(Penang, Tuesday): The Dewan Negara yesterday unanimously passed a motion demanding from me an unconditional apology and retraction of my reference to the Senate as a "rubbish-bin for political has-beens, rejects and deadwoods" and that the reference be expunged from the Hansard of the Dewan Rakyat.
It is the senators who should apologise to the nation and people for being a burdensome national irrelevance who could waste more than an hour debating about me instead of focussing on the people's problems at a time of unprecedented economic and financial crisis.
I do not know whether I should congratulate the Dewan Negara or commiserate with the nation that the Senate had created history in adjourning its proceedings to debate a matter of urgent, definite public importance for the first time in its 40-year history.
The Dewan Negara had "slumbered" Rip-Van-Winkle fashion for four decades and only discovered yesterday that there is a provision in its Standing Orders which could allow Senators to raise issues of "urgent, definite public importance" which are not placed in the ordinary Parliamentary agenda.
In the Dewan Rakyat, DAP MPs have regularly invoked such a provision to adjourn the House to debate issues of "urgent, definite public importance" to bring to Parliamentary and government attention topical developments which concern the people and country. In the last week of the Dewan Rakyat for instance, DAP MPs moved three such motions seeking to adjourn the House to debate matters of "urgent, definite public importance".
However, what detracts from the historic significance of this record-breaking incident by the Dewan Negara yesterday was that it was not to allow Senators to focus on the people's problems at a time of unprecedented economic and financial crisis, but to vent their spleen against me for accurately describing the position, role and character of the Dewan Negara.
It is not that there was a scarcity of matters of "urgent, definite public importance" to be raised in the Dewan Negara yesterday, which was the last sitting for Dewan Negara until the March session.
There were many issues of "urgent, definite public importance" waiting for Senators to raise them in the Dewan Negara to bring the people's concerns to the attention of Parliament and government.
There was, for instance, the International Monetary Interim World Economic Outlook released in Washington on Saturday, which not only slashed its combined growth forecast for Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines by a whopping 3.7 percentage points to 1.7 per cent for 1998, but sharply revised downwards its projection for Malaysia's real GDP growth next year to 2.5 per cent.
This was definitely a matter of "urgent, definite public importance" for it was tantamount to the IMF declaring its lack of confidence in the emergency financial package (the second 1998 budget) announced by Finance Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim on 5th December and his forecast that economic growth for Malaysia next year would be between 4 - 5 per cent (as compared to the 7 per cent forecast in the original 1998 budget presented to Parliament on Oct. 17).
This would have far-reaching implications, for the forecast that Malaysia's growth would only be 2.5 per cent and not the 4 - 5 per cent forecast by the Malaysian government is not made by private economists or rating agencies but by the International Monetary Fund after the fullest consultations with officers of the Finance Ministry as well as Bank Negara.
If the IMF's latest forecast that Malaysia's economy would only grow by 2.5 per cent is correct, then Malaysians must be prepared for even greater hardships, pain and suffering than the government has been telling them.
Furthermore, it would mean that it is urgent and imperative that Anwar should present a third 1998 budget to an emergency meeting of Parliament early next month, as the first two 1998 budgets are clearly inadequate to meet the worsening economic and financial crisis.
If the Dewan Rakyat had been in session, the IMF's shocking 2.5 per cent forecast as the country's rate of economic growth next year would definitely have become the subject of a motion of "urgent, definite public importance" for an emergency debate on the issue.
Or there was the other matter of "urgent, definite public importance", namely the appointment of the Economic Adviser to the Government, Tun Daim Zainuddin as the executive director to the National Economic Action Council (NEAC).
The announcement of Daim's appointment by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad on Saturday has not been well-received by the market, as reflected in the KLSE Composite Index closing yesterday 8.93 points lower at 569.83 and the ringgit closing lower at 3.8330 against 3.8250 to the US dollar last Friday.
Is Daim going to be a Super-Minister or will Malaysia have two Finance Ministers with Daim's appointment as executive director of NEAC?
Mahathir said several legal aspects had delayed the setting up of the NEAC although it was announced more than a month ago and the Attorney-General should be reminded of his duty to uphold the Constitution by not creating a very peculiar constitutional creature which undermines the principles of Cabinet responsibility and parliamentary government.
Or there was another matter of "urgent, definite public importance", namely the failure and irresponsibility of the Malaysian embassy staff in Indonesia to be in Palembang to help grieving relatives of 10 Malaysian victims of the Singapore SilkAir crash.
