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MGG: Parliament decides visitors cannot question BN MPs
By M.G.G. Pillai

8/4/2002 12:05 am Mon

Parliament decides visitors cannot question BN MPs

M.G.G. Pillai 11:40am Sun Apr 7th, 2002

When systems break down with no one the wiser, the most powerful is not its head but its lowest employee who acquires untrammelled power as its gatekeeper.

When a security guard can decide who can and cannot enter Parliament, and impose conditions he has no right to, and authorities can but shrug their shoulders, it makes nonsense of an apolitical legislature.

A security guard allowed a malaysiakini reporter into Parliament on April 3 on condition he could, for all he cared, talk to opposition MPs, but his pass would be revoked if he asked a BN MP the time of day. It applies to all journalists who did not have press passes or had expired ones.

Parliament, I thought, had no politics. So what right has it to impose conditions which mock that august institution? The Speaker is silent when Parliament's control of itself, as its constitutional rights, is challenged.

The cabinet minister who should know, Rais Yatim, can huff and puff, but he could not put the matter right. He is sorry, of course, but he did not see it as yet another executive usurpation of power.

Yes, he wrote a well-regarded doctoral thesis on it, but he insists now what he wrote was, to tell the truth, an aberration of his own mind. He would rather not be seen now with that book in his hand as he rejects every argument he put forward for the doctorate in philosophy the University of London awarded him for his pains.

The issue here is a security guard imposing conditions on a visitor a Speaker cannot. The malaysiakini reporter had no press pass, and it was right that conditions were imposed on him as a visitor. The question is not that: but can Parliament impose a condition on a visitor he is not allowed to contact some MPs but not the others?

Not an accident

That he issued a condition cannot be an accident. Someone higher up had ordered it. And imposed a new rule that Parliament is an extension of BN and not of the nation.

The implications of it are horrendous. Parliament accepts it. The opposition accepts it (The opposition did raise the issue in Parliament; it was just not reported - Ed). No one raised it in the House of this usurpation of authority. The mainstream newspapers ignored it.

All saw it as an excess of zeal of the lowly security guard, not a serious constitutional conflict that would have brought that security guard to the Bar of the House in other jurisdictions where these things are taken more seriously.

What did the opposition MPs do when this was brought to their attention? Why did they not demand of the Speaker to address his right to impose such conditions that question not his, but the legislative body's integrity?

Anything that happens in the vicinity of Parliament is in his jurisdiction. It is clear, on the face of it, he allowed it. That by past practice is nothing new. In practice Parliament regards itself a BN institution, the opposition MPs allowed in on sufferance and it now implicitly has no right to demand answers from BN MPs.

At least we now know why the Speaker will not allow urgent debates and motions from the Opposition which can only put the BN government in a bad light. But he was, until, now, careful to stick to constitutional propriety.

It is Parliament's right to decide who may enter its precincts, and the conditions under which he may be allowed to. But these rules cannot be made on the fly by a security guard, and should be available to all.

It should not matter if he who asks for a visitor's pass is a journalist or not. One should assume he, whoever he is, cannot meet BN MPs as a condition from now on a visitor's pass. That surely was not why this problem arose.

It was for a petty reason: the malaysiakini reporter should not be allowed in; but to prevent the stink if he was, impose such conditions as make his task as messy and troublesome as possible. No one cared if this offended Parliament's inherent integrity.

Malaysiakini is wrong to make an issue out of nothing. The rules are clear about the issue of press passes. It does not qualify. It works in a new environment, a new medium. The rules are unclear.

Monopoly challenged

The government's monopoly on news is challenged, and it knows not how to control what it does not have control over. The information ministry tried many stupid ways to bring malaysiakini to its knees.

It goes about its work without a press pass and none the wiser. But malaysiakini, like many of us, has this insane desire to confront, especially when everything is going its way. It should accept it and get on with its work by proving that it could get the news even when it is barred from the news sources.

When I was with the Singapore Herald more than three decades ago, it was under more trying conditions than malaysiakini would ever face. We were denied official press releases, the government deliberately issuing press releases about our deadline, just after midnight, so that the Herald could not get it. More worrying was the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, amidst this problem.

But the Herald sailed through. Unexpectedly, one Commonwealth prime minister arranged for the conference papers to be delivered to the Herald office through devious routes, along with hurriedly written notes of the proceedings inside.

Our friends in the press world tipped us off of more mundane developments. We won that battle, even if Singapore shut the Herald down within the year. But we went out with our heads holding high. I was one of three expelled. My current ban from Singapore has its roots from that time.

I am burnished from that experience. As malaysiakini is. It is a far better Internet newspaper than if it had all on a platter. Adversity brings out one's strengths in unexpected ways.

More important, what the malaysiakini episode reveals is the constitutional rot this blessed country of ours is pocked with. What frightens is not that it has, but no MP, in BN or the opposition, demanded an explanation of the Speaker.

No one takes what happened in the seriousness it should. Not even malaysiakini. To say that this new ruling affects others as well is neither here nor there.

The bigger issue is, as I said, the unlawful usurpation of constitutional authority. Institutions that would at the drop of a hat to engage the government for minor administrative decisions are strangely silent. This should frighten us all. Is there any who cares?