(Penang, Wednesdat): I have called this media conference specifically to respond to a challenge by a Senator during the one-hour debate in the Dewan Negara on Monday that I repeat the "derogatory" reference to the Senate which I had made in the Dewan Rakyat on December 17 outside Parliament so that legal action could be instituted against me.
I had given notice to all Senators that they, or their legal representatives, could attend this media conference where I would repeat what I had said in the Dewan Rakyat on December 17, and they could take whatever legal action they like.
I here repeat outside Parliament without the benefit of parliamentary privilege what I had said in the Dewan Rakyat, viz. that the Senate at present is nothing more than a "rubbish-bin for political has-beens, rejects and deadwoods". This is to allow Senators to take legal action to clear their name as threatened in the Dewan Negara on Monday.
Let me give the background why I had made this reference which had become the flashpoint for Senators to wake up from their Rip-Van-Winkle slumber to make Dewan Negara history for the first time in forty years to move a motion of urgent, definite public importance.
During the debate on the Securities Industry Amendment Bill in the Dewan Rakyat last Thursday, 17th December 1997,I had urged the Prime Minister to reconsider the whole concept of National Economic Action Council (NEAC) so 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 standard 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".
I do not know how many of the 69 Senators want to institute legal action against me now that I have accepted the challenge to repeat outside Parliament without the benefit of parliamentary privilege that the Senate is a "rubbish-bin for political has-beens, rejects and deadwoods".
I have however appointed Karpal Singh, DAP Deputy National Chairman and MP for Jelutong, as my lawyer and he has been instructed to accept service on my behalf all legal suits any number of Senators who wish to file legal action against me on this matter.
During the Dewan Negara debate on Monday, a Senator challenged me to a public debate on my "derogatory" reference to the Senate as a "rubbish-bin for political has-beens, rejects and deadwoods".
As far as I am concerned, I had not made any "derogatory" remark about the Senate, but only made a most fair and unbiased assessment of the Senate's role, function and position in the country's system of democratic governance.
I accept the challenge to a public debate and I am prepared to face the over ten Senators who had spoken in the Dewan Negara on Monday, whether in the one-hour debate proper or during the debate on the Judges Remuneration Amendment Bill, denouncing me for making the "derogatory" remark about the Senate.
I am even prepared to accept the Dewan Negara chamber as the venue for this public debate.
As the debate challenge emanated from the Dewan Negara, I hope the Senators concerned would be serious enough to organise such a public debate or they would be guilty of chickening out of a challenge when it had been accepted.
I hereby appoint my two political secretaries, Foo Yueh Chuan and Hew Kuan Yaw, to liaise with the Senators and they have the full mandate to finalise all details on the public debate with the Senators on whether the Dewan Negara is a "rubbish-bin for political has-beens, rejects and deadwoods".
In a way, the country must be thankful that the childishness, immaturity and irresponsibility of the Senators in wasting more than an hour to debate my description of the Senate at a time when the people and country are in the midst of an unprecedented national economic and financial crisis has put the Senate in the national spotlight and raised fundamental questions about the utility and relevance of the Dewan Negara.
It is most shocking that on Monday, the Dewan Negara passed the Criminal Procedure Amendment Bill without debate. Was there not a single Senator who had anything to say about the Criminal Procedure Amendment Bill, whether about the independence of the judiciary or the administration of justice? These Senators seem to be living in a world of their own, completely different from the ordinary Malaysians. If the Dewan Negara was going to pass a bill without debate, why have a Dewan Negara in the first place?
The Senate has failed the high purpose for which it was conceived by the fathers 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"?
It is time Malaysians ask whether the Dewan Negara justify the RM10 million spent on it every year.
The Dewan Negara violates both the letter and spirit of the Malaysian Constitution in being stuffed largely by those who have failed to achieve distinction in the professions, commerce, industry, agriculture, cultural activities or social service. It has failed as a second legislative chamber whose primary function is to provide an element of mature deliberation as was not permissible in the Dewan Rakyat, with the shortness of notice given to elected MPs before debate has to begin on the various Bills. As illustrated by the case of the Criminal Procedure Amendment Bill in the Dewan Negara on Monday, there was no debate whatsoever when three Opposition MPs spoke on the Bill in the Dewan Rakyat last Thursday.