Malaysian gov’t wrong to censure minister for responding to public concern, says CIJ

alerts-button-1.jpgThe following is a press release from SEAPA’s local partner in Malaysia, CIJ, on 15 September 2006:

The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) is concerned that the government has once again prevented the public from exercising its right to freedom expression and right to information by reprimanding elected representatives for raising public interest issues. The Cabinet warning to Deputy Higher Education Minister Ong Tee Keat reflects the administration’s lack of commitment in honouring its pledge for accountability and transparency. On 9 September 2006, a board member of a Chinese primary school, Moong Kwang Liang, was reported saying at a dinner function that a peer school in the town of Muar, in the southern state of Johor, did not receive the full disbursement of RM30,000 from the Ministry of Education for repair works. He claimed the school received only less than RM5,000 of the allocation. To this, Ong, who was a guest at the dinner, responded that there should proper monitoring of funds by the relevant ministry. His comments irked Education Minister Hishamuddin Hussein and he was then reprimanded by the Cabinet on 15 September for going against a Cabinet directive that bars a minister or deputy minister from commenting on other ministries.By punishing the elected representative, CIJ believes that the people will be discouraged from raising issues of public importance. Instead of warning the deputy minister, the government should be more serious in tackling genuine problems raised by the public through their representatives.CIJ urges that the claim by the school board be investigated immediately and in an open manner, and if there is evidence to prove the allegations, actions must be taken against those responsible. The Cabinet should review its collective responsibility principles that prevent critical discussion on the administration of public funds.The Centre for Independent Journalism, Malaysia (CIJ) is a media organisation that aims to improve current Malaysian journalism practice and independence through advocacy, research and analysis, training and practical work. Started in 2001, CIJ has initiated various projects in developing grassroots communications skills through training, infrastructural support and direct action. For more information, visit: www.cijmalaysia.org

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