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Is Taib Mahmud digging a hole which will bury himself with the most undemocratic, preposterous and obnoxious bill to hamper, impede and obstruct the freedom of speech and action of Opposition members in Sarawak State Assembly?


Media Statement        
by Lim Kit Siang  


(Parliament, Monday) : Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud sounded very brave last weekend when addressing Sarawak   Barisan Nasional (BN) backbenchers in Damai Resort in a seminar with the most inappropriate topic, namely “The role of political leaders: integrity and development”. 

In the Star report headlined Taib: Use law to fight back”, the Sarawak Chief Minister was quoted as telling Sarawak Barisan Nasional State Assembly members: Fight any smear campaign bravely.” 

This has reminded everyone of Taib’s 48-hour ultimatum to Malaysiakini to remove several articles concerning accusations of corruption allegedly linked to him and his family after the Japan Times report implicating Taib in a scandal involving RM32 million in kickbacks paid by Japanese shipping companies for timber from the resource-rich state.

Seventeen days have passed since the expiry of Taib’s 48-hour ultimatum to Malaysiakini to remove the “offensive” articles or he would institute legal proceedings to clear his name and reputation.

Why hasn’t Taib instituted legal proceedings yet?

In his speech last week, Taib told  Sarawak BN backbenchers:

 “Don’t fear. We have to fight it out. 

“I will show you how we can protect ourselves through the legal system.”

Everyone thought Taib was reassuring Sarawak BN backbenchers that he would be instituting legal proceedings against Malaysiakini and others to clear his name when he spoke about using the legal system to “fight back” but everyone was wrong. 

It is now clear that what Taib meant was the misuse and abuse of the tyranny of the BN majority in the Sarawak State Assembly to enact laws to hamper, impede and obstruct the freedom of speech and action of Opposition representatives in the Sarawak State Assembly.

New Sunday Times yesterday under its story “Throwing a dare in the House will land you a fine” reported a new bill, Dewan Undangan Negeri (Privileges and Powers) Bill 2007 which will be tabled in the Sarawak State Assembly in its meeting from May 14-23.

Under the Bill, a  member of the Sarawak State Legislative Assembly will be fined up to RM2,000 on the spot if he challenges another member to a fight or issues a threatening letter while the assembly is in session.

If the member does not pay the fine immediately, he or she will be sent to prison until the fine is paid or until the state assembly is dissolved.

A member will also be fined if he or she creates or joins in any disturbance inside the House or in its vicinity where any proceedings are or are likely to be interrupted.

The Bill also creates other offences, including:

• assaulting, obstructing or insulting any member coming to or going from the House or on account of his conduct in the assembly or endeavouring to compel any member by force, insult, or menace to declare himself in favour of or against any proposition;

• tampering with, deterring, threatening, beguiling, or in any way unduly influencing any witness in regard to evidence to be given by him before the House or any committee;

• presenting to the House or to any committee any false, untrue, fabricated or falsified document with intent to deceive the House or any committee;

• the publication of any false or scandalous libel on any member touching on his conduct as a member; and

• the publication of any report of a committee of the House or of any evidence given or any document presented to such committee or extracts from such documents, before such committee has presented its report to the House.

The bill also seeks to give power to the speaker of the state legislative assembly to order the arrest of any person for causing disturbance during the sitting of the House.

The person, after being arrested, might be sent to jail according to the tenor of the warrant.

These  new proposals to hamper, obstruct and impede the freedom of speech and action of Sarawak State Assembly members are  most undemocratic, preposterous and obnoxious, demonstrating the fear of the Sarawak Chief Minister and the State Cabinet in being engaged by the six DAP State Assembly members in the Sarawak State Assembly  in a open and no-holds-barred debate in the past year. 

Clearly, Taib wants to use the brute majority of the Sarawak BN in the State Assembly to enact laws with punitive sanctions including jail sentences to silence the Opposition. 

What Taib is proposing in the new bill is a major step backwards for the development of parliamentary democracy and makes a total mockery of  the country’s claim that it is committed to the system of parliamentary democracy, particularly when the country is celebrating its 50th Merdeka anniversary which coincides with the 43rd Malaysia Day marking Sarawak and Sabah’s entry and creation of the Malaysian federation. 

The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi should advise the Sarawak Chief Minister to drop the ludicrous bill to hamper, impede and obstruct freedom of speech and action of State Assembly representatives, as it will make Malaysia a laughing stock in the world with regard to our retrograde parliamentary practices. 

Alternatively, Taib Mahmud should agree to refer the Bill to an all-party  Select Committee of the State Assembly, which could hold public hearings and consultations to seek public views and inputs. 

I am attracted by another provision in the new bill, which seeks to compel any member to disclose his direct pecuniary interests before he takes part in any discussion in the House or any of its committees.  He faces a fine of RM2,000 if he fails to disclose his interests and if the fine is not paid immediately, he will be sent to jail until it is settled.

Is Taib Mahmud digging a hole to bury himself, for he and his family have such extensive interests in business and economic interests in the state that he would have to first reveal his pecuniary interests not only every time he speaks, but probably a dozen times in a major speech, if he is to comply with this new rule. 

Will Taib be fined or sent to prison if he fails to disclose his pecuniary interests when he takes part in any discussion in the State Assembly or its committees?


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

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