Asli row: The people are the losers

By Kuek Ser Kuang Keng and Bede Hong (From Malaysiakini of October 14, 2006)

The biggest casualty over the Asli debacle, which resulted in the Centre for Public Policy Studies director Dr Lim Teck Ghee’s sudden resignation on Tuesday, is the public.
UM historian Prof Dr Khoo Kay Kim felt that the public is still in the dark as to Asli’s findings, which reported bumiputera corporate equity at 45 percent, instead of the official figures of 18 percent.
Asli president Mirzan Mahathir said on Tuesday that the “shortcomings in assumption and calculation led to conclusions that cannot be justified”. He described the report, which was based on Bursa Saham figures from last September as “flawed”.
Khoo said the situation speaks volumes on how studies that produce unfavourable results to the government, are handled.
“The Asli president said the findings were wrong. The director of the policy division said it was right. But the man in the street has no idea because we are not getting proper information. Nobody knows for certain who is right or wrong,” he told malaysiakini after speaking at a seminar organised by the Abolish UUCA Movement (GMA) in Kuala Lumpur today.
Khoo said the government does not have the right to refuse to give out statistics.
“They (the government) are answerable to the people. That’s what democracy is all about.”
He warned that if the matter were to be left unresolved, it would result in increased difficulty for academicians to conduct their studies.
“It has become very difficult for people to carry out research as they are not able to obtain information or source materials. It results in a lukewarm approach to any research project carried out in the country.”
“They are not able to discuss the subject meaningfully. They can only discuss it through the political prism, which is not good,”
“For example, if you beget the question to students, ‘Why is foreign direct investment (FDI) not coming our way?' they are not able to follow because they have no information to build their own opinions on.”
Khoo added that there is a tendency for pertinent economic issues to be racialised.
“That is the problem with this country. Very often, when we have a problem, it becomes a racial issue. And then you cannot proceed from there, you cannot further discuss it, because it's already sensitive.”
“They (politicians) should be showing better example. What's the point of having Barisan Nasional (BN) with so many parties if they cannot discuss among themselves, and then get the public involved,” he added.
“UM scholars used to be among the best in the world. Now it has practically stopped becoming an university that is well regarded internationally. Now we’ve stopped trying. We published materials for local consumption, not international.”
“There is probably a serious consequence on research studies now ... we have very few economists left in universities. Do you know that UM currently does not have a professor in economics?”
Earlier, during the seminar, he suggested that students should demand the government to adopt a monitor but not interfere in policy when it comes to the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA).
He said it was still unrealistic to demand that the government abolish it because in reality, the government would never agree to abolishing UUCA.
He said this was because there were demonstrations almost every day during the student movement era in the 1970s.
“Back then, universities couldn’t function. Classes were cancelled and the situation was nearly out of control. This was why the act was introduced.”
He said UUCA is not affecting academic freedom, it only interferes with student freedom as "they are not allowed to do anything on their own.”
He also argued that UUCA was not being used in the appointment of vice-chancellors.
“It originated from the tendency in the past several years to promote people who are politically acceptable rather than people who are intellectually acceptable. When you promote somebody, it has to be for his intellectual achievement, not because he is a good boy. We have been promoting a lot of good boys lately who are very insecure. They cannot compete.”
Replying to a question from the floor whether the government would repeal the act, Khoo described the trend as becoming more liberal as “PM Abdullah is allowing more liberal space but it has created many problems and he was blamed for failing to control the situation, so we need to give him some time.”
He felt that government intends to soften the UUCA “but it doesn’t know how to go about it.”.
“I think the government would accept (a monitor and not-interfere policy) because it is a way out. If you ask the PM to abolish the whole thing, it results in a terrible loss of face, then Pak Lah would get into trouble with Umno. You must also give the leaders a chance to save face. That’s the Umno culture.”
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