Yesterday during the lunch recess, Fong and the DAP MP for Siputeh Teresa Kok placed on the table of all MPs, both Barisan Nasional and Barisan Alternative, an invitation to a briefing in Parliament House today on the gross violation of human rights by the Sarawak state government in deporting 23-year Sarawak resident Tan Seng Hin for defending the cause of Chinese education in Miri.
However, the invitations placed on the Barisan Nasional tables were all confiscated by parliamentary staff and when Fong and Teresa protested at the confiscation when Parliament resumed, Deputy Speaker Lim Si Cheng invoked Standing Order 20 of the Dewan Rakyat to justify the confiscation and was very rude with Fong.
Standing Order 20 of the Dewan Rakyat states:
“20 (1) Papers shall be presented only by Tuan Yang di-Pertua, a Minister or the chairman of a Committee, and shall be sent to the Setiausaha.
“(2) Every paper a copy of which is so received by the Setiausaha shall be deemed to have been presented to the House and ordered to lie upon the Table.
“The presentation of all papers shall be entered in the Votes and Proceedings or, if the House is not then sitting, of the next sitting day following its presentation.”
It is most shocking how a veteran parliamentarian like Lim could so misread and misinterpret the Standing Order 20 as to consider a private note, letter or communication from one MP to another in the Chamber as “Papers”, requiring it to be printed by the Government Printer or Parliament and “ordered to lie upon the Table”.
In my 30 years as Member of Parliament, I am not aware of any rule or Standing Order prohibiting an MP from handing a note to another MP, whether Government or Opposition, or putting the note on his or her table if the receipient is absent and any attempt to prevent an MP from such a free communication must be regarded as an unwarranted interference with the freedom of action of MPs in the House and therefore a serious violation of his/her parliamentary privileges.
If a MP can give a note to another MP without having to get permission of the Speaker, why can’t an MP give a note to all MPs by putting the note on their tables?
I support rules by Parliament barring non-MPs from putting letters, memorandum or even protests on the tables of MPs in the House for this would be a violation of the sanctity of the Parliamentary chambers, but there can be no rules to bar an MP from freely communicating with another MP inside the House or this would be turning MPs into schoolchildren in a classroom whose every action must be subject to the supervision of the class-teacher!
An MP must be responsible for any communication to another MP in the House and s/he can be referred to the Committee of Privileges for misuse of such parliamentary privileges.
Is it an abuse of parliamentary privilege to invite another MP to a briefing for MPs about an urgent current issue concerning gross violation of human rights and the breach of the rule of law to the extent of breaking up a family unit as happened to Tan Seng Hin?
As a veteran parliamentarian and Deputy Speaker, Lim should be guiding first-term parliamentarians instead of bullying them and worse still, through misinterpretation of the Standing Orders.
From her short span in Parliament, Fong has shown that she more than makes up for her lack of parliamentary experience and finesse of presentation with a courage to speak out against all forms of injustice, which unfortunately is absent among Barisan Nasional MPs, whether long-term or first-term.
Fong deserves credit together with Teresa in catapulting the grave injustice of the Sarawak state government violation of the human rights of Tan to parliamentary and national attention.
I am surprised that the Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister, Datuk Dr. George Chan has justified the Sarawak state government’s most uncaring, unconscionable and inhumane abuse of its state immigration autonomy powers to expel Tan from Sarawak on January 6, 2001 after he and his family had settled down in the state for 23 years without giving any reason up to now.
What Chan said yesterday about Tan’s deportation and ban from re-entry to reunite with his wife and two sons in Miri where they had made their home for 23 years is the first time any semblance of a reason had been given for the Sarawak state government’s gross human rights violation and breach of the rule of law.
But the so-called “reasons” given by Chan are not really acceptable reasons at all for the action taken by the Sarawak state government against Tan.
Chan said the Sarawak state government would not have taken any action against anybody unless “his action are too much”. What type of an explanation is this to justify a gross human rights violation and breach of the rule of law?
Chan also asked Tan to explain why he had been “black-listed” by the Singapore government and banned from entry into the island republic.
Tan has explained that he is on the Singapore “black list” because of his trade union activities 30 years ago.
What Tan did in Singapore 30 years ago could not be the reason for the Sarawak state government’s human rights violation and breach of the rule of law by deporting Tan from Sarawak and banning him from re-entry after 23 years making Miri his home.
It is Chan who should clarify how he could misuse his powers as Deputy Chief Minister to get Tan deported from Sarawak and banned from re-entry solely because of his clash with with Tan over Chinese education issues in Miri, especially as Tan had acted not in any personal capacity but as Miri Hainan Association Secretary.
The Miri Hainan Association had never opposed the establishment of the Curtin University campus in Miri, one of Chan’s pet projects, but it is opposed to the change in the teaching medium and character of the Riam Road Middle School as one of the 60 Chinese Independent Secondary Schools in the country to become a feeder school to prepare the students for future enrolment at the Miri campus of the Curtin University of Western Australia.
Chan should respect the position of the Miri Hainan Association that the change of the teaching medium of Riam Road Middle School last year from Mandarin to English, maintaining Mandarin only as a subject, affected its character and identity as a Chinese Independent Secondary School.
It is a gross abuse of power and blatant human rights violation for Tan to be deported and banned from returning to Sarawak to be reunited with his family just because Tan's position on certain Chinese education issues in Miri representing that of Miri Hainan Association clashed with Chan.
It will be a further abuse of state immigration autonomy powers if the Sarawak state government should give as a reason for its action Tan’s trade union activities in Singapore 30 years ago, which have nothing to do whatsoever with his deportation from Sarawak and ban from re-entry into the state.