Saturday, January 21, 2006

Senior Umno ministers divided over non-Umno colleagues' public memorandum on religious law to PM Abdullah Ahmad Badawi

Najib says Memo by Ministers improper and against cabinet system

(Bernama) -- Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said Friday the action by nine non-Muslim Cabinet ministers in submitting a memorandum to the Prime Minister calling for a review of laws that affect the rights of non-Muslims was "improper" and "not nice".

"It is against the Cabinet system and unprecedented," he told reporters at the Malaysian-French Chamber of Commerce annual dinner here Friday night.

The memorandum, signed by nine of the 10 non-Muslim ministers, was handed to Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi Thursday.

The ministers were Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting (Housing and Local Government), Datuk Seri Chan Kong Choy (Transport), Datuk Seri Dr Fong Chan Onn (Human Resources), Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek (Health), Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu (Works), Datuk Seri Dr Lim Keng Yaik (Energy, Water and Communications), Datuk Peter Chin (Plantation Industries and Commodities), Tan Sri Bernard Dompok and Datuk Dr Maximus Ongkili (Ministers in the Prime Minister's Department).

The exception was Tourism Minister Datuk Dr Leo Michael Toyad who was abroad.

Najib said he hoped everyone would let the Prime Minister make a correct and just decision after considering all views and without any pressure.

Najib, who is also Umno deputy president, said Umno stood firmly behind the Prime Minister whatever the decision he would make.

"This is a very sensitive issue, and it is not proper to act in this way. It should have been brought to the Cabinet to be discussed in the spirit of the Barisan Nasional family," he said.

Najib hoped the matter would not drag on because it could produce unpleasant reactions and might even cause anger in many people.

He advised the public to stay calm as "in the history of our nation, we have faced many issues regarding racial sensitivities. We already know the best way and to use the Cabinet to resolve complications through open discussions," he said.

International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz said the action by the non-Muslim ministers represented the views and thinking of non-Muslims regarding the issue.

"I think my colleagues in the Barisan Nasional presented constructive views, which can be a guide to the people who will review the laws.

"The memorandum is their input on what should be done," she told reporters after chairing a meeting of the Wanita Umno Exco today.

Rafidah, who is Wanita Umno chief, said the memorandum was not discussed at the meeting but the movement was concerned about the issue of conversion and supported a review to avoid conflicting jurisdiction.

"If there is inconsistency or misinterpretation and so on, if the procedure is not clear-cut, we should correct it so the public will not be confused and there is no incorrect interpretation," she added.

In PUTRAJAYA, Umno Youth said the non-Muslim ministers behaved as if they were not in the Cabinet.

"By right they should have used meetings of the Cabinet and the Barisan Nasional to voice their views," Youth Exco member Datuk Pirdaus Ismail told a news conference.

"As Cabinet ministers, they must uphold and abide by the principle of collective responsibility," he said.

Pirdaus said the culture of sending memorandum to the Prime Minister by ministers should not become a practice as such an action only belittled the ministers and the Cabinet and embarrassed the government.

It also showed disrespect to the Prime Minister, he added.