Parliamentary Opposition Leader should be given Ministerial status as a major millennium commitment to promote and advance  parliamentary democracy in Malaysia

Media Conference  Statement (2)
by Lim Kit Siang

(Parliament,  Tuesday): I have many thoughts on leaving Parliament after 30 years as MP and 25 years as Parliamentary Opposition Leader, but I will confine my remarks to some of them only on this occasion.

Firstly, the Parliamentary Opposition Leader should be given Ministerial status as a major millennium commitment to promote and advance parliamentary democracy in Malaysia.

The allowance of the Parliamentary Opposition Leader should be comparable to that of a Cabinet Minister together with all the perks and privileges, including being provided with an official car.

Even more important, the Parliamentary Opposition Leader should be provided with adequate staff to carry out his duties - at least two political secretaries, one private secretary and three research assistants.

The Parliamentary Opposition Leader should be accorded full respect in Parliament, whether in debates or question time, and should be fully consulted in the arrangement of parliamentary business.

I have not made these requests during my quarter-of-a-century as Parliamentary Opposition Leader, as I do not want to be accused of self-aggrandisement.

I am making these proposals for the sake of the institution of Parliamentary Opposition Leader, which is an important lynch-pin of the system of parliamentary democracy, although the beneficiary is going  to be the PAS leader who will occupy the post.

In this connection, I would like to say that although the Parliamentary Opposition Leader will most likely be the PAS leader, as PAS has 27 out of 45 Opposition MPs, as the 42 Opposition MPs contested the general election on the Barisan Alternative platform, the post of Parliamentary Opposition Leader should be the decision of the Barisan Alternative and not by PAS alone, although the outcome would be the same.

Secondly, all MPs, whether Barisan Nasional or Barisan Alternative, should be provided with proper research back-up of having research assistants as well as constituency officers so that MPs can become professional parliamentarians and effectively discharge their parliamentary duties.

There should be an immediate end to the politics of discrimination against Opposition MPs, who are denied the annual RM500,000 development funds allocated to Barisan Nasional MPs for their constituencies.

Instead of such a RM500,000 allocation annually for Barisan Nasional MPs, every MP should be allocated RM250,000 a year which must be used solely for the hiring of research assistants, constituency officers and operation of constituency offices.  There must be the strictest audit to ensure that there is no abuse of these parliamentary allocations either for personal or other purposes. MPs who abuse or misuse these allocations should be disqualified and removed from Parliament.

Thirdly, there should be an improvement in the quality of parliamentary performance by both the front bench, the government back-benches and the Opposition.

In the previous Parliament, Barisan Nasional had 166 out of a total of 192 MPs, which is a juggernaut of a five-sixth majority.  But Barisan Nasional was often unable to ensure that there was  a quorum of 26 MPs - as Barisan Nasional Ministers and MPs were well-known for playing truant from parliamentary meetings.

This was  highlighted by the attendance record published by New Straits Times (November 11, 1999) which showed that there was only quorum in three out of 13 days of the Parliamentary session from Oct. 18 -  Nov. 9, 1999 when a tally was taken at 5 p.m. every day:

It was often that the Ministerial benches were totally empty, with Ministersí presence in Parliament the exception rather than the rule.  This is most irresponsible and disgraceful.

Ministers should as a rule as in other Commonwealth Parliaments be required to attend Parliament to personally answer questions and to reply to speeches, unless they have to be out of the country.

In the last Parliament, there was a 71-member Cabinet comprising 28 Ministers, 31 Deputy Ministers and 12 Parliamentary Secretaries.

This 71-member Cabinet should be reduced to a leaner and smarter 65-member team, with the reduction of one Minister, three Deputy Ministers and two Parliamentary Secretaries as experience have shown that many Ministers, Deputy Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries warm their seats and collect their Ministerial pay without do any much work - not even attending Parliament meetings to account for their responsibilities.

I hope in the new Parliament there would not be  the farce like the one where a Deputy Minister responsible for information technology responded to my persistent questions on the subject by claiming that although he did not know much about IT, his grandson was more IT-savvy than me - forgetting that it was not his grandson who was the Deputy Minister!

As UMNOís parliamentary representation in the Barisan Nasional has fallen from 54.7 per cent in 1995 to 48.6% in the latest election, this should be reflected by a lower  UMNO representation in the Cabinet - as having four UMNO Ministers less, while MCA, MIC and Gerakan should each have an additional Minister and Deputy Minister.

Fourthly, there should be parliamentary reforms to give more time, opportunity and space for MPs to speak up and convey the aspirations, needs, fears and grievances of the people in the highest political forum in the land to make Parliament relevant to Malaysians.

In the past 30 years, Parliamentary Standing Orders had been amended many times, not to expand space for MPs, but to further curtail and emasculate parliamentary opportunities and space for MPs particularly from the Opposition to represent the voice of the people.

Parliamentary reforms should include the establishment specialist standing committees to allow MPs to specialise as well as having a greater say in the nationís decision-making process.

Fifthly, there should be live telecast of parliamentary proceedings, which would throw a spotlight on MPs and  allow the voters the opportunity to see for themselves whether their MPs are playing truant or conscientiously discharging their parliamentary duties to speak up in Parliament.

Sixthly, Parliament must play a pivotal role in the popularisation of information technology (IT) among the Malaysian populace. Although I can claim some credit for forcing the introduction of the Parliamentary web-site, the Parliamentary homepage is not one any MP or Malaysian can feel proud, lacking in interactivity as well as timely information about parliamentary developments, whether on parliamentary business or verbatim reports of daily parliamentary proceedings.

I find that my parliamentary email, [email protected] has been removed from the parliamentary server immediately after my defeat the previous Monday.   This is the wrong type of efficiency we have in our bureaucracy. I do not need the parliamentary email to operate in cyberspace. But this typifies the wrong  mindset of those in charge of the Parliament homepage. Why canít ex-MPs be encouraged to make use of the Parliamentary server for their emails as part of Parliamentís contribution towards the popularisation of IT among Malaysians?


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman