MGG: Parliament decides visitors cannot question BN MPs
By M.G.G. Pillai
8/4/2002 12:05 am Mon
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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?