Speech by YAB Lim Guan Eng during Kee Thuan Chye's Book Launching
I am honoured to be present here today for the launch of Kee Thuan Chye’s latest books, Unbelievably Stupid! and Unbelievably Stupid Too!
The author of these books is of course no stranger amongst Malaysians. For decades, we have known him as a prominent actor, poet, and journalist. One columnist called him that “super-educated-sounding English-speaking man on TV.”
More importantly, Kee Thuan Chye is a dedicated civil rights activist. For example, he co-founded KAMI, a theatre group that became a creative platform of alternative expression. Through his work in the field of culture and arts, he has time and again advocated for democracy and civil liberties, constantly fighting against the oppression that is evident in our country.
Today, the oppression has not eased. As a country, we have not progressed much. Not only are antiquated draconian laws such as the Sedition Act still in place, we are also bound and gagged by the Printing Presses and Publications Act, the University and University Colleges Act, and new laws like the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (SOSMA).
As former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir himself recently noted, there is no definition of “sabotage against the government” under SOSMA. This means that anyone, including every single person in this room, can be charged under SOSMA for the dubious crime of “sabotage against the government”, however they define it.
Hence, we were all shocked when former Batu Kawan vice-chief Dato’ Khairuddin Hassan, along with his lawyer Matthias Chang, were arrested and detained under SOSMA a few weeks back. What were their crimes? All they did was to ask what everyone in Malaysia is asking. They, too, want to get to the bottom of the 1MDB scandal.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As Malaysians, no matter what ethnicity we identify ourselves with, we have many good things to learn from Kee Thuan Chye. For example, he believes journalism to be a noble profession. For him, truth is the only product a journalist should produce. Nothing else, and only the honest truth. This is in contrast to the practice of the mainstream media in Malaysia, which are not only used as a tool of government propaganda, but also to spread lies about the opposition. All the successful defamation lawsuits that we have won in the last few years is proof of this.
Kee Thuan Chye is also a spirited fighter. He has fought for civil rights across various media for several decades. He staged plays, gave public talks, wrote articles and books, such as the two we are launching today. Along the way, he has himself been targeted for speaking out. In 2001, his Sunday Star column “Playing the Fool” was terminated after only two instalments. Still, he persisted and continued to write.
More importantly, Kee Thuan Chye also teaches us to be honest. After all, he was voted the 34th Most Trusted Malaysian in a 2010 poll by Reader’s Digest. In 2008, he was amongst the first recipients of the Annexe Heroes Freedom of Expression Award.
Another key trademark of Kee Thuan Chye is his wit. As an entertainer with a master’s degree in drama, he is able to tell his stories in a humorous and captivating way. If you have read any of his books, you will know what I mean.
I am sure his style carries on in Unbelievably Stupid and Unbelievably Stupid Too!, which features collections of short articles that reveal the ridiculousness of many of our political figures. I hope I am not included in those articles!
Ladies and gentlemen,
More than the jokes, Kee Thuan Chye’s writings are important because of the message that he is trying to convey. For years he has been writing about the problems afflicting our country, which have now developed into full-blown social, economic and political crises.
These crises that we are facing have at their root a corrupted system that precedes the Najib administration. If we think 1MDB and the RM2.6 billion donation are extraordinary scandals, the fact is that it is the system that has allowed it to happen, and with no repercussions to boot. The only people who have been persecuted following the scandals are whistleblowers and those seeking truth and justice!
Worse, when the government have their backs to the wall, as they do now, the race and religious cards will be played. After 58 years of independence, it is sad that the old colonial tricks of divide and rule still prevail. Even an issue such as GST can be twisted into a racial issue in the hands of the BN government. Is no wonder that we are stuck in time with policies that impede unity and development.
We are disgusted that an UMNO Minister behaves not as a Minister for all Malaysians by repeatedly acting as a Minister for the ultra-Malays in an extremist and racist manner, defending only Malay businesses and calling for a boycott of Chinese businesses. And an UMNO Deputy Minister who even threatened to slap the Chinese community.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The lesson here is that we cannot for a moment tolerate corrupt actions and individuals, because once corruption spreads its web into the system, it will breed abuse of power and rent-seeking.
This is why, since 2008, the Penang State Government has upheld the CAT philosophy of Competency, Accountability and Transparency. We are committed to do whatever it takes to ensure that not a single corrupt practice is allowed in the state. We have done this by implementing open competitive tenders, public asset declarations of our elected representatives including the Exco and Chief Minister, barring elected representatives from obtaining state land and their family members from doing business with the state.
As a result, Penang, which is the second smallest state in Malaysia, despite having no natural resources has through good governance, rule of law, integrity in leadership and sheer human talent produced a GDP per capita of RM42,251 in 2015. This figure would have exceeded the benchmark of RM40,841 needed to become a high-income economy. Unfortunately, due to the precipitous drop in the value of the ringgit due to massive financial scandals and loss of investor confidence, Penang will not achieve high-income status this year. Instead, the drop in the ringgit means that the new benchmark has been increased to RM50,000.
On simple example that I like to use to illustrate how stopping crony capitalistic practices can encourage growth is the story of fish farming. Yes, it would surprise many here to hear that Penang has a successful fish farming industry. In fact, it was non-existent in 2008 when we took over. Today, it is worth around RM1.2 billion a year.
How did we create this industry? Simple – by doing nothing. All we did was to halt the previous government’s crony capitalistic practices that benefitted one or two chosen individuals who received thousands of hectares of sea, and would then sublet them out.
We stopped this practice and gave permits only to owner-operated fish farms up to a maximum of 8,000 square meters each. This, together with other measures such as reducing the bureaucratic red tape involved, managed to transform the fish farming industry into a billion dollar industry. This is the result of clean governance.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Like Kee Thuan Chye, Penang takes freedom of expression seriously. In 2010,we introduced the Speaker’s Corner as a platform of free speech for all Malaysians. In fact, the Speaker’s Corner often hosts criticisms towards the state government, but we accept it as part and parcel of democracy. We are committed in championing the people’s freedom of speech and expression as contained in Article 10 of the Federal Constitution.
The important thing is not whether the views express in the Corner are favourable to the state government or not, but whether we are mature enough to listen to different views, however unfavourable they may be.
I have always believed in the French philosopher Voltaire’s words, “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” I am sure that Kee Thuan Chye also holds the same belief.
I will end by saying this. The world needs more Kee Thuan Chyes. Thank you.