Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Kota Melaka, Lim Kit Siang, at the DAP Melaka cca 3,000-People 18th Anniversary Dinner, held at Pay Fong Chinese Secondary School Ground on Sunday, 8th July 1984 at 9p.m. on the Special theme: “Can the Chinese in Malaysia preserve Bukit China in face of the Malacca State Government’s plan to level it?”
DAP calls on Malacca State Government to withdraw its letter to Cheng Hoon Teng Temple, rescind its decision to level and develop Bukit China, cancel the $2 million quit rent demand to allow the Chinese community to decide the fate of Bukit China without coercion or duress.
On October 5, 1983, the Malacca State Government wrote to the Cheng Hoon Teng Temple, the trustees of the largest Chinese cemetery outside China – Bukit China – stating its intention to develop the 104 acre burial ground into a housing and business area, and to remove and relocate the 12,500 graves on the hill.
This represented the first overt move by the Malacca State Government to level and develop Bukit China, the 500-year-old cultural, religious and historic symbol of the Chinese contribution to Malaysian national – building which also marked the first Sino-Malay co-operation and friendship, and is part of the national heritage of all Malaysians regardless of race.
But the background to the Oct.5,1983 letter disclosing the State Government’s decision to level and develop Bukit China, (which would also provide earth for the land reclamation projects) went further back.
In fact, it is an open secret that ever since Merdeka, it has been the dream of many UMNO and MCA leaders to become instant millionaires and multi-millionaires by leveling and developing Bukit China, but no one had dares to go further than just to dream the Bukit China dream!
I had calculated that on the basis of $30 per sq.ft. after development, the 104 acres of Bukit China would be worth some $150 million – enough for a whole new tribe of millionaires and multi-millionaires to emerge to last a few generations!
Why then, did the present Malacca State Government embark on the development of Bukit China, which other state governments in the past had coveted but dared not take any action? It is because the present Chief minister, Datuk Abdul Rahim Tamby Cik, is ‘greater’ than previous Chief Ministers, like Ghaffar Baba, Talib Karim, Ghani Ali or Adib Adam?
The reason for this must be found in the results of the April 22, 1982 general elections, where the DAP suffered an unprecedented elections disaster, both in Malacca (where we lost two state seats in the town) and throughout the Peninsular Malaysia. Although the MCA claimed a great ‘political breakthrough’ for its state and national elections, the UMNO leadership knew that this was a UMNO victory, which gave it a national mandate and justification to carry out policies and take decisions which it would otherwise hesitate or refrain from doing.
At the national level, for instance, there was the promulgation of the ‘One Language, One Culture’ Policy at the official opening of Parliament on Oct.11, 1982, the assertion of a cultural policy of assimilation, the introduction of the policy of Islamisation, and recently the 70 million population policy and the legalization of illegal Indonesian immigrants, as well as the redelineation of parliamentary and state assembly boundaries which would gravely alter the political power structure in the country.
At the Malacca State level, the most serious post-April 1982 general elections consequence would be the opportunity it provided the new Malacca Chief Minister to realize the ‘Bukit China dream’ of so many previous UMNO and MCA leaders.
Although the Malacca State Government first made its Intention manifest in its letter to Cheng Hoon Teng Temple on Oct.5, 1983, I have no doubt that the first step taken by Chief Minister to initiate proceedings with a view towards leveling and developing Bukit China, was in the first months of the new Government around mid-1982, with the establishment of study groups and the drafting of feasibility proposals.
I do not know when the Bukit China question was first brought to the State Exco, although I would not be surprised if it is the last body for the question to be raised, just for the rubber-stamp approval to be given to formalize a Stat Government decision, resulting in the Oct.5,1983 letter to Chen Hoon Teng Temple.
We must therefore recognise at the out set that the State Government decision to level and develop Bukit China was made because of the ‘ideal political conditions’, and for anyone to ignore or dispute the ‘political motivations’ of the Malacca Chief Minister and State Government in the Bukit China decision is to be blind of bury one’s head in the sand like an ostrich.
