KUALA LUMPUR, July 5 — Umno vice-president Datuk Seri Khaled Nordin today called Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok a coward for going after an international school for a performance that was critical of palm oil — Malaysia’s third biggest export.
The former higher education minister suggested that Kok lashed out at the school in an attempt to hide her own shortcomings, claiming her campaign had failed to sway European lawmakers against banning palm oil imports.
Khaled blasted Kok’s criticism of the school as “cowardice” and “childish”, besides contradicting her own party’s, the DAP’s, advocacy for critical thinking.
“The arena where Teresa Kok should be promoting palm oil is in the European Parliament or the US congress or the UK’s Parliament, not in the schools,” he said in a statement.
“Confront them who so blatantly challenged you and the national policy. Debate the adults and policymakers from outside. They are your real opponents, not school children.
“You surely will not like to be called childish although your actions certainly merits being called one,” he added.
On Tuesday, Kok lashed out at an international school here for holding a student performance on the negative impacts of the palm oil industry.
The event took place as Kok and her ministry are waging a campaign to defend palm oil against a European Union-led movement to reduce consumption over sustainability concerns arising from the cultivation of oil palms.
The move prompted criticism from rights groups and politicians across the partisan line. They said taking the student to task ran against free speech.
“They should be encouraged to speak up and be opinionated,” Khaled said.
“Whether or not you agree with their views or opinion, it is your responsibility to give them space and respect their right to speak. If you disagree then present your own facts.”
But Kok insisted yesterday she was not restricting academic freedom, and clarified that she was merely frustrated at the international schools’ alleged refusal to engage with the local palm oil industry, that was attempting to convey its side of the issue.
The minister has since offered to engage with the management of the international school with a view on informing them of the sustainability efforts the local palm oil industry has undertaken.