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Call for “brake and  review” how we can have  a First-World Parliament as a pre-condition for success of National Mission to become First-World Developed Nation instead of allowing the parliamentary train  to careen out of control into the fourth-world ravine


Media Statement

by Lim Kit Siang  

Parliament, Tuesday) : Today’s newspaper front-page headlines “PM cracks the Whip” (New Straits Times)  and “Toe the line - Pak Lah issues directive to all Barisan reps” (Star) raise the question whether something has gone terribly wrong with  the 31-month reform pledge and agenda of the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

I call for “brake and  review” how we can have  a First-World Parliament as a pre-condition for  success of the  National Mission for Malaysia  to become a First-World Developed Nation instead of allowing the parliamentary train to careen out of control into the fourth-world ravine, as appears to be the case in the past week.

This was why I faxed an urgent letter to the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi yesterday morning proposing that the Cabinet tomorrow should give the “green light” for the establishment of a  Select Committee on parliamentary reform and modernization, which should examine the whole question of MPs’ role, functions  and responsibilities  in a First World Parliament, including the suggested guidelines on MPs’ conduct when dealing with members of the civil service.

I suggested that the Select Committee on parliamentary reform and modernization should be set up as a matter of urgency on Thursday, the last sitting of the current parliamentary meeting, and that it could be chaired either by Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz or Datuk Shahrir Samad.

The Prime Minister’s tough stance after the four-hour UMNO Supreme Council meeting last night also raised the question whether it is proper for issues of parliamentary privilege to be decided by the UMNO Supreme Council (with the Barisan Nasional Supreme Council completely sidetracked) or whether these are issues which should be decided by the MPs themselves, as befitting the aspiration to achieve a First-World Parliament.

Abdullah said last night that Barisan Nasional (BN) Members of Parliament must toe the party line and are not free to vote according to their conscience in any motion moved in Parliament.

Declaring  that every party member, including BN MPs, has to observe the discipline and must understand this, he said:"All party members have rules that they must understand and follow. There's discipline for each member... no relaxation or freedom is given for them to do as they like. That's the party rule."

The question is not whether BN MPs or those from the Opposition parties must toe the party line on policy issues and political programmes – where the answer is yes -  but why there must be a party line on all issues that come up in Parliament, even on questions which are not considered on a party basis in mature and developed Parliaments, like matters of parliamentary privilege, honour and dignity.

While it is accepted that the purpose of the Whip system is to maintain party discipline on votes affecting policies and programme of the party, the Whip should not be applied in all  cases such as moral or social issues where no stand has yet  been taken or need be taken by the party, which should allow individual MPs the liberty to decide or vote according to conscience as well as  on non-party issues where MPs should transcend party, political and personal differences, such as questions of parliamentary privilege or a condolence motion like the one on the demise of former Prime Minister, Tun Ghafar Baba last month.

Furthermore, the powers and responsibilities of the parliamentary institutions like that the  Privileges Committee should not be hijacked by political parties or extra-parliamentary bodies. 

The case of the BN MP for Jasin, Datuk Mohd Said Yusoff is a case in point.  The Barisan Nasional Backbenchers Club (BNBBC) in its media conference  yesterday pronounced that Mohd Said was not guilty of a breach of privilege in having asked the Customs and Excise Department to close an eye over a case involving the import of sawn timber from Indonesia.

The Prime Minister disagreed and said last night that Mohd Said has acted “inappropriately” when he asked the Malacca Customs and Excise Department to “close one eye” over the  seizure of an illegal timber consignment.

I for one have not passed judgement as to whether Mohd Said had breached parliamentary privileges in this “close one eye” episode, as I believe that this is a judgement that should be made by the Committee of Privileges after an inquiry.

The BNBBC  “revolt” yesterday, demanding the right to vote according to conscience,  has proved to be very short-lived – as it appears to have been completely squashed in less than 10 hours.

The BNBBC is right when it said that the rule which forbade BN MPs  from supporting opposition motions must not be cast in stone, as “The unwritten rule that presently made it mandatory for BN MPs to oppose any opposition motion regardless of merit ran counter to basic parliamentary practice and infringed on the duties of MPs”.

I urge Abdullah to give serious consideration to the BNBBC statement which I fully endorse -  “It is the duty of the whip to tell us on which occasion to follow the party line. But in the absence of any direction from the whip, the general rule is that MPs were to vote according to their conscience to serve their constituency and country.”

However, I reject the half-baked arguments of the BNBBC that it was improper and against standing orders for me to raise the privilege motion last Thursday based solely on the New Straits Times and Berita Harian reports, as I can produce a sheaf of parliamentary privilege cases in other Commonwealth Parliaments based soley on newspaper reports.

Shahrir  is also wrong and misinformed when he said yesterday that everyone had made a mistake in Parliament last Thursday: "The Speaker made a mistake. The Opposition leader made a mistake. Those who supported it and those who were against it were also wrong. It was also wrong for me to resign (as BBC Chairman).”

I did not make any mistake. The Speaker did not make any mistake.  I do not know whether Shahrir has now changed his mind as to regard his support for my privilege motion and his resignation as BNBBC Chairman as mistakes. 

But these have become water under the bridge and the most important issue is how to stop the parliamentary train from careening out of control into the fourth-world ravine, for all concerned to pause and take stock and find the pathways back towards the direction of a First World Parliament.


*  Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman

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