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Call on PM to remind Ministers of their contribution to achieve a First World Parliament with a directive to ministers  to give top priority to their parliamentary duties and attendance and not to slacken to the old habits of showing up in Parliament only for ceremonial functions


Media  Statement (2)

by Lim Kit Siang  

, Saturday): There has been a sea change in the ministerial mindset and attitude on their parliamentary responsibilities and attendance last week and this week – thanks, actually no thanks, to Barisan Nasional Backbenchers’ Club (BNBBC) Chairman Shahrir Samad.

For the first time for decades, Ministers were on the defensive about the notoriety and irresponsibility of their parliamentary absences, which tantamount to playing truant from Parliament, and shamed by a rising crescendo of demands by MPs coming from both sides of the House to show a new attitude of ministerial seriousness about their parliamentary duties.

As a result, history was created last month when some 25 of the 33 Ministers spoke on behalf of their Ministries during the policy debate at the second reading of the Supply Bill. Never before in recent parliamentary memory has there been the scene of Ministers trooping into the Chamber to queue up to take their turn in the winding-up of the policy debate on the 2006 Budget – a most commonplace event in First World Commonwealth Parliaments.

I thought a new and sturdy beginning has started in the journey towards a First World Parliament in Malaysia, as this restored sense of Ministerial responsibility to Parliament was sustained when Parliament entered into the Ministry-by-Ministry scrutiny of the 2006 Budget estimates after the policy debate.

In the week before Parliament recessed for a fortnight because of the Deeparaya festivities, four Ministers in the Prime Minister’s Department, Nazri Aziz, Mustapha Mohamad, Dr. Maximus J. Ongkili and Dr. Abdullah Md Zin, took their turn to reply to the points raised by MPs in the debate on the Prime Minister’s Department – another history in Malaysian Parliament.

When Parliament resumed last week, the new atmosphere of proper ministerial responsibility to Parliament was still there although it was open secret that many Ministers were chafing at the new benchmark of ministerial responsibility to Parliament and were plotting to regain their “freedom” to play truant from parliamentary attendance and duties.

Up to last week however, Ministers continued to be in the defensive for absence from Parliament to answer questions or table their Ministry’s estimates. This was why Aziz Shamsuddin, Minister for Rural and Regional Development, personally tabled his Ministry’s estimates and why the Works Minister Samy Vellu and Transport Minister, Chan Kong Choy were seen in Parliament at the end of last week when the estimates of their Ministries might come up for debate.

This week, however, the Ministers were back to the old bad habits of treating Parliament as a “nuisance” distracting them from their more important pursuits, relegating their parliamentary duties to their deputy ministers and parliamentary secretaries.

The defensiveness of Ministers for their absence from Parliament has vanished completely, replaced by their old arrogance and contempt for Parliament – all because Shahrir as BNBBC Chairman had taken a stand, which he stated in Parliament the previous Thursday, that he was quite happy with deputy ministers standing in for Ministers in Parliament provided they give “good answers”. He even berated me for trying to act like a class monitor to keep record of Ministerial attendance.

With such “understanding” from the BNBBC Chairman, Ministers have again become the missing species in Parliament, having regained their past freedom to play truant from Parliament. There are also no more voices from BN MPs demanding that a Minister must be in the House to answer a question or reply to a debate, and not to delegate it to a deputy minister or parliamentary secretary.

The brief and hard-won gain of MPs, from both sides of the House, in demanding that Ministers must give priority to their parliamentary duties and attendance, were just squandered away by Shahrir’s magnanimity and charity of spirit in telling the Ministers that Barisan Nasional MPs, who command 92% of the parliamentary seats, do not mind if the Ministers return to their old ways of being regularly absent from Parliament and skipping their parliamentary responsibilities.

Shahrir has done a great disservice to Parliament and the Prime Minister in the Herculean effort to transform the Malaysian Parliament into a First World Parliament.

I call on the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to remind Ministers of their contribution to achieve a First World Parliament with a directive from Malta, where he is attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), to ministers  to give top priority to their parliamentary duties and attendance and not to slacken to the old habits of showing up in Parliament only for ceremonial functions.



How can the Malaysian Parliament become a First-World Parliament when Ministers regard it as a lowly institution which could be relegated to deputy ministers and parliamentary secretaries and even worse, MPs are prepared to accept the “second-best” of having deputy ministers and parliamentary secretaries to answer questions and reply to debates instead of insisting on the attendance of Ministers unless they have  important affairs of state to attend to or other acceptable reasons for their absence.



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

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