(Petaling Jaya, Saturday): Although DAP supports the proposal to introduce morning sittings for Parliament, DAP MPs will oppose the motion on Tuesday to amend the Standing Orders as a serious infringement of the rights and privileges of MPs who are being treated like school-children in the performance of their parliamentary duties.
The manner in which the present batch of amendments to the Dewan Rakyat Standing Orders originated and is being rammed through Parliament is an affront to all parliamentary traditions and conventions.
On Tuesday, July 28, 1998, without any prior notice, a motion under Standing Order 78 (2) in the name of the Prime Minister was placed on the Order Paper to refer various proposals to amend the Standing Orders to the Standing Orders Committee. After question time, at 3.30 p.m. the same day, again totally without notice, the Defence Minister, Datuk Syed Hamid Albar invoked the Standing Orders to give priority for the motion to be passed to the protest of Opposition MPs who were caught completely by surprise.
Two days later, the Standing Orders Committee of the Dewan Rakyat met in emergency session to decide on the proposals and to report to the Dewan Rakyat. The Standing Orders Committee met on Thursday at 10.30 a.m., spend a total of 47 minutes to complete its meeting and to arrive at its decision, and six hours later on the same day, again without the notice of the overwhelming majority of Members of Parliament, the report of the Standing Orders Committee was laid on the table in the Dewan Rakyat. In my 29 years in Parliament, I have never seen Parliament and the Standing Orders Committee swung into action so quick and so fast!
Next Tuesday, Parliament would be asked to approve the report of the Standing Orders Committee to amend the Standing Orders.
What is the reason for all this indecent rush and haste to amend the Standing Orders, especially as there are proposals which are most degrading to self-respecting Members of Parliament, as they would be treated like school-children in the performance of their parliamentary duties, as reducing from 20 to 10 the number of oral questions an MP can ask at each parliamentary meeting - which can be as long as 50 days during the budget meeting - and the highly ridiculous proposals limiting oral questions to not more than 40 words and motions of urgent, definite public importance to not more than 300 words.
DAP supports the amendment to the Dewan Rakyat Standing Orders to introduce morning sittings for the October Budget meeting onwards, which will increase the daily Parliamentary sitting from four to six hours, i.e. sitting daily from 10a.m. to 1 p.m. (instead of the earlier proposal of from 9.30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m.) and from 2.30 p.m. until 5.30 p.m. instread of the present four-hour sitting from 2.30 p.m. to 6.30 p.m.
DAP MPs however will oppose the motion in Parliament next Tuesday as
it constitutes a serious infringement of the rights and privileges
of MPs because of other proposals to amend the Standing Orders which
treat MPs like school-children in the performance of their parliamentary
As a compromise, I suggest that Parliament on Tuesday pass an amendment to the Standing Orders to introduce the morning sittings for the Dewan Rakyat in the October budget meeting, but all other amendments to the Standing Orders should be deferred until the October meeting.
This will give time to MPs to consider wide-ranging proposals for parliamentary reforms which is four-decades long overdue to start the process of modernisation of parliamentary procedures and practices to make Parliament a more effective and meaningful legislative and deliberate chamber to convince Malaysians that Parliament is playing its true and proper role in our system of parliamentary democracy.
Self-respecting MPs should be disturbed by the manner of the origination of the proposal, as it appears to have originated from the Cabinet.
It is a matter of grave concern that these proposals did not originate from the Standing Orders Committee but from the Cabinet which is a violation of the very important parliamentary principle and convention, that Parliament must decide its own procedures and be judge of its due observance.
It is precisely because Parliament is not allowed to decide its own procedures and be judge of its due observance that the Malaysian Parliament has degenerated into a "rubber stamp" or "department" of the Executive, when it should be the other way round under the principle of Executive accountability to Parliament!
Why should the final decision as to whether and how the Parliamentary Standing Orders should be amended be made by the Cabinet and not by the Standing Orders Committee subject to the decision of Parliament.
So long as parliamentary matters like amendments to the Standing Orders cannot be made by Parliament without reference to Cabinet, then the Parliament in Malaysia has not reached its full stature as a mature, independent and sovereign institution.
I am not saying that Ministers should not be involved in the parliamentary decision-making process, which would be ridiculous as Ministers are also MPs. In fact, as the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister are respectively Leaders and Deputy Leaders of the House, they are inevitably the major players in the parliamentary decision-making process.
However, there must be a clear distinction between the Cabinet decision-making process and the parliamentary decision-making process, and in matters affecting parliamentary procedures and privileges, for instance, these two decision-making processes should be kept separate and should not mix!
Otherwise, we have the ludicrous situation that government motions referring Opposition leaders and MPs to the Committee of Privilege for breach of privilege are automatically passed, while Opposition motions referring Ministers or government MPs to the Committee of Privileges for breach of privilege are never allocated time even for debate and decision!
I hope Ministers and MPs understand and appreciate the need to make a clear distinction between the Cabinet and Parliamentary decision-making processes, and when they should be kept apart, if we are to promote a healthy and vibrant Parliamentary tradition and culture.