Recently, the Barisan Nasional Backbenchers' Club (BBC) president, Datuk Jamaluddin Mohd. Jarjis issued a guideline to Barisan Nasional MPs to monitor their attendance in Parliament.
This is a most disgraceful start for the 148 Barisan Nasional MPs. There is no need for the Barisan Alternative (BA) parties to issue a directive to BA MPs to be present at parliamentary meetings or to announce a mechanism to monitor their attendance - for MPs who have to be treated like school children to ensure that they attend Parliament meetings diligently should not have been nominated in the first place to be parliamentary candidates!
But the Barisan Nasional had been suffering from this chronic disease of MPs playing truant and absenting themselves from parliamentary meetings for more than a decade and it is another example of the irresponsibility of a two-thirds, three-quarter and at times even five-sixth Barisan Nasional majority in Parliament in recent times.
This is why although the Parliamentary standing orders had been amended many times, nobody in government dared to suggest that the quorum of 26 MPs should be raised proportionately say to 50 MPs as the original total parliamentary strength of 104 has almost doubled to the present 193, for fear that it would be even more impossible to get a quorum and Parliament might not be able to meet at all!
Jamaluddin has issued a guideline to monitor the attendance of Barisan Nasional MPs not because the BBC is afraid that that there might be no quorum and parliamentary business would be obstructed, as the BBC of the ninth Parliament of which Jamaluddin was Secretary, never bothered about the attendance of Barisan Nasional MPs although there was often no quorum in the House.
In the last parliamentary meeting of the Ninth Parliament, for instance, despite having 166 out of a total of 192 MPs, Barisan Nasional was often unable to ensure that there was a quorum of 26 MPs - with Barisan Nasional Ministers and MPs always playing truant from parliamentary meetings.
This was highlighted by the attendance record published by New Straits Times of November 11, 1999 (this might be another reason though minor one for the NST editor-in-chief Datuk Kadir Jasinís summary and ignominous sacking) which showed that there was only quorum (at least 26 MPs) in three out of 13 days of the Parliamentary meeting from Oct. 18 - Nov. 9, 1999 when a tally was taken at 5 p.m. every day.
Jamaluddin and the BBC know that in the new tenth Parliament, the problem of no quorum does not exist as the Opposition, with 42 Barisan Alternative MPs and three PBS MPs, can comfortably on its own guarantee that the Dewan Rakyat will always have a quorum of 26 MPs even with all the 148 Barisan MPs absent!
What Jamaluddin, the BBC, the Cabinet and the Prime Minister now fear is that although the Barisan Nasional has 148 MPs, on many ocasions the Barisan Nasional might have fewer MPs than Barisan Alternative in the House during question time, debates and even voting on bills and motions - putting the Barisan Nasional at a grave disadvantage of losing out in debates and even having government motions and bills defeated.
This was why the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad issued the warning on the fourth day of the December meeting of Parliament last year that Barisan Nasional MPs would be dropped in the next general election if they play truant from Dewan Rakyat meetings.
Such a cancerous problem of Barisan Nasional MPs playing truant cannot be resolved by Prime Ministerial warnings and BBC monitoring guidelines so long as Cabinet Ministers set the bad example of chalking up the worst parliamentary attendance record as a group.
Today, at the official opening of the tenth Parliament by the King, the Ministerial block in Parliament was jammed to capacity, but from tomorrow onwards, it would not be unusual to see the block completely empty of Ministers!
Cabinet Ministers in Malaysia have carved out a place for themselves in the Guinness Book of Records for their wholesale truancy from Parliament, delegating their parliamentary duties to their deputy ministers and parliamentary secretaries as a rule rather than as an exception!
A BBC guideline to Barisan Nasional MPs to attend Parliament meetings and not to play truant is not enough. Wat is needed is a Parliamentary Code of Ethics for Ministers and MPs which among other things would require Ministers to set good example of taking Parliament seriously as to personally attend to their parliamentary duties and not to delegate them to deputy ministers and parliamentary secretaries except for important and unavoidable reasons.
These reasons should be stated in the House and could be challenged and rejected by the House if they are too frivolous and unacceptable by way of a motion, which would tantamout to a censure for the Minister concerned.
Furthermore, there should be a provision in the Parliamentary Standing Orders setting aside 30 minutes every day for such motions, so that such an innovative mechanism to ensure Ministerial responsibility to Parliament would not be sabotaged by the simple expedient of denying time for debate.
Ministers most notorious for playing truant, like the Transport Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Ling Liong Sik and the Primary Industries Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Lim Keng Yaik should promise to turn over a new leaf by personally answering questions or replying to speeches concerning their Ministries unless they can give good and acceptable reason why they have to be absent from their parliamentary duties.
With such a Parliamentary Code of Ethics for Ministers and MPs, Malaysians can look forward to a more productive and meaningful parliamentary democracy in the next five years.