Outcry in Malaysia as political pressure forces retraction of economic report

alerts-button-1.jpgThe following is a 12 October 2006 media statement by the Centre for Independent Journalism and Writers Alliance for Media Independence (WAMI):

Prove ASLI wrong: Release the information

The Writers Alliance for Media Independence (WAMI) and the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) condemn the strong-arm tactics applied by Government leaders, politicians and businessmen to the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute (ASLI) and its Centre for Public Policy Studies (CPPS) to withdraw CPPS’ contentious report on the New Economic Policy (NEP). We are saddened that political pressure has prevailed over academic freedom and that ASLI chair Mirzan Mahathir has bowed to such pressure. We are at the same time heartened by the moral courage shown by CPPS chief Dr Lim Teck Ghee to defend the integrity of the report and resign. He has set an example for researchers in Malaysia
which will hopefully inspire more to take a stand.

The controversy arose when CPPS released to [the] media a chapter of its report called “Corporate Equity: Past Trends and Future Policy”. [The report] stated that the bumiputera [ethnic Malays and indigenous groups] of Malaysia now own as much as 45 percent of corporate equity, [and] not 19 percent as according to [the] Government’s official figure. The report, which was based on a study conducted by CPPS, concluded that the NEP, an affirmative policy targeted at 30
percent bumiputera corporate equity ownership, has reached [its] objective. CPPS also called [on] the Government to reveal its methodology in arriving at the official figure. The Government and the Malay party UMNO, of the ruling coalition, including Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, rejected the finding and called it “irresponsible”.

WAMI and CIJ believe that academic freedom, including freedom of expression, must be respected. If the CPPS report is flawed or misleading, the case should be put forward with the same or a higher level of intellectual rigour. The best weapon for the Government to use in rebutting the CPPS finding would be to publicise its own data and analysis. As the NEP has been central to Malaysia’s political and socio-economic development, all Malaysians have the right to listen to the debates on its achievements and make their own judgments. Forcing ASLI to withdraw its report only testifies to the truth of the ancient Malay saying: “berani kerana benar, takut kerana salah” [one is brave when one is right; one is scared when one is wrong].

We believe that releasing important socio-economic data, from equity ownership to the incidence of poverty, should be a duty and not a discretion of the Government. There [can] be no greater harm to the national interest [than] for national decisions to be made from data only accessible to high-ranking politicians. The validity of this data is then placed beyond academic scrutiny. If we want the nation to move forward, we must institute freedom of information legislation at the federal, state and local levels. So far, only the [Islamic-based] PAS government [in the state of] Kelantan has made a
commitment to that.

WAMI and CIJ would like to express our highest salutation to Dr Lim for standing up to unscrupulous political pressures expressed in ethno-centrist language. We call upon civil society, especially bodies representing the academics and researchers, to speak up for him, regardless of their opinion [of] the findings of the CPPS report. It is an assault on academic freedom and all academics have a duty to defend it.

Issued by
Sonia Randhawa
Executive Director
Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ

And

Wong Chin Huat
Chair
Writers Alliance for Media Independence (WAMI)

For further information, contact Sonia Randhawa, Executive Director, Centre for Independent Journalism, tel : + 60 3 4023 0772, fax: +60 3 4023 0769.

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