DAP calls for abolition of annual licensing of press law to allow the growth of the free, independent and responsible press in Malaysia

Speech (Part 3) by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Tanjong, Lim Kit Siang, in Parliament on the Royal Address on Wednesday, 13th April 1994

DAP calls for abolition of annual licensing of press law to allow the growth of the free, independent and responsible press in Malaysia

His Majesty in his Royal Address said the Government would always ensure freedom of speech and that the mass media should have a positive role in inculcating social harmony and unity.

In the current controversy between Malaysia and UK over the British mass media allegations about corruption, bribery and improprieties of Malaysian leaders, the Malaysian Government accused the British mass media of being irresponsible and having abused press freedom.

There is no doubt that the British mass media are no saints and that they had on many occasions abused press freedom and acted irresponsibly, especially with their cheque-book journalism intruding into the privacy of public personalities.

However, can we claim that the Malaysian press is truly free, independent and responsible.

For instance, has there been a single case of major political abuse of power or corruption by political leaders in government which had been exposed by any Malaysian press? Or are we to believe that unlike in other countries, there are no abuses of power or corruption in high political places in Malaysia, despite the fact that many had accumulated extraordinary wealth during their terms of office which are completely disproportionate to their known sources of income?

In fact, Malaysian press not only cannot conduct investigative reporting, they are also not allowed to report on exposes of abuses of power and corruption made by Opposition leaders!

I agree that we do not want the ‘gutter’ journalism practiced by some British press, but when the Malaysian press are not allowed to conduct any investigative journalism against abuses of power and corruption against those in high political places or report on such exposes made by the Opposition, then we should not pretend to have a free, independent and responsible press.

The Malaysian press, whether printed or electronic, should not delude themselves into believing that they enjoy a higher credibility than the British press.

For instance, if a poll is conducted as to whether the Malaysian television enjoys higher credibility among Malaysians than the British television among the British in their coverage of government and political affairs, I have no doubt that Malaysian television will come out worse off.

In Malaysia, for instance, the DAP has consistently polled about a million votes in the last three general elections, maintaining its position as the largest parliamentary opposition, but to those who rely solely on the electronic media or even the Bahasa Malaysia and English-language printed media for information, the DAP had never existed!

Is this the freedom of the press ala Barisan Nasional Malaysia? Is the Government ensuring the preservation of this type of ‘press freedom’ or can we expect a liberalization of government restrictions – whether through laws, regulations or daily telephone calls from the Home Ministry – to permit the development of a free, independent and responsible press in Malaysia which gives democratic space for Opposition and alternative views about Barisan Nasional policies over radio, television and the printed media?

Recently, Malaysian journalists defended themselves against the British mass media charges that they are subservient to the government by declaring that they have to respect the Government because it was elected by the people. What about the Opposition, which secured 48 per cent of the votes as compared to 52 per cent for Barisan Nasional, in the last general elections?

What justification can the RTM, TV3, New Straits Times, Star, Berita Harian, Utusan Malaysia and Utusan Melayu for virtually ‘blacking out’ the Opposition, apart from false and distorted news and articles to put the Opposition in a bad light?

DAP calls on the Government to be abolish the annual press licensing law to allow the growth of a free, independent and responsible press – and only then can Malaysian journalists look the British journalists in the eye and declare that press freedom in Malaysia is of a higher quality and standard than to be found in the United Kingdom.

The Sabah Barisan Nasional Government is illegitimate as it came to power through dishonest, unethical and undemocratic means

Although the Yang di Pertuan Agong said that initial efforts towards achieving Vision 2020 has shown success, we must be aware of the setbacks as well.

Democracy in Malaysia suffered a setback last month when the Sabah Barisan Nasional Government was formed, for it is an illegitimate government which came to power not through the mandate of the people but through dishonest, unethical and undemocratic means.

The toppling of the PBS State Government and its replacement by the Sabah Barisan Nasional State Government was the triumph of money politics and not people’s power in Sabah.

The amount of money spent by the Barisan Nasional in the Sabah State general elections in February would be in the region of RM200 – RM300 millions, The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, has ordered an audit of the previous PBS Sabah State Government and its agencies, including the Sabah Foundation. Would he extend this directive to widen the audit to a full investigations into the politics of money in the recent Sabah state general elections?

I have never felt so ashamed as a political worker in my life as last month, when PBS Assemblymen were vying to leave what Dr. Jeffery Pairin said was a ‘sinking ship’ to defect to Barisan Nasional.

