(Petaling Jaya, Tuesday): Congratulations to the Government and Zainuddin Maidin on the latter’s appointment as Senator and I hope that this will mark the end of the Senate as "a rubbish-bin for political has-beens, rejects and deadwood" and a burdensome national irrelevance.
It has been a very very long time when any appointment of a Senator could be met with the response that it was a fitting choice, in keeping with both the spirit and letter of the Malaysian Constitution, which provides under Article 45(2) that Senators to be appointed by the Yang di Pertuan Agong shall be persons "who in his opinion have rendered distinguished public service or have achieved distinction in the professions, commerce, industry, agriculture, cultural activities or social service or are representative of racial minorities or are capable of representing the interests of aborigines."
Whether one agrees or disagrees with Zainuddin, 58, better known in the journlistic world as Zam, there can be no dispute that he has "achieved distinction" in his profession of journalism, having started from the lowest rung as Utusan Melayu part-time reporter, then its correspondent for Kedah-Perlis, chief reporter in Kuala Lumpur, and later news editor and editor-in-chief from 1982-1992, until he was forced to relinquish his final editorial position. Zam is now the executive chairman of Utusan Publications & Distributors Sdn. Bhd. and an author of four books.
I note that in his first comments, Zainuddin said his appointment as Senator was not only an honour to him but to all journalists "who through their voice of moderation have contributed to the creation of a society which subscribes to a culture of tolerance based on Malaysia’s own formula".
From a personal point of view, I hope Zainuddin’s appoinment as Senator would bring to Parliament a clear and constant voice calling for a responsible but greater mass media freedom and democracy in Malaysia and the urgent need to resolve the problem of information deficit in the country, which is a root cause of the crisis of confidence in Malaysia today.
I particularly welcome Zainuddin’s appointment as Senator as I see it as the first positive outcome of the controversy last year as a result of my description in Dewan Rakyat of the Senate as "a rubbish-bin for political has-beens, rejects and deadwood", resulting in an unprecedented Dewan Negara motion, which was passed unanimously at the last day of its budget meeting on December 22 demanding from me an unconditional apology and retraction of my statement, as well as the expungement of such reference in the Dewan Rakyat Hansard.
In the one-hour debate on a motion of urgent, definite public importance - the first time in the 40-year Senate history - I was also challenged to repeat outside Parliament what I had said about the Senate in the Dewan Rakyat on December 17 without the benefit of parliamentary privilege so that legal action could be instituted against me. I was even challenged to a public debate for describing the senate as "a rubbish-bin for political has-beens, rejects and deadwoods". I had accepted both these challengess, and repeated outside Parliament without the benefit of parliamentary privilege my remark that the Senate is "a rubbish-bin for political has-beens, rejects and deadwoods" as well as publicly accepting the challenge to a public debate.
I also publicly rejected an official communication from Dewan Negara dated 23rd December 1997, demanding an unconditional apology and retraction of my reference to the Senate as "a rubbish-bin for political has-beens, rejects and deadwood", as it was 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.
But despite all the brave challenges to me by the Senators, nobody had dared to follow them up, for what I had said was nothing but the truth - with the Senate degenerating into "a rubber-stamp of the rubber-stamp - the Dewan Rakyat"!
No Senator, for instance, could explain why in the last Senate meeting, the Dewan Negara had 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?
The 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?
On Sunday, Sun carried an article entitled "Is the Dewan Negara a rubber stamp?" revisiting the controversy arising from my description of the Senate as "a rubbish-bin for political has-beens, rejects and deadwood".
I was very surprised that there were still Senators who could defend the indefensible.
The Sun article, by Vijaya Rani, states:
"There is no room for deadwood here, as suggested by some, each of us had to compete with thousands of other candidates in the party, " says Senator Datuk Michael Chen, deputy president of Dewan Negara in stressing the point that only men and women of calibre are chosen to become senators.
Certain parties, such as UMNO, have more than a million members and this leaves little room for favour, says Chen. Instead, he argues, it allows for more intense competition.
With the greatest respect to Senator Datuk Michael Chen, who is slated to be the next Senate President, the reason he had given is no answer at all to the Senate being "a rubbish-bin for political has-beens, rejects and deadwood", as all Chen meant was that there is intense competition from "political has-beens, rejects and deadwood" to get into the Dewan Negara!
I hope Zainuddin Maidin’s appointment would mark the first small step towards meaningful reforms of the Senate, which 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"?
Are Senators who do not fulfil this constitutional criteria of having "achieved distinction in the professions, commerce, industry, agriculture, cultural activities or social service" prepared to do the nation a great favour by resigning, so as to open up vacancies in the Senate for Malaysians who qualify?
For a start, there should be an end to the appointment of "political has-beens, rejects and deadwood" to the Senate and the unhealthy and undesirable practice of treating the Senate as "political sinecures" for the political has-beens, rejects and deadwood of the ruling parties should be wiped out completely.
Senatorial appointments should come from "the professions, commerce, industry, agriculture, cultural activities or social service" as intended by the Constitution, and the Opposition should not only be consulted, but be permitted to recommend appointments for a specific number of Senators to upgrade both the representation and quality of debate of the Dewan Negara.
With Zainuddin’s appointment as Senator, there should also be Senators to represent the consumers and the workers.