KUALA LUMPUR: A cabinet minister today (May 3, 2006) launched the strongest response to date against former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad's views on the bridge issue as contained in a letter to the MPs last month.
Addressing several MPs who had asked for an official stand from the government on the issue, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Mohd Nazri Aziz said: "Tun is wrong on all points."
He said Mahathir was alone in his views but the cabinet, comprising 32 ministers, had given their appropriate consideration and views before coming up with the decision.
Mahathir, who was against the government's decision to cancel the crooked bridge project, had said he would continue to speak out as he felt it should not be called off just because Singapore objected to it.
Nazri said Mahathir has the right to express his opinions, and in the same way, the government should not be denied the right to respond to his views.
"We respect Tun as someone who has done a lot for the people and the country but it does not mean he is given a blank cheque to criticise without inviting response from anybody to question his criciticms, especially the government's right to defend itself."
Winding-up the debates on the Supplementary Supply Bill for the Prime Minister's Department, he said Mahathir should not be offended and the public should not consider him (Nazri) as being disrespectful and ungrateful by what he had to say.
To Mahathir's remark that the country is "half past six with no guts", Nazri said the statement was directed at all cabinet members.
"Twenty-one out of 32 people in the cabinet are senior ministers who were appointed by Tun himself while he was the PM. I do not think Tun meant what he said.
"Otherwise, many questions will arise with regards to his personal being, because I do not think he is also half past six with no guts."
Nazri said he and his cabinet colleagues hoped Mahathir would stick to his promise that he would not meddle with the administration once he has retired.
"You can criticise us but when you repeatedly and openly condemn us, you can be considered to be undermining the present government which is actually a continuation of your own government before," he said.
Later in parliament lobby, Nazri told newsmen he had to respond to Mahathir's criticisms because being a cabinet minister, he was also involved in making the decision.
"There is nothing personal about this," he stressed, adding that he took full responsibility for what he said.
Nazri said he did not need green light from the government before making his statement because he was responsible for replying to queries made in the Dewan Rakyat.
"I was defending the cabinet's decision and I do not want to be seen as impotent when (the country) is said (to be) half past six, with no guts. If we do not respond, meaning the claim is true," he said.
Nazri said he will continue to respond to Mahathir's statement if the former PM reacts. "If Tun responds, I will respond back. We will see who gets tired."
He said even if Mahathir was making the criticism like a father scolding his children, it should be done quietly, not openly and not to humiliate the children who are grown-ups.