Protest that the government has taken years to draft the Communications and  Multimedia Bill and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission Bill but is giving MPs one day’s notice to start debating them in Parliament next Tuesday

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang  

(Petaling Jaya, Saturday):  I want to protest in the strongest possible terms that the government has taken years to draft the Communications and Multimedia Bill and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission Bill but is giving Members of Parliament one day’s notice to start debating them in Parliament next Tuesday.

According to the Parliamentary Orders Papers for next week’s Parliament circulated to MPs, two bills would be presented for first reading on Monday, namely Rang Undang-undang Komunikasi dan Multimedia 1998 and Rang Undang-undang Suruhanjaya Komunikasi dan Multimedia Malaysia 1998, but the earliest they could be debated for  second reading is Tuesday as Standing Orders requires at least one day’s notice to be given.

On the Parliamentary Order Papers, there is only one government bill slated for second-reading debate on Monday, namely the three-paragraph insigificant Chemists Amendment Bill, which could be disposed off in less than half an hour.

By past practice, Barisan Nasional MPs will be dragging out the debate on the Chemists Amendment Bill, speaking on a whole sundry of subjects utterly irrelevant to the bill, just to "kill" my motion "calling for a Royal Commission of Inquiry into Nepotism, with special focus on the children and associates of political leaders, both government and opposition" so that it would not surface before 6.30 p.m. on Monday for  debate if the Chemists Amendment Bill is disposed off before the adjournment of Parliament.

By Tuesday, Parliament would be able to debate the two Communications and Multimedia Bills as they would have complied with the minimum of one-day’s notice between first and second reading.

However, this would be completely unacceptable.  I have just phoned up Parliament for copies of the two Communications and Multimedia Bills, but  they are not available as these bills have not reached Parliament House yet!

The government should explain why it is showing such contempt for Members of Parliament as well as the Malaysian public in giving MPs one day notice to debate  the two Communications and Multimedia Bills when it had taken years to draft it.

In these circumstances, no MP would be able to contribute intelligently to the debate, for Communications and Multimedia Bills are dealing with completely new subjects, and MPs should be given adequate time of at least one month  to consult with experts and professionals in the IT world as well as to allow Malaysians versed in the communications and  multimedia fields to give their inputs for the proposed legislation.

In early 1996, the Cabinet took a decision that MPs should be given at least two weeks’ notice for all bills before their second-reading debate in Parliament.  Why is this Cabinet rule being violated in the case of the two Communications and Multimedia Bills?

I must confess surprise that the Bills are Communications and Multimedia Bills rather than Multimedia Convergence Bills, as had been mentioned by the Ministers and relevant government authorities in the past years.

In fact, as late as the end of June, the Information Minister, Datuk Seri Mohamed Rahmat was using the term Multimedia Convergence Bill, which he said had been approved by the Cabinet and would provide for the setting up of a Multimedia Ministry.

This Multimedia Ministry will merge the functions and jurisdictions of broadcasting, now under the Information Ministry and telecommunications under the Energy, Telecommunications and Posts Ministry and computers under the Science, Technology and Environment Ministry. The new Ministry will  ensure unimpeded flow of information to the people as information  is considered a new form of wealth that must be distributed as widely as possible to all levels of society.

Clearly, what Mohamad Rahmat was more  worried about was  whether he would remain a Cabinet Minister when there is a creation of a new Ministry from Information, Telecommunications and Science/Technology Ministries.

I call on the Government Whip, the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, to ensure that MPs are given at least one month to study the two new Communications and Multimedia Bills, and even to arrange for all MPs (both government and opposition) to be given a full briefing on the subject of the integration of communication technology, computing and broadcasting.

It is expected that with the two multimedia bills, the Telecommunications Act, which comprises laws applicable in the 1950s, will be repealed.

The majority of the present crop of MPs are IT-illiterate, and before any second-reading debate on the two new cyberbills, all MPs should be given an opportunity to understand how they  would facilitate the development of world-class telecommunications in a multimedia environment, the guidelines to regulate the  environment  and  how the licensing requirements for multimedia operations will be simplified.


*Lim Kit Siang - Malaysian Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Democratic Action Party Secretary-General & Member of Parliament for Tanjong