I would say that there are four political factors influencing the decision of the Malacca Chief Minister and Stat Government to level and develop Bukit China:
1. The April 1982 general elections landslide victory of UMNO following the ‘political breakthrough’ of MCA;
2. The political failure and negligence and Lim Soo Kiang, to stop the preliminary and preparatory work (which must have taken about a year) before a formal State EXCO decision was taken to level and develop Bukit China; and their failure to let the Malacca public and society know about the moves being afoot against Bukit China;
3. The political failure and negligence of the MCA EXCO Members to stop the EXCO from taking a decision to level and develop Bukit China, which was communicated to Cheng Hoon Teng on Oct.5, 1983; and
4. Recently, the political failure and negligence of the MCA EXCO Members to prevent the gross abuse of powers in issuing a $2 million quit rent demand and for late payment fines for 16 years with regard to Bukit China.
There are those who claim that the Bukit China issue has nothing to do with politics. Such naïve people are entitled to their ignorance, except that they could do great harm to the people if enough people believe them and fail to realise the true nature of the State Government decision to develop Bukit China.
I have also been accused of trying to ‘politicise’ the Bukit China issue. As the Bukit China decision of the Malacca Chief Minister and State Government was first and foremost a political decision, I do not see how anyone could ‘politicise’ it further. In fact, those who refuse to admit the political nature of the Bukit China decision of the Malacca State Government have clearly the ulterior motive of deflecting public attention from the real nature of the Bukit China issue, and weaken the public response to save Bukit China. We must ask these people, what game are they playing?
It is nine months since the State Government wrote to Cheng Hoon Teng Temple of its decision to level and develop Bukit China. Although the Government’s decision to level and develop Bukit China became public in January this year, and the Malacca Chief Minister declared in the Malacca State Assembly in April in reply to DAP Assemblyman for Durian Daun, Lai Keun Ban, that the State Government’s decision to level and develop Bukit China was final, where was no development to make the State Government to change its mind or to reconsider its decision.
The country actually took place, for apart from isolated objections and opposition to the State Government’s plan to level and Bukit China appearing in the press, the State Government’s Bukit China plan was boosted by the Gerakan Belia Bersatu (GBB)’s 20,000- signature memorandum supporting the State Government’s plan to develop Bukit China, and asking for two years to dig up the graves.
The front page of the Malacca State Government organ, Sura Melaka, was devoted to the GBB memorandum, highlighting that 20,000 Chinese youths supported the plan to level and develop Bukit China. The entire edition, which was meant for the people of Malacca to know about what is happening in the State, was rushed up to Kuala Lumpur to be distributed to UMNO delegates attending the UMNO General Assembly, and which undoubtedly influenced to a great extent the votes Datuk Abdul Rahim Tamby Cik secured in the UMNO Supreme Council elections.
Who, now is ‘politicising’ the Bukit China issue!
The GBB President, Tee Ann Chuan, told a press conference in Malacca Friday, that I had made three proposals to GBB to ‘terminate the Bukit China issue’, but he had to keep them confidential.
There is no way to ‘terminate the Bukit China issue’ except for the State Government to drop its decision altogether to level and develop Bukit China, either by way of acquisition, or pressure on Cheng Hoon Teng Temple and Chinese organisations and community leaders, or by threat of forfeiture by way of the $2 million quit rent demand.
I had earlier given Tee Ann Chuan and the GBB an ultimatum to meet the Malacca Chief Minister, Abdul Rahim Tamby Cik, to formally withdraw the 20,000-signature memorandum on Bukit China by openly admitting that the GBB had falsely misrepresented the views of the signatories when expressing support for State Government development of Bukit China.
This followed a newspaper report that the Malacca State Government would not give serious attention to the GBB’s subsequent amended memorandum.
Following that, two GBB officials, one of whom was also GBB Malacca Chairman, Lee Yong Suan, came to my house last Sunday, 1st July 1984, at 5p.m, to ask for my ‘views and advice’ as what the GBB could do to get out of the situation, where they are being cursed by all quarters of the Chinese society.
I told them that there are two aspects of the 20,000-signature GBB mamorandum which had to be considered: firstly, in the Chinese community, as the GBB memorandum purported to speak on behalf of 20,000 people. As the signatories of the GBB memorandum have vehemently denied that they had supported Government development of Bukit China, what the GBB had done is a misrepresentation of the views of the Chinese community.
The second aspect is the repercussions of the GBB memorandum to the Malay community, and in particular to UMNO. The reason why previous Chief Ministers and State Governments had not dared to move on Bukit China is their realization that it would meet with united opposition especially from the Chinese community for whom Bukit China is a trust property for purposes of religious worship handed down by the ancestors.
