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MGG: A storm in the parliamentary teacup
By M.G.G. Pillai
4/11/2001 1:25 am Sun
Perhaps the most expensive and irrelevant body in what passes for
Malaysian democracy is its parliament. The prime minister and
his cabinet ignore it with abandon, the opposition, until the
last general election, too weak to bring it back Malaysia's
founding father had prepared it for. It is, to not put a fine
point to it, a sinecure: Six years as an MP and a pension for
life of half your monthly allowances (currently just under
RM5,000), and a healthy gratuity of about RM54,000 for every six
years served. There are other perks. For this, an MP is
required to be present to tell the world Malaysia is a
parliamentary democracy. It is, in the view of the Malaysian
cabinet, an inconvenient constitutional requirement that must be
humoured, but otherwise ignored.
Issues of any significance are conveniently sidelined. The
world can be on fire, but the Malaysian parliament would do
nothing. The government does not consult it on matters that
should it should: The new administrative capital of Putra Jaya
is built by one of its off budget agencies, Petronas, and
therefore out of its purview. Billions or ringgit for
development are announced without reference to Parliament.
Requiests for information are cavalierly ignored. The opposition
parties try to make it a debating chamber but with a Speaker
unprepared to take his role seriously, the effort is stillborn.
Afghanistan is not discussed in Parliament: it does not
interfere in other country's problem; the government would take
care of it, and MPs have no business in what is not theirs. The
House must exist as a rubber stamp for the government, not as a
sounding board of the Malaysian people.
The MPs therefore ignore their elected task, using it to
collect their pensions and allowances. Attendances are rare,
except when the Prime Minister makes his rare scheduled
appearances. Cabinet ministers do not usually answer questions
directed at them. They are busy doing what could be delegated
and delegate what they should not in the House. The MPs sign in
to collect their allowances and sign out, their day's work done.
The New Straits Times, a few years ago, began to count the MPs in
the House at three specified times a day when it sits. It shows
that MPs generally look upon their role as sinecures.
Last week, this table became an issue. The former chairman
of the National Front backbenchers' club, Dato' Ruhanie Ahmad,
accused the NST of being an opposition backer. This is like
calling Osama bin Laden a strong backer of the United States.
The NST, noted for its deaden coverage of issues, in which
anything of interest is rigorously scrubbed out, took issue, and
for two days defended itself in the fawning way it is noted for
when it takes issue with National Front MPs.
Dato' Ruhani's allegation that it is an opposition organ hit
it hard. It roared like a wounded mouse, it explained what its
bounden duty is, how it covers parliamentary issues so well that
it allocates one page, ONE PAGE! a day for it. It covers the
irrelevant issues of the day, ignores what should be, usually
depending on Bernama to set the tone, even with a phalanx of
reporters in the parliamentary gallery. And assiduously cover
the press conferences outside.
But the reporters would not explain the issues, or talk of
the political mood of the place. I find I do not have to be in
the House to find out what I want to know. Like many
journalists, I go there to meet people I often cannot, and get an
understanding of the political and other issues of the day.
Often their explanations are more accurate than the pontificating
So, why did Dato' Ruhani make the fuss? The government has
just declared Malaysia to be an Islamic state, but would not
discuss it in Parliament. It is not necessary, says the MCA
president, Dato' Seri Ling Liong Sik, since the government has
already announced it. The non-Malays and the non-Muslims worry
about their fate when important issues like this are studiously
kept out of parliamentary discussion. PAS had tried without
fail, well before the Prime Minister's capricious decision to
declare Malaysia as an Islamic state.
This divide Malays and non-Malays, Muslims and non-Muslims,
UMNO Malays and PAS Malays, political Malays and cultural Malays.
On 17 October, an UMNO MP from Sabah uttered an obscene
four-letter word in the House. The Speaker ignored the uproar
and took no action. UMNO did not punish the MP as it should
have. It now is an issue in the bondooks: UMNO cannot respond
to allegations that in its Islam, four-letter obscene words are
perfectly respectable. UMNO runs hither and thither.
The MPs in rural constituencies cannot answer the
unanswerable. Dato' Ruhani is one. He believes, like most
journalist-turned-politicians, the messenger should be killed for
the bad tidings. The messenger is distraught and goes to great
lengths to explain why he cannot be guilty and offers as
incontrovertible evidence that he sleeps on his job, and
therefore unfair to criticise him. And so another manufactured
crisis ends. The aim of the exercise is create a crisis that
would sell newspapers, not to add the problem. Dato' Ruhani and
the NST deserve each other.