By Parliamentary Opposition Leader and DAP Secretary General, Lim Kit Siang, issued on Thursday, 1st September 1983
Recently, more and more important Malaysian new and developments are only to be read in the foreign press. If this trend continues, the local press will suffer not only a great credibility gap among its readers, it would also lead to a press situation in Malaysia which is diametrically opposed to the liberal era for press freedom promised at the beginning of the 2M leadership in July 1981.
The latest example is in connection with press reportings about development of the Bumiputra Malaysia Finance loan scandal in Hong Kong. Utusan Malaysia today reproduced a report from the British weekly, The Economist, reporting that a top Bank Negara official, Mohamed Bashir Ahmad, who is also the husband of the Minister for Public Enterprises, Datin Paduka Rafidah Aziz, would be appointed as Chairman of BMF. The Economist also reported that Mohamed Bashir was originally to take over as BMF chairman in early August but this was postponed because of the murder of Jalil Ibrahim on July 18.
According to the Economist, Encik Mohamed Bashir’s first job would be to recover the BMF loans made to Carrian Group and that a meeting of the Carrian Creditors will be held in Hong Kong on September 8 to decide as to whether an agreement could be reached on a schedule of debt repayment.
Over a week ago, the Asian Wall Street Journal of 19-20 reported that two Malaysian businessmen namely, Datuk Mohamed Hussein bin Mohamed Yusuf Al-Haj and his brother, Ishak, who are the principals of a Channel Island-based companies, Fleuret Investments are biding to buy the major Carrian assets and that according to records the Fleuret shares are held by nominees.
Fleuret has agreed to buy Carrian’s controlling stake in China Underwriters Life and General Insurance Co, and Carrian’s minority interest in Union Bank of Hong Kong Ltd for a total of about US$42 million. The Malaysian bid is to form the basis of the latest rescue plan for Carrian and Carrian’s creditors would be asked on September 8 to agree to this latest rescue plan which would involve writing-off of some of the debts, conversion of another portion into Carrian shares and postponement in the collection of the remainder of the debts.
In actual fact, the appointment of Mohamed Bashir as BMF chairman has been know in local circles for sometime as I myself heard about it. It is most unlikely that the lpcal journalists were not aware of it but they were clearly under constraints which prevented them from reporting on the various aspects of the BMF scandal. Similarly, it is inconceivable that Malaysian journalists are not aware that two Malaysian businessmen are making a bid to buy major Carrian assets to pave the way to rescue Carrian. But again, they allowed themselves to be scooped by the foreign press because their were tied. This is a most unhealthy/hands trend in Malaysian jour nalism and I call on the Prime Minister, Datuk Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, to openly encourage local, independent, investigative journalism so that Malaysians would not have to read about important Malaysian developments in the foreign press.
It is in the public interest that there is the fullest local reporting about scandals like the BMF affair, because it goes to the root of the principle as to whether there is going to be public accountability in the management and stewardship of public money. For instance, the people have the right to ask whether Bank Bumiputra is in anyway involved, whether directly or indirectly, by way of direct loans, guarantees or in any other manner behind the attempt by the two Malaysian businessmen to rescue Carrian and in the process rescue BMF.
In view of the constraints on independent local journalism, the recent move to inhibit the free flow of foreign news and publications, as in the proposal that Bername Monopolise all in-flowing foreign agency news and the proposed amendments to the Control of Imported Publication Act to restrict and regulate foreign publications are most disturbing. In the interest of a healthy atmosphere where Malaysians are fully informed of developments inside and outside the country, both the above proposals to restrict foreign news and publications should be abandoned.