarawak – the price reached at the height of sugar price in 1975.

According to the Treasury Report, in the first 6 months of 1978 a total of 160,615 tonnes of raw sugar valued at $85.1 million was imported compared to 157,262 tonnes valued at $101.5 million in the same period of 1977. The import unit value at about $550 per tone was about 18% lower than that of the corresponding period of 1977 due to the general decline in the world sugar price as a result of the current world – wide sugar surplus. Yet, this saving of some $20 million in the import of raw sugar in the first six months of 1978 has not been passed on to the consumers, especially the poor!

In 1975, Malaysia entered into a long – term supply contract with Australia to buy 1.65 million tonnes of sugar from Queensland over a period of six years up to 1980 at a starting price of $814.50 per tonne. The Malaysian public were given the impression that this long – term supply agreement was a great achievement, and which was entered into to maintain the retail price of sugar.

With the world fall in the price of raw sugar, and sugar surplus, this long – term supply contract with Australia has proved to be an expensive disaster. Malaysian Ministers and officials made threatening noises about grave damage to Malaysia – Australia trade and other relations unless this long – term supply contract was re-negotiated. This was achieved in March 1978. But now, we are told that although the Australian sugar contract has been re-negotiated, and more reasonable terms obtained from the Australian sugar suppliers, the sugar retail price remains unchanged because it is the new agreement which will enable the Government to maintain the retail price of refined sugar in Malaysia. But meanwhile, the sugar refineries in the last two years, like Malayan Sugar Manufacturing Bhd. (MSM) and the Central Sugar Berhad (CSB) are chalking up big profits.

The Malaysian public have a right to know whether the Malaysian Government was representing the interests of the sugar refineries, or the Malaysian people, when it re-negotiated the sugar contract with the Australian Government; as the only beneficiaries of the sugar re-negotiation are the refineries, and not the rakyat.

I call on the Minister of Trade and Industry to give a detailed explanation, with facts of and figures, of prices of the sugar agreements before and after the re-negotiations, and the profit levels of the sugar refineries in Malaysia, to convince Malaysian people that they are not playing higher price for retail sugar just to enabled the sugar refineries to make bigger profits.