(Petaling Jaya, Sunday): Last month, Parliament approved 1997 supplementary estimates, which included a RM12.8 million additional vote for Parliament to carry out renovations of Parliament House.
However, there is no point in spending RM12.8 in renovations for Parliament House if MPs are getting lesser and lesser time to debate important issues of the people and the nation.
Those who run Parliament have got the wrong end of the stick - and do not understand that Parliament's importance and significance is not in gleaming buildings or fine renovation of the office of the Clerk of Parliament, but in ensuring that Parliament is the supreme forum in the nation where MPs could speak up representing the views, needs, hopes and fears of Malaysians.
Two shocking and shameful events which happened in Parliament last week raises the question whether Parliamentary democracy in Malaysia has lost its way, when on the one hand, RM12.8 million are spent on renovations of Parliament House while on the other, MPs are denied lesser and lesser time to make Parliament the supreme "sounding board of the nation".
The first shameful episode happened on Tuesday, when MPs were told that the conventional and traditional nine-day debate for MPs in the second reading of the Budget had been arbitrarily slashed to eight days - although many MPs, whether from government or opposition, were waiting for their chance to speak.
For four decades, MPs had the conventional and traditional nine-day debate on the budget before Ministers reply. This nine-day debate should have been doubled for two reasons: the number of MPs have almost doubled from 104 to 193 MPs these these four decades. Furthermore, the size of the Federal budget allocation had increased some 70 to 80-fold, as the total Federal budget expenditure four decades ago were well below RM1 billion while the 1998 budget totalled RM64 billion!
The second shameful episode happened on Thursday during the committee stage of the budget debate on the Prime Minister's Department, when I was told that I could not speak for more than 10 minutes although I had wanted to speak for about an hour on various matters falling under the purview of the Prime Minister's Department, like the Anti-Corruption Agency, the Attorney-General's Chambers, the Election Commission, the Auditor-General's Office, the Public Services Commission, apart from the important subject of the Prime Minister's Office in the light of the alleged international conspiracy to topple Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir as Prime Minister.
As a result of the ridiculous 10-minute ruling, turning the Malaysian Parliament into a 10-minute Parliament, for the first time in Malaysian parliamentary history in the past four decades, the debate by MPs on the Prime Minister's Department ended earlier - in fact in less than one day - for lack of MPs who wanted to speak, and the Deputy Minister concerned was forced to start winding up on Thursday itself, although two days - namely Thursday and Monday - had been scheduled for it.
Ten minutes would be too long for lazy and irresponsible MPs who have no intention of discharging their duties to speak up in Parliament, while ten minutes is outrageously short for MPs who conscientiously want to perform their parliamentary responsibilities to be the voice of the people in the highest legislative and political chamber in the land.
Forty years ago, Parliament took 27 days to debate a budget which did not even reach RM1 billion. Now, the Prime Minister's Department's allocation for next year is RM2.67 billion, and MPs are limited to ten minutes and the whole debate disposed off in less than one day before the winding up, although two days had been set aside for the Ministry.
I will not be surprised if there are those in Parliament who now suggest that, with the 10-minute rule, there is no need to set aside two days for the debate on the Prime Minister's Department, and that one day would henceforth be adequate!
The dignity of MPs are upheld, not by spending RM12.8 million on renovations of Parliament House, but by having adequate opportunity in the Parliamentary Chamber to discharge their parliamentary duties to be the spokesmen of the people.
Malaysians will not respect the institution of Parliament just because of RM12.8 million renovations, but because Parliament is relevant to their lives with MPs, whether from government or opposition, speaking up on their behalves.
Parliament should be run by an All-Party Parliamentary Committee and not by civil servants who regard Parliament as their fiefdom and an opportunity for empire-building and go for international junkets, and who do not seem to understand Parliamentary traditions and conventions.
It is most shocking that at a time when Parliament is in session, when MPs would need to use the Parliament Library for references in the course of the parliamentary debate at any time, the Parliament Library is completely closed because of renovation.
When renovation of the Parliament Library takes precedence over the needs of MPs to use the Parliament Library during the Budget meeting, to the extent the Library is completely closed, something is very wrong in the sense of priorities of those who are responsible for the running of Parliament.
Whether Parliament Library should be closed and be completely inaccessible to MPs during the budget meeting should be a decision taken by an All-Party Parliamentary Committee, after consultation with all MPs, and not by civil servants who have no notions of the sovereignty of Parliament or the needs of MPs. I am glad that after my strictures in Parliament during the debate on the supplementary estimates last month, there have been some changes in the Parliamentary home-page, with the addition of the sections on Daily Notice Papers and Hansard.
It is clear that the whole purpose of these changes was to rush them in time before the committee stage debate on the Prime Minister's Department on Thursday so as to anticipate my criticisms and to allow the Deputy Minister concerned to say during the winding up that his promise that the Parliamentary homepage would be updated had been fulfilled.
However, it has been done in a very unprofessional, most slipshod and unsatisfactory manner. The format for the electronic Hansard is shockingly inappropriate. Furthermore, there is no professionalism at all, as for instance, for the 20th October 1997 Hansard, the question-and-answer report was immediately repeated, showing there was no proper check or editing.
Furthermore, it is most careless and irresponsible not to give a clear notice and warning that the Hansard on the Parliamentary homepage is only a "Draft" Hansard, as is done by other Commonwealth Parliamentary homepages.
For the homepages of other Commonwealth Parliaments, information is given about the Office of the Clerk of Parliament, but for the Malaysian Parliament homepage, information is given about the vitae curriculum of the Clerk of Parliament!
One gets the unfortunate impression that who is the Clerk of Parliament is of paramount importance for the Malaysian parliamentary homepage, even more important than the Members of Parliament, as there are no information whatsoever about the MPs .
I had said in Parliament last month that there is no reason all the bills presented to Parliament could not be accessible through the Parliamentary homepage, as all the information created by the government is now created in electronic form.
I am glad to see that one bill has been put up on the Parliamentary homepage, but I am shocked at the choice of this bill - the Telemedicine Bill. Parliament passed the Telemedicine Bill in May, it was given the Royal Assent on 18th June and gazetted into law on 30th June 1997. It should be the Telemedicine Act 1997 (Act 564) which should be posted up on the Parliamentary homepage, and not the Telemedicine Bill.
What the Parliamentary homepage should put up are the 12 Bills which are currently on the Parliamentary Order Paper which would be debated after the passage of the 1998 Budget next month - so as to give Malaysians an opportunity to study and give feedback to these Bills.
I had repeatedly suggested that the Parliament Homepage should be placed under the overall responsibility of an All-Party Parliamentary Committee which should make the policy decision as to the format, structure and contents of the homepage.
My proposal is now even more relevant, as after 18 months, it is clear that those presently responsible for the Parliamentary homepage have no clue whatsoever as to how to present a homepage which would be the pride of the Malaysian Parliament and nation.