If Japanese embassy officials could rush to Palembang to provide assistance to families of two of their nationals who had perished in the Singapore SilkAir crash, why couldn't Malaysian Embassy officials show similar responsibility and compassion for our own nationals, especially as ten Malaysians died in the air disaster?
Or there was another matter of "urgent, definite public importance", the announcement by the Education Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak last Thursday that only bumiputra students in local universities and selected private institutions can apply for study loans from the RM100 million National Higher Education Fund, which goes against the principle of the Vision 2020 to create a Bangsa Malaysia.
But the Dewan Negara was blind and deaf to these matters of "urgent, definite public importance" and could only concern itself with my reference to it as "rubbish-bin for political has-beens, rejects and deadwoods"
I said this in the Dewan Rakyat during the debate on the Securities Industry Amendment Bill last Thursday, 17th December 1997, when calling on the Prime Minister to reconsider the whole concept of NEAC as not to undermine the principles of Cabinet responsibility and parliamentary democracy.
I had suggested that instead of proceeding with the formation of a hybrid body like the National Economic Action Council, the Prime Minister should carry out a major cabinet reshuffle to remove the deadwoods in the Cabinet, and to form National Economic Crisis Cabinet with technocrats and experts as members of the Cabinet with the expertise and knowledge to deal with the national economic crisis, and most important of all, who can command public confidence in their integrity, competence and dedication.
I had proposed that to form such a National Economic Crisis Cabinet, the Prime Minister should tap experts in the private and public sectors who are not MPs, by appointing them as Senators, as this would also raise the standards of the Senate. It was at this point that I described the Senate at present as nothing more than a "rubbish-bin for political has-beens, rejects and deadwoods".
Although the Dewan Negara set aside one hour between 5.30 p.m. to 6.30 p.m. for nine Senators to go on a rampage against me, a few Senators had already chosen to bring the matter up earlier during the one-hour debate on the Judges' Remuneration Amendment Bill. Clearly Senators were not interested about fundamental issues like the independence and integrity of the judiciary, the fair administration of justice and restoring confidence in both the judiciary and administration of justice but only in venting their spleen over hurt egos.
The height of irresponsibility of the Dewan Negara could be seen by the fact that Senators could spend over an hour to denounce me, but could spare only 18 minutes to debate the Securities Industry Amendment Bill, which was one of the most important bills in the current meeting of Parliament because of the economic and financial crisis! I myself spoke for two hours on the Securities Amendment Bill in the Dewan Rakyat, which debated the Bill for over six hours.
What is even more shocking, there was no debate whatsoever when the Dewan Negara passed the Criminal Procedure Amendment Bill yesterday. If the Dewan Negara is going to pass a bill without debate, why have a Dewan Negara in the first place?
Whether on the basis of yesterday's Dewan Negara proceedings, or its record of the past four decades, senators should apologise to the nation and people for being a burdensome national irrelevance, especially when they could waste more than an hour debating about me instead of focussing on the people's problems at a time of unprecedented economic and financial crisis.
Yesterday, both in the debate on the Judges' Remuneration Amendment Bill and the one-hour special debate, Senators made numerous personal attacks against me, which I do not deign it dignified for me to give much notice.
I was not making any personal attack against any particular Senator when I said in the Dewan Rakyat that the Senate was a "rubbish-bin for political has-beens, rejects and deadwoods" - a description which I believe the overwhelming majority of Malaysians would agree.
The Senate has failed the high purpose for which it was conceived by the founders of the Constitution, that it should be constituted by distinguished Malaysians "who have achieved distinction in the professions, commerce, industry, agriculture, cultural activities or social service" so as to provide an Upper House where serious deliberations could be given to legislative proposals enacted by the Lower House.
How many Senators can stand up and declare that they have "achieved distinction in the professions, commerce, industry, agriculture, cultural activities or social service"?
During the debate, a Senator challenged me to repeat what I had said in the Dewan Rakyat outside Parliament so that legal action could be instituted against me.
I hereby give notice to all Senators that they, or their legal representatives, could attend a media conference at 12 p.m. here tomorrow where I would repeat what I had said in the Dewan Rakyat on December 17, and they could take whatever legal action they like.
As for the demand for an apology, there is nothing to apologise for speaking the truth. I have already said that it is the Senators who should apologise to the country and people for being a national irrelevance and wasting public funds.
As for its demand that what I said about the Senate should be expunged from the Hansard of Dewan Rakyat, I can only say that the Senators are only exhibiting their childishness, immaturity, ignorance and irrelevance.