Tuesday, November 11, 2008


As posted by Dr. Mahathir Mohamad at www.chedet.com on November 11, 2008 8:08 AM

Going through some old documents I came across this record of a speech by the Honourable Minister of Finance, Enche (sic) Tan Siew Sin, at the Delegates' Conference of the Hokkien Association of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur on 22nd May 1965.

It is too long a speech to be reproduced in full. I will therefore cite only the parts that seem to be relevant to the current debates in Malaysia. I would be happy to provide the full text if needed.

Siew Sin remarked that the British identified the Chinese as a whole unjustly with the Malayan People's Anti-Japanese Army which was controlled by the Communists. The Emergency of 1948-1960 generated even greater suspicion against the Chinese community because the movement was directed by the Communists who were largely Chinese.

"This fear," Siew Sin said, "led the British to a policy of restricting citizenship rights for the Chinese as they felt that it would be dangerous for too many of them to become citizens....The result was that only about 200,000 Chinese had managed to become citizens out of a total of more than two million then resident in the former Federation of Malaya".

Farsighted Statesmanship

"When negotiating the terms of independence before that date," Siew Sin continued, "the MCA had asked that every Chinese who could legitimately claim to be regarded as a citizen should be allowed to become a citizen with the achievement of independence. It is a tribute to the farsighted statesmanship of UMNO and its leaders that they reacted sympathetically to this request. To give effect to this sympathy, a provision was inserted in the constitution itself to the effect that "good character" meant any person who had not been in jail during the period of three years preceding his application for citizenship.

"This was the main stumbling block to the acquisition of citizenship in colonial days. With the removal of this barrier, it was possible to admit approximately one million new citizens within 12 months of Merdeka and, of this number, roughly 800,000 were Chinese. If the Malays had been against giving a fair deal to the Chinese in the matter of citizenship, they would not have allowed such a situation to develop.

"The next major issue was the one concerning the special position of the Malays. Not many people are aware that this provision was inserted in the 1948 Federation of Malaya Agreement as part of the special responsibilities of the High Commissioner in the following terms;

"The safeguarding of the special position of the Malays and of the legitimate interests of other communities.

"It will be seen that this simple phrase could mean nothing. It could also mean everything. It was vague, it was also comprehensive and it was comprehensive enough as to be capable of being interpreted in a way which could mean the virtual elimination of Chinese economic interests in important sectors of the economy. Here again, with independence, this omnibus provision was scaled down to a precise definition so that it will be clear to all what this provision means. You will find it in article 153 of the Constitution. I have no time in a speech of this nature to tell you exactly what it means or what it does not mean, but very briefly, the effect of this provision is that, firstly, all existing rights are preserved; secondly, no citizen can be prohibited from engaging in business activity or deprived of his right to engage in business activity merely because he is a non-Malay."

Chinese Education

"In the field of Chinese education, a matter which is dear to the hearts of the majority of the Chinese population of this country, and one on which they feel very strongly, I do not have to remind that Chinese education today has the kind of status which could not have been possible in the days before independence. In 1954, which was the year before the Federation's first general election, when the alliance came to power for the first time the amount spent on Chinese education was $11.7 million. The amount spent on education as a whole was $99.9 million. In 1963, and I have taken 1963 because after this year we would be dealing in pan-Malaysian figures, and therefore the comparison would not be fair, the figures were $44.6 million and $283 million respectively.

"In other words while the amount spent on education as a whole increased by 183.28 per cent in nine years, the amount spent on Chinese education increased by 281.19 per cent. In brief, Chinese education has fared even better than education as a whole since independence, and education as a whole has been the principal beneficiary of independence.

"It will, therefore, be seen that in three major areas, that is, in the field of citizenship, Malay rights, and Chinese education, the Chinese are actually in a much happier position today than they were in the days of colonial rule. I have taken some pains to trace the history of these matters because i have heard, not only in this country, but overseas, that the Chinese were better off under British rule than they were in the former Federation of Malaya or in Malaysia today. I could give other instances, but the three major ones I have given will serve to show how unfounded such a belief is."