Ministers who fail to appear in Parliament to personally answer questions or reply to speeches for two consecutive occasions  without good and acceptable reasons should be referred to   the Committee of Privileges for playing truant from their parliamentary duties

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya,  Friday): The warning  by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad to  Barisan Nasional MPs to be present at all Dewan Rakyat  meetings or be dropped at the next general election is unlikely to have any lasting effect on the performance of Barisan MPs.

Such warnings to Barisan Nasional MPs had been given many times in the past but they could not ensure that Barisan Nasional MPs would be consistent in their attendance so that  at any one time there would be at least 26 out of the total of 193 (formerly 192) MPs in the Dewan Rakyat to provide a quorum when it was in session.

In the past, after such a warning is given by the Prime Minister or Deputy Prime Minister, the turn-out of the Barisan Nasional MPs in the Dewan Rakyat would improve immediately, but this is unlikely to last one meeting - as the Barisan Nasional MPs would invariably lapse into their customary habit of playing truant from being regularly present in the Dewan Rakyat.

The same situation would apply with the current batch of Barisan Nasional MPs, unless there is a total change in the culture and mind-set of the Barisan Nasional MPs, not only in instilling in them the consciousness that their performance in the Dewan Rakyat  is their most important responsibility as an MP, but also for a mechanism to be set up to monitor and check MPs from playing truant.

From my experience and observations, if the Prime Minister is to wipe out the irresponsible habit of Barisan Nasional MPs playing truant by not attending Dewan Rakyat sittings regularly, he must first wipe out the equally irresponsible practice of Cabinet Ministers playing truant from their parliamentary duties.

If there are to be no more empty Barisan Nasional back-benches in the Dewan Rakyat, the spectacle of empty Ministerial benches should also be a thing of the past.

The Dewan Rakyat Speaker Tun Mohamed Zahir Ismail, expressing concern over the MPsí poor attendance at Parliament sittings, said that they should make it a point to attend them unless unavoidable.

He expressed the hope that the Chairmen of all  other political parties should emulate the example of Mahathir to direct their MPs to be diligent and responsible in their attendance of parliamentary sittings.

The Chairmen of Opposition parties with MPs have always  done so, whether in the present or previous Parliaments.

The problem is with the Chairmen of other Barisan Nasional component parties, but  how could the Chairmen of MCA, Gerakan and MIC sent out a directive to their MPs warning them against playing truant from attendance at parliamentary sittings, when they themselves have been playing truant from their parliamentary duties as Ministers?

At least the MIC President Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu is definitely more diligent than the MCA President Datuk Seri Dr. Ling Liong Sik and the Gerakan President Datuk Seri Lim Keng Yaik in attending to parliamentary duties as answering questions or replying to speeches in the House.

Can Liong Sik and Keng Yaik make public their record of attendance in the sittings of the previous Parliament?  I will be surprised if they had attended five or even three per cent of the sittings of the previous Parliament (1995 - 1999).

With such an atrocious record of playing truant from their Parliamentary duties as Ministers, how can the MCA and Gerakan Chairmen in all seriousness direct their MPs not to play truant, unless they begin to set a good example themselves?

The most effective way to  ensure that all Barisan Nasional MPs take their parliamentary duties and attendance seriously is for Barisan Nasional Ministers to reform themselves and stop being the biggest culprits in playing truant from their parliamentary duties.

The Dewan Rakyat  should amend it Standing Orders to  introduce a new rule requiring  Ministers who fail to appear in Parliament to personally answer questions or reply to speeches for two consecutive occasions without  good and acceptable reasons  to be  referred to   the Committee of Privileges to answer charges for playing truant in Parliament.

I think no other measure would have a more salutary effect in shaking up Parliamentary attendance - and end once and for all the spectacle of an  empty Dewan Rakyat without a quorum during parliamentary sittings.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman