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Has Malaysia got a Cabinet of dummies, who could unanimously scrap the RM1.1 billion crooked half-bridge after unanimously agreeing to its construction without being able to give reasons for such a 180-degree about-turn?


Media Statement

by Lim Kit Siang  

, Wednesday) : The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi  said in Kuching yesterday that the decision to scrap the building of the RM1.1 billion crooked half-bridge to replace the Johore-Singapore Causeway was an unanimous Cabinet decision and the right thing to do.  He said: �We believe we made the right decision.  People are free to dispute. 

I fully agree with Abdullah and applaud him for this courageous decision to  cancel the unilateral construction of the crooked half-bridge which would not be �one of the wonders of the world� but a symbol of shame and failure of Malaysia-Singapore bilateral relations as well as the ASEAN community and spirit although he could be faulted for not taking it earlier or even more serious, for his sudden tough public stance only two months ago that the crooked half bridge, euphemistically dubbed the �Scenic Bridge�, would be constructed  regardless if it was �lurus, bengkok ataupun herot� (straight, crooked or skewed).

The Prime Minister is also to be commended for his respect for and upholding  dissent and diversity of opinion although the complaint of former Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad about the lack of press freedom for the coverage of criticisms and differing views from those of the government cannot be brushed off or deflected by �an official nod� to the mainstream media to publish Mahathir�s latest outbursts to disprove his allegation of lack of media freedom.

Mahathir deserves criticism for his stifling  media control and censorship when he was Prime Minister � for which I had criticized him in Parliament in the past two days and even his long-time UMNO rival Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah had expressed surprise at  Mahathir�s new role as a strong advocate of press freedom with the comment: �I read that Dr. Mahathir said the media did not want to publish or broadcast his views, yet during his time, I never had a chance to say anything to the media. But I did not complain about it.� (New Straits Times)

This does not mean, however, that Mahathir�s criticism of the deplorable  current state of press freedom should not be taken seriously or addressed urgently.

Mahathir had claimed that some newspapers had received phone calls asking them "not to print this and that�, leading him to ask: �Where is the Press freedom? I know the reporters are also unhappy because what they report is not published.

"Broadcast what I have to say. What I say is not even accurately published in the Press.  During my time, (Anwar Ibrahim) demonstrations were reported. We never rang up the Press to tell them not to report. We do not ring up the Press."

Mahathir�s claim that during his time as Prime Minister, there had been no phone calls from the Home Ministry to the local press to control and censor reporting is incredible as it is totally untrue, unless Mahathir claims that all those phone calls from the Home Ministry to the local press when he was Prime Minister  had been made without his knowledge or  authority.

Is Mahathir prepared to agree that a full public investigation be conducted on how  his government had controlled and censored the press in his years as Prime Minister?

These legitimate caveats aside, Mahathir�s strictures about the current lack of press freedom (where  fuel price demonstrations are blacked out in the press and the widespread perception that there are now even more phone calls to the press about news control and censorship, although it is not known whether Abdullah is personally aware of it) cannot just be brushed aside if the Prime Minister is sincere and serious about his reform pledge to �hear the truth� from the people.

Although I disagree with Mahathir in his insistence that Malaysia should proceed unilaterally to build the crooked half-bridge, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet cannot avoid or evade the many pertinent questions which had been raised by the former Prime Minister.

Mahathir had raised a fundamental issue of democratic responsibility and good governance  � why the Cabinet had unanimously decided to scrap the crooked half-bridge when a few years back, the almost-the-same Cabinet had unanimously agreed  under his premiership to build the crooked half-bridge.

Has Malaysia got a Cabinet of dummies, who could unanimously scrap the RM1.1 billion crooked half-bridge after unanimously agreeing to its construction without being able to give reasons for such a 180-degree about-turn?

The press interview by Mahathir�s former political secretary for Chinese affairs, Matthias Chang, who claims �detailed knowledge� of the crooked half-bridge issue as he was tasked by Mahathir to �do all the critical research and conduct a review of the negotiating strategy between Malaysia and Singapore�, had taken Mahathir�s dispute with the present Cabinet to a new level in calling Hamid a �big Napoleon� and his resignation for wrongly advising the Prime Minister on the issue.

Chang  said although he was not part of the negotiating team, he knew the matter �inside out� and had compiled 14 volumes of documentation comprising over 1,500 pages.

The crux of the issue  raised by Mahathir and Chang  is on  the international law of the crooked half-bridge issue.

The trouble with the government�s position is that its leaders had made contradictory statements � with Hamid even contradicting himself on the issue.

For instance, last Wednesday immediately after the announcement of the Cabinet decision to scrap the crooked half bridge, Hamid insisted that international law is one the side of Malaysia and that if the half-bridge issue had gone to the international court, the government is confident that it would have won the case.

Yet, in the New Straits Times yesterday, Hamid said:

�We had gone through it very carefully and thoroughly, we just cannot act unilaterally.

�Just as when Malaysia submitted its objections over Singapore�s reclamation work for international arbitration; if we had gone ahead and referred Singapore to the international court for this matter, it would be unending for years to come.�

When had  the government and Cabinet �gone through it very carefully and thoroughly we just cannot act unilaterally� � under Mahathir�s premiership or only after Abdullah became Prime Minister?

Parliament and the nation must be told what and when was the legal advice given by the Attorney-General�s Chambers that international law is not on the side of Malaysia on the crooked half-bridge issue.

If the opinion of the Attorney-General�s Chambers on the international law implications of the crooked half-bridge had been consistent  right from the very beginning, Parliament and Malaysians want to know why the former Prime Minister and the previous Cabinet overrode the legal opinion of the AG�s Chambers to proceed unilaterally to commit RM2.3 billion for the crooked half-bridge and the customs, immigration and quarantine complex (CIQ) � resulting in a RM100 million compensation to Gerbang Perdana, apart from the other unannounced hidden costs of the crooked half-bridge issue.

If the Attorney-General�s Chambers had changed its mind on the legal implications of the crooked half-bridge, there must be full accountability for this change of opinion as to its reason and timing.

The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi should personally come to Parliament during the winding-up of the Ninth Malaysia Plan debate next week to give a full explanation of the history, background,  facts and reasons  to answer the serious charges of former Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad that he and  the present Cabinet has �surrendered national sovereignty�.


*  Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman

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