It is not only political workers regardless of party but every decent and self-respecting Malaysian who should feel outraged by the unethical, immoral and dishonourable spectacle of party-hopping in Sabah.

If elected representatives can be unethical and immoral by party-hopping, offering themselves to the highest bidder like cattle in a public auction, abusing the trust of the electorate, then it is no different from other immoral and unethical evils like corruption for instance.
I understand that there would be a Constitution amendment bill in this meeting. I call on the Federal Government to introduce an amendment to the Federal Constitution to ban party-hopping, requiring an elected representative to resign his seat to seek a new mandate, if he leaves the party on whose ticket he had been elected.

If the Government is not prepared to submit such a constitutional amendment, then Malaysians should make this into a major issue in the next general elections to reject political parties which are not committed to support legislation to ban such immoral and unethical party-hopping.

Barisan Nasional has made impossible promises in the Sabah state general elections

The Barisan Nasional had made impossible promises in the Sabah state general elections.

The first impossible promise of the Barisan Nasional is to increase Sabah’s per capita income from the present RM3,600 to RM10,000 in six years in 2,000.

During the general elections campaign period, Barisan Nasional leaders were promising to raise the economic growth rate of Sabah from its present 4.4 per cent to the national growth rate of 8.1 per cent.

However, at the annual economic growth rate of 6.1 per cent, Sabah would take 14 years before it could increase its per capita income from RM3,600 to RM10,000 – and this means year 2,008, and not 2,000.

This is again subject to one important qualification, that there is no population growth in Sabah in the next 14 years – when in fact, Sabah has the highest population increase largely because of the uncontrolled influx of Filipino and Indonesian illegal immigrants.

If Sabah is to increase its per capita income from the present RM3,600 to RM10,000 in six years, with the population keeping constant, Sabah would have to achieve an annual economic growth rate of 18.6 per cent. If the population increase of Sabah is taken into account, this would mean an annual economic growth rate of 20 to 30 per cent, which will make Sabah the fastest growing economy in the world – faster than China which leads the world in economic growth today.

If this is the intention of the Barisan Nasional government in its Sabah Baru slogan, then declare it frankly and publicly that it wants to create a world economic miracle in the next six years by achieving the fastest-growing economy in Sabah in the next six years!

The other impossible promises which Barisan Nasional made in the Sabah state general elections are:

* to eliminate illiteracy to zero in year 2,000;
* to reduce the poverty level in Sabah from the present 33 per cent to zero in year 2,000;
* to give every Sabahan a house by the year 2,000;
* to resolve the problem of illegal immigrants in Sabah; and
* to eradicate corruption in Sabah.

During the Sabah elections campaign, the Deputy Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim, declared that the problem of illegal immigrants in Sabah cannot be resolved without the co-operation of the Federal Government.

Has the Federal Government a masterplan to resolve the problem of illegal immigrants in Sabah?

Now that the Barisan Nasional is in power in Sabah, has the Federal Government a master-plan to resolve the problem of illegal immigrants in Sabah?

Sabahans are very skeptical that anything would be done to resolve the problem of illegal immigrants in Sabah, as many UMNO Assemblymen had been heavily dependent on illegal immigrants to be elected on February 18-19, as there had been a major syndicate to use the illegal immigrants as the ‘phantom voters’ to influence the political outcome of the general elections.

Yong Teck Lee for instance would have lost the Likas state assembly seat if not for the virtual 100 per cent turn-out of the voters of the island of Gaya, so much so that he is now known as Chief Minister of Gaya!

However, it is the Barisan Nasional promise to eradicate corruption in Sabah that has evoked the greatest skepticism.

Mahathir has promised a ‘clean, efficient and trustworthy’ Barisan Nasional government in Sabah, but what Sabahans had seen for the past four weeks is a wild scramble and competition among the Barisan Nasional component parties for position and the spoils of office, whether at the state government, local government or government agencies.

The competition has become so intense and the positions so limited that there is now a serious proposal for constitutional amendment to increase the Sabah Cabinet posts from the present nine to 12, and the increase of the present number of 14 deputy ministers to 20.

With 32 Ministers and Deputy Ministers in an elected Assembly of 44 Assemblymen and six nominated Assemblymen, Sabah would have 59 per cent of its Assemblymen who are either Ministers or Deputy Ministers. As Barisan Nasional has promised to abolish the six nominated Assembly posts on the ground that they are undemocratic, with 32 Ministers and Deputy Ministers out of 48 Assemblymen, the percentage will go even higher to 67%. In either case, Sabah would have the highest percentage of elected representatives who are wither Ministers or Deputy Ministers.

This means that in a general elections, a government which wins a simple majority of say 26 seats would not be able to fill all the 32 posts, and would have six Ministerial or Deputy Ministerial vacancies to put up for public tender!

Is this the style of a new government which is ‘clean, efficient and trustworthy’ or a government whose leaders are more interested in feathering their own nest?

Mahathir made his call to the voters of Sabah to get rid of corrupt leaders as his main theme when he kicked off the Barisan Nasional Sabah general elections campaign at a speech in Beaufort, which was telecast live throughout the country.

However, Malaysians who were following the live telecast did not have eyes for Mahathir, but for the person on his left on the stage – for he was none other than the ‘star’ of the MAIKA Telekom shares hijacking scandal, the Minister who claims to have the ‘Cleanest pair of hands’ in the whole world, Datuk Ser S. Samy Vellu.

Samy Vellu was conspicuously uncomfortable when Mahathir was denouncing corrupt leaders who should be removed, and everybody saw him looking up and down, right and left, as if hoping that standing next to the Prime Minister at that time was the last thing in the world he wanted to do.

Malaysians who followed the live telecast were also trying to locate another person among the important Barisan Personages who had congregated there, for it had been announced that the Malacca Chief Minister and UMNO Youth Leader, Tan Sri Rahim Tamby Cik was also present.

With such a backdrop, what credibility can Mahathir commend what he talks about getting rid of corrupt political leaders?

Call on new Attorney-General to restore credibility of the ACA by giving consent for the arrest and prosecution of Samy Vellu for the MAIKA Telekom shares hijacking scandal

Malaysians are still waiting for the outcome of the re-opening of investigations by the Anti-Corruption Agency into Samy Vellu and the MAIKA Telekom shares hijacking scandal.

Latest documentation about the MAIKA Telekom shares hijacking scandal that have surfaced publicly have contradicted the statement issued by the ACA Director-General, Tan Sri Zulkifli bin Mahmood on August 26, 1993 when clearing Samy Vellu by declaring that “no criminal offence has been disclosed” in the MAIKA Telekom shares hijacking scandal.

It is now public knowledge that Samy Vellu has claimed that out of the nine million Telekom shares hijacked from KAIKA Holdings and diverted to the three companies, Clearway Sdn. Bhd., SB Management Sdn. Bhd. And Advance Personal Computer Sdn. Bhd., 8.5 million shares were sold in November 1990 and 420,000 shares were sold by Advance Personal Computer Sdn. Bhd. In March/April 1992.

I want now to refer to this ale of 420,000 Telekom shares by Advance Personal Computer Sdn. Bhd. In March/April 1992. In his statement clearing Samy Vellu, the ACA Director-General said that Advance Personal Computer Sdn. “disposed of the balance of the Telekom and handed the proceeds thereof to MIED”.

The latest documents which have been paid public have proved that this is not true, that the proceeds from the sale of the 420,000 Telekom shares by Advance Personal Computer Sdn. Bhd. Did not go to MIED, but were banked into the personal account of Samy Vellu in the Bank of Commerce Jalan Masjid India branch, A/C No. 1402-0000168-00-2.

On June 17, 1992, Sothinathan a/l Sinna Govinder, one of the directors of Advance Personal Computers Sdn. Bhd., made a statutory declaration on the “Statement of Accounts as at 4th April, 1992 on 500,000 shares in Telekom (M) Bhd. Registered in the name of Advance Personal Computer Sdn. Bhd.”, giving the following particulars:

i) Sale of 60,000 shares @ $11.00 (nett) $ 660,000
(Payment by cash – $660,000)

ii) Sale of 200,000 shares @ $11.30 2,249,295
(Payment by cash – a) $ 500,000)
b) $1,749,295)

iii) Sale of 160,000 shares @ $11.40 – $11.80 1,840,705
(Payment by cash – $1,840,705) ————-
Total 4,750,000

Scrips at hand as at 4.4.92 – 80,000 shares in Telekom (M) Bhd.

It is to be noted that the payments for the sale of the Telekom shares were all in cash and not in cheque. People deal in cash in millions of ringgit only when they want to cover their tracks because they are doing something immoral, dishonourable or even illegal, like trafficking in drugs, corruption or hijacking of shares – and they want to protect themselves.

Can Samy Vellu explain why all these four payments were in cash – and why the entire transaction stinks?

Last month, the local press published documents about three of these cash payments, namely cash payments of RM500,000 and RM1,749,295 for the sale of 200,000 Telekom shares and the cash payment of RM1,840,705 for the sale of 160,000 Telekom shares.

The facts and documents as reported and published in the local press last month are as follow:

1. Sothinathan issued three cash cheques to Samy Vellu being the proceeds from the sale of 200,000 Telekom shares at RM11.30 per share and 160,000 Telekom shares at RM11.40 – RM11.80 per share, in the exact amount as Sothinathan stated in his Statutory Declaration of 17th June 1992. The first cheque, Bank of Commerce No. 423302 was dated 31st March 1992 was for RM500,000, the second cheque Bank of Commerce No. 423309 dated 3.4.92 was for RM1,749,285 and the third cheque Bank of Commerce No. 584717 was for RM1,840,705 (the third cheque co-signed by S. Balasubramaniyam s/o M.S. Survei) the other APC Director.

2. These three cheques were cashed by Samy Vellu’s personal secretary, Mr. Nettar, and banked into Samy Vellu’s personal account.

3. From Samy Vellu’s April 1992 Bank Statement for his Bank of Commerce Jalan Masjid India Branch account No. 1402-0000168-00-2, the cheque for RM500,000 was cashed and banked into Samy Vellu’s account on 2.4.1992.

4. The cheques for RM1,749,295 and RM1,840,705 were cashed on 3.4.92 and deposited in two sums of RM90,000 and RM3,500,000 into Samy Vellu’s account on the same day.

5. Before banking the two sums of Rm90,000 and RM3,500,000 into his account, Samy Vellu had earlier the same day placed them as fixed deposit for one month, bearing interest of 7.8 per cent. This is borne out by a fixed deposit receipt issued by Bank of Commerce Jalan Masjid India Branch Fixed Deposit No. 223716.

6. For reasons best known to Samy Vellu, he changed his mind, dissolved the fixed deposit and banked RM90,000 into his account, and took out a new one-month fixed deposit, also bearing interest of 7.8 per cent, for RM3,500,000, bearing Bank of Commerce Jalan Masjid India Branch Fixed Deposit No. 223718.

7. Again, for reasons best known to Samy Vellu, he changed his mind a second time, dissolved the second fixed deposit, and banked the RM3,500,000 into his personal account.

8. The last transaction for Samy Vellu at Bank of Commerce Jalan Masjid Branch for 3rd April 1992 was to withdraw RM90,000.

ACA Director-General cleared Samy Vellu stating that the proceeds from the sale of the 420,000 Telekom shares by Advance Personal Computer Sdn. Bhd. Were handed over to MIED.

In his famous “Tell-All Press Conference” which was a “Cover-All Press Conference” on May 15, 1992, Samy Vellu said that “every sen from the proceeds of the sale of nine million Telekom shares allocated in 1990 had been used for the MIC-owned TAFE College”.

Samy Vellu’s former right-hand man, former MIC Public Relations Committee and MIC Petaling Jaya Barat Vice Chairman, V. Subramaniam had challenged this claim as he said that he had seen the actual accounts of the Telekom shares earnings and that “none of the money went to the MIC-run TAFE Colleges”.

Be that as it may, the documentation which had surfaced last month, the Bank of Commerce Jalan Masjid India Branch cheques, fixed deposit receipts as well as Samy Vellu’s bank statement account for April 1992 are incontestable proof that the proceed from the sale of 360,000 Telekom shares by Advance Personal computer Sdn. Bhd., totaling RM4.9 million, did not go to MIED but were banked into Samy Vellu’s personal account.

There are ample evidence of criminal breach of trust and misappropriation of funds by Samy Vellu. Why hasn’t any criminal action been initiated against Samy Vellu, or do we have a new breed of Malaysians who enjoy immunity from prosecution after the removal of immunity of the Rules and Sultans from criminal and civil actions?

Apart from the MAIKA Telekom shares hijacking scandal, Samy Vellu had been accused publicly by V. Subramaniam of fabricating Telekom shares accounts to obstruct and frustrate ACA investigations, and that he had assisted in the fabrication of the documents under the instructions of Samy Vellu at the time.

What has happened to ACA and Police investigations into these shocking allegations, or do we have a Cabinet Minister who is above the law because he had warned that if he is touched, he would cause ‘political volcanoes’ to erupt in the government?

The credibility of the ACA, the Attorney-General and in fact the entire government is at stake. I call on the new Attorney-General, Datuk Mohtar Abdullah, to give consent to the Anti-Corruption Agency to arrest and prosecute Samy Vellu for the MAIKA Telekom shares hijacking scandal, to restore the credibility of the ACA, the Attorney-General’s chambers and the Government that they will uphold the law without fear or favour.

Cabinet should do justice to the 28,000 Telekom non-executive employees on the Employees’ Shares Option Scheme (ESOS) by allocating another 30 million Telekom shares at par from the government stake

Here, I wish to call on the Cabinet to do justice to the 28,000 Telekom non-executive employees on the Employees’ Share Option Scheme (ESOS) by allocating another 30 million shares at par from the government stake in Telekoms.

The 28,000 Telekom non-executive employees must not be penalized and denied of their ESOS share because of the breach of trust by the Telekom management, which unfairly distributed the 29.5 million ESOS Telekom shares to the 3,000 executives only – when they were meant for the distribution to the 28,000 non-executive employees as well.

It is clearly unfair and unacceptable that the 28,000 non-executive employees were denied their share, while executives monopolized the distribution with the Telekom Executive Chairman, Tan Sri Rashdan Baba, receiving 300 lots himself.

The Minister for Energy, Telecommunications and Posts, Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu had been completely hostile to the non-executive employees on this issue. The Minister for Human Resources, Datuk Lim Ah Lek saw the justice of their case although he was unable to help resolve the issue.

The Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, should step in to do justice to the 28,000 non-executive Telekom employees.

Call for a government blueprint to bring the plantation workers, particularly estate Indians, into the mainstream of national development

During the Parliamentary debate on the Royal Address in April 1992, I had called on the Barisan Nasional Government to hear the cry of despair and hopelessness of the Malaysian Indians, and in particular the estate Indians, for a proper place under the Malaysian sun.

Two years have passed and there is still no government blueprint to alleviate the weak position of the Malaysian Indians and to bring them into mainstream of Malaysia’s modernization process.

The sorry plight of the Malaysian Indian estate workers have again been highlighted recently by the National Conference of Plantation Sector and Rural Development organized by the University of Malaya Labour Studies Programme two weeks ago.

The estate workers have been by-passed in the modernization and development process in the country. For instance, wage trends over a period of 15 years from 1974 to 1989 show that plantation sector workers, especially rubber tappers, have sustained the least improvement in money wages.

The wages of plantation workers have remained far below other groups in the nation, although in the last 20 years, productivity in the rubber Industry has risen 225% in current price terms and the profit rate in the rubber plantations rose about 100% over the same period.

There has also been a general lowering of standards of living in plantations relative to the rest of the Malaysian society, whether in basic necessities like water, sanitation and electricity and social services like health and education facilities.

The socio-economic backwardness of the Indian estate workers is highlighted by the 1992 UPSR results in the parliamentary constituency of the MIC President, Datuk Seri S, Samy Vellu, himself.

None of the children attending the five estate schools in Sungei Siput obtained A or B grades in Bahasa Malaysia ‘Penulisan’ paper in the 1992 UPSR, while 76.9 per cent of children from premier school in Ipoh obtained graded A or B, and 42.7 per cent of students from national primary schools in Sungei Siput scored grades A or B in the subject.

Or we take the results of the 1992 UPSR mathematics, where only 4 per cent of the pupils in the Sungei Siput estate schools obtained Grades A or B, as compared to 51 per cent for pupil from the Sungei Siput Chinese primary schools and 59 per cent for the Ipoh premier primary schools.

The observation by the Murad Report on School Dropouts in 1973 that “Plantation school children are under achievers, early leavers, and acquire jobs of low socio-economic status” remains valid two decades later.

The greatest failure of Samy Vellu after 15 years as MIC President is that the estate Indians have been left out of the mainstream of national development and have become a ‘neglected and forgotten lot’!

One of the greatest challenges facing the nation today is how to bring the plantation workers, particularly the Indian estate workers, back into the mainstream of national development, and I hope that this time, the government will response with such a blueprint.

Why is Bakun HEP costing more than eight times the RM1.8 billion Pergau HEP Dam when it is only four times its capacity?

Yesterday, the Minister for Energy, telecommunications and Posts, gave a long answer to the questions on the RM15 billion Bakun dam, but he has failed to quell the many questions, doubts, anxieties and fears of the people, particularly Sarawakians, over the project.

For s start, the Minister should give satisfactory answer to the following questions:

Firstly, why was the Rm15 billion Bakun dam project revived before any environment Impact Assessment (EIA) had been commissioned. When the Government announced the cancellation of Bakun project, it said it was proof that it was prepared to make sacrifices for environmental quality. Is the revival of Bakun dam project before any EIA testimony that environment quality is now low in the government’s order of priorities?

Secondly, why was the Bakun dam project awarded to EKRAN without any public tender? Described as a single largest privatization project in the country, is the award without open tender further proof of the abuses of power in the country in utter disregard for the principles of accountability, transparency and integrity?

Thirdly, is it true that although there was a ceremony for the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding which was presided over the Prime Minister during his visit to Sarawak at the end of January enroute to Sabah, no Memorandum of Understanding had yet been signed on the Bakun Dam project. The government should explain why it practiced such deception on the public, and whether the whole exercise directed at the Sabah state general election?

Fourthly, why is the Bakun HEP costing more than eight times the RM1.8 billion Pergau dam when it is only four times its capacity. Bakun will generate 2,400 megawatts while the generating capacity of Pergau is 600 megawatts.

The RM1.8 billion cost for Pergau dam had been regarded as excessively high, and even Samy Vellu had said recently that the Malaysian Government would have been able to complete the Pergau dam for RM300 million lesser if not for the special British aid programme.

The Kapar III Power Plant is another example. It will cost RM2 billion and generate 1,000 megawatts, compared to Bakun which will cost RM15 billion and generate 2,400 megawatts.

I understand that the RM15 billion cost for Bakun does not include the cost of the 560 KM undersea link which will cost RM3 billion, bringing the total Bakun cost to RM18 billion.

Fifthly, when Mahathir said at the fictitious signing of Memorandum of Understanding Ceremony that he wanted the Bakun Project completed in eight years’ time by 2,002 instead of in ten years’ time, is this a message that EIA would not be allowed to stand in the way of the Bakun Project? All the 17 socio-economic and environmental studies on Bakun referred to by Samy Vellu were done some ten years ago. Is the Government prepared to declassify all these 17 studies for public scrutiny?

Sixthly, whether there would be proper and meaningful consultation particularly with the 5,000 Kenyah, Kayan, Lahanan, Ukit and Penan Communities in the area before a final decision is made on the project.

DAP calls for a total freeze of the RM17 billion Jerai International Park (JIP) project until the 10,000 people who will be affected have been fully consulted

DAP calls for a total freeze of the RM17 billion Jerai International Park (JIP) project in Kedah until the 10,000 people who will be affected have been fully consulted

The Kedah Government had on 28th January this year signed a memorandum of understanding with two companies, Suria Eksklusif Sdn. Bhd. And Duta Point Sdn. Bhd. to develop the Jerai International Park (JIP) – described as “an eco-friendly theme park” – which was witnessed by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamed.

The JIP project to build a Hollywood studio, a Disney World and a host of tourist facilities would not only make it Malaysia’s largest tourism project, but the most expensive, costing RM17 billion – much more than the controversial Bakun Dam project in Sarawak.

The project will be built in four phases, over a period of 16 years. The first phase costing RM1 billion is expected to begin in September this year and completed before the Commonwealth Games in 1998.

The project will sprawl over 2,520 hectares stretching from the sea front in Merbok to the foothills of Gunong Jerai.

UMNO leaders have questioned the viability of the project, but an even more important issue is the suitability of the project.

The people who will be affected are rightly concerned because the project would involve the acquisition of 2,520 hectares of their land, involving padi lands, fruit orchards and rubber smallholdings.

The Land Acquisition process for land in Phase One of the project is expected to begin in May this year and the actual development activities will begin in September, as this phase has been targeted for completion before the Commonwealth Games in 1998.

This is another glaring example of the abuse of the 1991 amendment to the Land Acquisition Act which the DAP had warned and voted against in Parliament.

As a result of this amendment, there are now more and more instances of private lands being acquired by State Governments from ordinary people in the name of ‘economic development’ and ‘public purpose’ which were really meant for private development.

The rakyat are given paltry sums as compensation, and landowners are overnight turned into landless.

Prior to the 1991 amendment, the power of the State Authority to compulsorily acquire land under private ownership was confined to cause where the land was needed for a public purpose or public utility or was needed for mining or residential, agricultural, commercial or industrial purposes.

The powers to acquire was circumscribed by the “public” element requirement.

However, with the amendments, the State Authority was empowered to acquire any land for any person or corporation for “any purpose which in the opinion of the State Authority is beneficial to the economic development of Malaysia or any part thereof or to the public generally or any class of the public.”

During the national controversy in 1991 over the Land Acquisition Amendment Bill, the Government had given an assurance that the government had “no intention of robbing land from the people” and that land would be acquired for the purpose of development that can benefit the people.

If the JIP falls into the government definition of ‘development that can benefit the people’, then there is no project which could fail to qualify for compulsory acquisition of private land by State Governments.

Judges should be subject to public accountability through public criticism and fair comment where there had been lapses in the administration of justice

His Majesty in his Royal Address said that the Government will always uphold the supremacy of the Constitution and the laws of the nation and that all executive actions would be in accordance with law.

Recently, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, created a controversy when he said that total independence in the judiciary can lead to abuse of power and dereliction of duty.

The Malaysian Bar President, Zainur Zakaria was right when he said that Mahathir seemed to have confused between the independence of the judiciary as an institution and the conduct or trait of the judges.

The independence of the judiciary must mean that the judges can discharge their judicial duties to make decisions without fear or favour or undue pressure or influence, whether by the government of the day or by powerful nested interests, especially in ‘political’ and constitutional cases.

The concept of independence of the judiciary does not mean the ‘independence of the judges to perpetrate injustices by negligence or irresponsibility. In fact, there is a strong case for judges to be subject to public accountability through public criticisms and fair comment where there has been lapses in the administration of justice. I believe such public accountability will strengthen the judiciary as well as the principle of independence of the judiciary.

Six years after the greatest judicial crisis in Malaysian history, the time has come for the nation to rationally and soberly review the principle and status of the independence of the judiciary in the country.

Such an review should proceed at two levels: Firstly, how the principle of the independence of the judiciary could be strengthened where judges could make decisions without fear or favour without having to look over the shoulders. This review should include the appointment and promotion of judges.

The second aspect is how to ensure greater accountability of the judges. Judges in Malaysia must be prepared to submit to the principle of public accountability, and accept public criticism and fair comment where there had been lapses in the administration of justice without invoking the law of contempt – whether injustices caused by inordinate delays, negligence or irresponsibility, or judicial bias whether in judgment, conviction or sentence.

There should be greater room for public debate and discussion on the merits or demerit of a particular judgment, conviction or sentence, particularly from the public interest point-of-view, without attracting the law of contempt.

For instance, there should be room for public discussion and debate as to whether the two-year jail sentence imposed on th MP for Bukit Bintang, Wee Choo Keong, by the Kuala Lumpur High Court for contempt is appropriate or excessively harsh, as the most sever contempt sentence in Malaysian history is a three-month jail sentence. Furthermore, whether the time has come for a law on contempt to be enacted by Parliament, as has been done in other countries like the United Kingdom, to regulate contempt proceedings.

If the air of fair comment and legitimate public criticism are allowed to blow through the judiciary, the judicial system will definitely be more relevant to public needs and problems.

One of the maxims of law is that justice must not only be done, but must be seen to be done. This is why judges are very careful not to meet litigants who have cases pending before them, particularly in private meetings.

On 24th March 1994, the MBf Chief Executive Officer, Tan Sri Loy Hean Heong, visited the Lord President, Tun Hamid, in the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court Registry Book of Visitors recorded that Tan Sri Loy met the Lord President from 10.05 a.m. to 10.40 a.m. The next day however, the Supreme Court Visitors’ Book was replaced by a completely new one.

Tan Sri Loy is the main litigant involved in a series of cases between MBf and DAP MP for Bukit Bintang, Wee Choo Keong, including the contempt case under which Choo Keong had been sentenced to two years’ jail. The contempt case is awaiting appeal by the Supreme Court.

After the meeting between the Lord President and Tan Sri Loy, Choo Keong’s lawyers received notice later on the same day that the Supreme Court hearing of the appeal has been fixed in Penang on May 9.

I do not know whether the case itself was discussed at the meeting between the Lord President and Tan Sri Loy, but the whole meeting is clearly most improper and not conducive to public confidence in the judiciary.