But with the GBB memorandum, the Chief Minister would be able to claim certain legitimacy for the move against Bukit China, as it could elicit 20,000 Chinese youths to support, and show it as a testimony of Chinese community support for the move against Bukit China not only to Malay society at large, but also to the UMNO national leadership as well as general membership.
What is important, if Bukit China is to be saved, is that the legitimacy of the 20,000-signature memorandum must be removed, so that it could not be used by the Chief Minister whether to UMNO leadership of Malay society at large to demonstrate the correctness of his decision.
When I was repeatedly asked to advise them as to how the ‘legitimacy’ and ‘effectiveness’ of the 20,000- signature memorandum could be removed, as they claimed that the 20,000 signature and the GBB memorandum are two completely different matters, I said there are three ways (and this is what I presume what Tee Ann Chuan meant) :
Firstly, to write to the Chief Minister to clarify or amend the original memorandum to make it clear that it did not represent the views of 20,000 signatories. But the Chief Minister would have political reason to reject this amendment, on the ground that it was not accompanied by 20,000 signatories.
Secondary, it was for Tee Ann Chuan and the GBB Central Committee members to meet the Chief Minister to formally withdraw the original memorandum and admit openly that they had misrepresented the views of the 20,000 signatories, and convince the Chief Minister that the 20,000-signatures could not be used to give legitimacy and justification for State Government decision to level and develop Bukit China, whether in Malay society or to UMNO leadership.
Thirdly, the GBB to repeat a mass signature campaign to get the 20,000 signatories to sign a petition dissociating themselves from the original memorandum submitted by GBB.
I said that the first course had failed, while the third course is impracticable as the people are so angry with GBB that they would not get any co-operation, leaving only the second course open to Tee Ann Chuan and GBB.
Although Tee Ann Chuan had seen the Chief Minister, we do not know whether the Chief Minister is prepared to admit that the 20,000 signatories do not support his plan to level and develop Bukit China, and furthermore, the GBB had still to take action to ensure that Suara Melaka, the English and Bahasa Malaysia papers which gave great prominence to the 20,000-signatory GBB memorandum support to develop Bukit China give equal prominence to correct the false impression in the Malay society to English-Speaking Malaysians.
It was only in the last two weeks following the DAP Malacca State Government decision to mobilize public opposition to the State Government’s Bukit China plan, to prevent it from taking further action to put the plan into implementation, that there is a growing awareness among the people in Malacca and the country on the need to get the State Government to change its mind on the issue.
There is no doubt that if not for the public mobilization in the last two weeks , we would not be reading in the press about second-hand accounts of the Chief Minister’s assurance that the Malacca State Government would respect the wishes of the Chinese community on the future of Bukit China issue.
If this assurance is true, I will be the first to welcome it. The nagging question is why the Chief Minister is not prepared to make or confirm this assurance publicly.
If it is true that the Chief Minister had given the assurance that the future of Bukit China would be decided by the Chinese community, and not by the State Government, then, surely it must mean that the State Government had abandoned its decision to level and develop Bukit China, and its letter to Cheng Hoon Teng dated Oct.5, 1983 is withdrawn and no more valid.
If the Malacca Chief Minister and State Government is not prepared to announce the abandonment of its earlier decision to level and develop Bukit China, and withdraw its Oct.5,1983 letter to Cheng Hoon Teng Temple, then the so-called assurance that it would be the Chinese community that would decided the fate of Bukit China is either untrue or insincere.
Furthermore, the decision of the Malacca Chief Minister to keep the $2 million quit rent demand on Bukit China in abeyance until a decision is taken on Bukit China compounds the original bad faith of the State Government in issuing the $2 million demand The State Government had demanded $2 million quit rent in bad faith, for the purpose of achieving its objective to level and develop Bukit China, because it could not produce a list of other cemetries in the State which are also required to pay 16 years’ quit rent and late payments fines. This is acting in bad faith.
The Malacca State Government is using the $2 million quit rent as a ‘reserve weapon’ to achieve its Bukit China objectives if Bukit China developments work out against the wishes of the Chief Minister, for otherwise, the $2 million quit rent demand should be withdrawn immediately, especially as in Nov.1968 the Malacca District Office had informed Cheng Hoon Teng that Bukit China is exempted from quit rent. This is a second bad faith of the government on the qui rent issue.
I call on all Chinese and those who cherish Malaysia’s historical heritage to agree on two principles and three objectives to save Bukit China. The two principles are firstly, the Malacca State Government has no right to develop Bukit China, not only because it is a 500 year-old historic, religious and cultural centre of Chinese contribution to nation-building in Malaysia, but because of its specific entrusted religious purpose dedicated by the ancestors, as embodied in the Cheng Hoon Teng Incorporation Ordinance 1949.
The second principle is that the Malacca State Government has no right to demand $2 million quit rent and late payment fines for 16 years, as other cemetries are have not been similarly requisitioned, and in view of the Nov.1968 letter of exemption by the Malacca District Office.
The three objectives are: (1) Oppose Government Acquisition of Bukit China; (2) Oppose Government Development of Bukit China; and (3) Oppose Government Demand of $2 million quit rent.
The people must not be lulled by second-hand versions of what the Chief Minister is supposed to have assured, to believe that they could relax and forget about the Bukit China issue. This is precisely what those who want to persist with the Bukit China development would want to see, and in particular for the new awakening on the Bukit China in the last two weeks to be crippled, and its momentum destroyed.
I am sure that in considering the Bukit China issue before taking a formal decision to level and develop it, the Chief Minister and his advisers would have considered various options of achieving its objective.
The first would be to by way of Government acquisition and development if there is no strong opposition by Cheng Hoon Teng Temple and the Chinese community as well as the Malaysian public.
Another option would be development with the co-operation or even in the name of some Chinese political and community leaders, whereby say out of the 104 acres or 100 acres or 80 acres to be developed purportedly for Chinese community interest, 30 or 40 per cent of the levelled Bukit China would be surrendered to bumiputras in conformity with the New Economic Policy.
Where the Chinese community are being ‘forced’ to decide to agree to the development of Bukit China, failing which there is the threat of $2 million quit rent being demanded, etc, it not a free choice or free decision whatsoever.
I have reasons to believe that some political and community leaders are co-operating with the Malacca Chief Minister by espousing that the Bukit China hill should be developed, and these political and community leaders are active in their various organisations to drum up public support. The statement by the Malacca Consumers’ Asscociation President Chua Kim Tee, who is Chairman of the Sixth Malacca Town MCA Branch is a good example.
The future of Bukit China must be decided by the Chinese community itself, for whom the Cheng Hoon Temple holds the property in trust. But the Chinese community must be allowed to make the decision without or atmosphere of coercion, or under any form of duress.
For this reason, I would call on the Malacca Chief Minister to withdraw the Oct.5 letter to Cheng Hoon Teng and announce the repeal of the State Government decision to level and develop Bukit China, so as to create a free and conducive atmosphere for the Chinese community to itself to decide the future of Bukit China.
Two weeks ago, when we decided to ensure greater public awareness and concern about the future of Bukit China so that it would not be levelled and developed by the State Government by default, many asked whether Bukit China could be saved if the Malacca State Government is insistent on leveling it. I have no doubt that Bukit China could be saved if the people are prepared to stand up for their religious, cultural, historic, political and citizenship rights.
If on the Bukit China issue, which affect out constitutional right to freedom of worship, we cannt preserve our cultural roots, then we are in no position to safeguard the rights and status of future generations. We must decide in the Bukit China issue whether we want to be rootless, who can promise no future for our children and children’s children, except to make money day to day, or we want to be wholesome Malaysians, with our cultural roots intact, our religious, political and citizenship rights honoured, and the rights and status of future generations safeguarded.
Those like Chua Kim Tee who support government development of Bukit China because it is a impediment to Malacca’s progress and to help solve Malacca’s traffic congestion are entitled to their views. They would probably advocate that all the Chinese cemetries in the towns in Malaysia should be levelled to give way to development, The Kuala Lumpur Structural Plan, the Johore Bahru Master Plan, and the various Town Master Plans which are planning urban developments for the next 20-30 years all fail to make adequate of satisfactory provision for non-Muslim places of worship or burial grounds. Now, we ourselves are espousing the destruction or our existing burial grounds. If Chua Kim Tee represent the majority view of the Malacca and Malaysian Chinese, then I say Bukit China cannot be saved.