Musa Mohamad should first undergo an initiation course to learn his elementary duties to Parliament if he is going to be a good Education Minister in a parliamentary democracy

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Tuesday): Education Minister,  Tan Sri Musa Mohamad was very angry when the DAP MP for Cheras, Tan Kok Wai took him and his two Deputy Ministers Senator Datuk Abdul Aziz Shamsuddin and Datuk Hon Choon Kim to task during question time in Parliament yesterday for "sleeping on the job" and makan gaji buta when they allowed the parliamentary secretary, Datuk Dr. Mahadzir Mohd Khir to answer questions pertaining to the education ministry although they were all in the House.

Musa later told reporters in the Parliament lobby that Kok Wai did not understand the management system used by the Education Ministry which practised delegation of labour and he offered to give Kok Wai a management course at his former university - Universiti Sains Malaysia.

In his arrogance, Musa has shown his shallow understanding of the parliamentary duties of a Cabinet Minister - which may be understandable since he entered Parliament by the backdoor through the Dewan Negara and not by election to the Dewan Rakyat.

Musa should first undergo an initiation course to learn his elementary duties to Parliament if he is going to be a good Education Minister in a parliamentary democracy.

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!

In other Commonwealth parliamentary democracies, where Ministers take their parliamentary duties seriously, Ministers are always present in Parliament to answer questions or reply to speeches and they do not delegate their parliamentary duties to deputy ministers and parliamentary secretaries except for important and unavoidable reasons.

In view of his non-political academic background and  unorthodox appointment as Education Minister through the parliamentary back-door of Senate, Musa should bring a fresh air to Parliament and not join the "rotten apples" in the Cabinet who distinguished themselves by playing truant from Parliament and delegating their parliamentary duties to their subordinates.

I am very surprised that Musa has now come out with a new-fangled justification as to why he is not answering questions in Parliament on the ground of delegation of labour.

Musa told New Straits Times: "This is a large ministry and I have divided the work.  I take on bigger roles such as presenting a new  Bill in Parliament or replying to points raised during the debate on 2000 Budget.

"The question and answer session can be handled by the parliamentary secretary."

I had criticised Musa for not personally replying on behalf of his Ministry during the Royal Address debate and the dubious parliamentary "first" in the history of Education Ministry where a parliamentary secretary took the floor instead. Why didnít one of the two Deputy Education Ministers reply for him instead of the Parliamentary Secretary?

From his delegation of work, it would appear that there is only parliamentary work for the Education Minister and the parliamentary secretary - while the two deputy education ministers would be makan gaji buta.

Parliamentarians and the Malaysian public are getting the impression that there is at least one Deputy Education Minister, Datuk Hon Choon Kim who is no better than a parliamentary secretary, while the parliamentary secretary is more than a Deputy Education Minister!  What type of a management policy is this?

In any event, I call on the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad to disabuse Musa as well as other Cabinet Ministers of the mistaken notion that parliamentary question hour  is a minor parliamentary chore which can be delegated to parliamentary secretaries.

Musa must learn to appreciate the importance of various parliamentary processes such as the question hour if he is going to be a good Education Minister.

The  question time has universally been regarded in Commonwealth Parliaments as a  most important part of every parliamentary process, as it brings alive the concept of parliamentary responsibility and Ministerial accountability - keeping Ministers on their toes to explain and account for their Ministerial actions and policies.

No good Minister will delegate his parliamentary duties during question hour to his subordinates unless for unavoidable and compelling reasons.

The question hour  are also occasions for Ministers to make or break their parliamentary reputations as good or poor Ministerial material.  This is one reason why many Barisan Nasional Ministers prefer to play truant from the question hour, as they are afraid that in the cut-and-thrust of question time, their ignorance would be exposed and they are too lazy or tired to do homework to be on top of their subjects - old tired faces too long in their Ministries, like Datuk Seri Ling Liong Sik who has been Transport Minister  for 14 years since January 1986 and  Datuk Seri Lim Keng Yaik who has been Primary Industries for about 14 years since Augsut 1986.

Although the Parliamentary Standing Orders allow the deputy ministers and parliamentary secretaries to reply on behalf of their ministers, this cannot be accepted as an excuse for the Ministers to play truant from their parliamentary duties.

The time has come for a Parliamentary Code of Ethics for Ministers to be drawn up, which among other things would require Ministers to take  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.

With such a Parliamentary Code of Ethics for Ministers, Malaysians can look forward to a more productive and meaningful parliamentary democracy in Malaysia and the removal of "rotten apples" from the Cabinet.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman