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  Media Comment by Lim Kit Siang in Petaling Jaya on Thursday, 24th April 2008: 

Renewal of Makkal Osai welcomed – now for immediate and unconditional release of Hindraf 5

The government’s about-turn to renew the publishing permit of Tamil daily Makkal Osai which it banned last week is welcome as it would have otherwise destroyed the credibility of all reform pledges of Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi on the judiciary and the anti-corruption agency.

The Home Minister, Datuk Seri Hamid Albar should learn the lesson of the Makkal Osai faux pax and not repeat the same mistake of complying obediently and blindly the dictates of the “Little Napoleons” in the bureaucracy and to bring to bear his higher duties and responsibilities as the Minister ultimately responsible for all decisions made by his ministry.

Now, it is for Hamid to order the immediate and unconditional release of the Hindraf 5 from Internal Security Act (ISA) detention in Kamunting.

Hamid cannot again pass the responsibility of the continued detention of the Hindraf 5 to the civil servants as he must bear full and final responsibility for the government’s refusal to heed the voices of the people in the March 8 “political tsunami” that the Malaysian Indians have legitimate grievances about their long-standing marginalization of their citizenship rights in the country, and the Hindraf 5 should be rewarded instead of being incarcerated for bringing the plight of the Malaysian Indians finally to the attention of the government and nation.

Yesterday, Suhakam Commissioner Datuk N. Siva Subramaniam denied allegations that Hindraf leader P. Uthayakumar had been denied proper medical care while in detention. What is most surprising is that Siva had only met representatives from various government quarters including Taiping Hospital, the police and the Kamunting detention centre but not Uthayakumar himself and it is most inadvisable on his part to venture such a bold judgment based solely on one-sided accounts.

Siva should have met Uthayakumar first before passing any judgment. Did he ask to meet Uthayakumar or was he denied access to the ISA detainee? If the latter, he should have told the authorities that he would not be able to offer any public judgment of the treatment of ISA detainees unless Suhakam is allowed free and unfettered access to them!

In Parliament, it had been customary in the past for Ministers, Deputy Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries to blame civil servants for wrong or misleading answers – something completely unheard-of in first-world Parliaments and countries.

All the Ministers in the second Abdullah Cabinet must adopt a new mindset and culture of responsibility and should understand and accept that the buck of responsibility ends with them and that they cannot claim that they were only acting on the advice of the “Little Napoleons” in their ministries and departments.

Ministers and Deputy Ministers must master the subjects under their portfolio which they have to address in Parliament, whether during question time or debates, and they must bear full responsibility for every word uttered in Parliament. Civil servants cannot provide safety nets for Ministers and Deputy Ministers who made a fool of themselves in Parliament when giving wrong, misleading or even stupid answers.

In the new Parliament starting next week, Ministers and Deputy Ministers should accept that they have no safety nets when giving replies prepared by their civil servants as they do not have the luxury of blaming their civil servants for any mistake or misinformation for what they say in Parliament.

Ministers and Deputy Ministers are not “postmen” or “postwomen” of their civil servants when speaking in Parliament.

“Passing the buck” to blame civil servants for wrong or misleading answers given in Parliament should be a thing of the past as it is no more acceptable as higher standards are expected of the new Cabinet in the 12th Parliament.

* Lim Kit Siang, MP for Ipoh Timor & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman


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