All-party Speaker’s Conference urgently needed to democratise parliamentary practices and procedures to make Malaysian Parliament meaningful forum  and relevant to  the people  again

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang, Thursday): The Speaker of Dewan Rakyat, Tun Mohamad Zahir Ismail is wrong when he said Members of Parliament should not complain about the speaker’s decision to limit their debate time on the budget, claiming that  this is a common practice everywhere in the world.

Although he is right that  “No parliament in the world would allow all its members to debate as we have limited time”, he should not give the impression that  the Malaysian Parliament is only prepared to compare with the worst but not the best of Parliamentary practices, conventions and traditions in the rest of the world.

DAP MP for Bukit Mertajam  Chong Eng, must be commended when she walked out   of the Dewan Rakyat on Tuesday to  highlight her   protest for lack of adequate time for MPs, both government and opposition, to take part in the 2002 budget debate during the  committee stage for Parliament to scrutinise the budgetary provisions ministry by ministry.

It is most unfortunate that an Opposition MP should speak up for more debate time for all MPs, including Barisan Nasional, as Parliament is not a “rubber-stamp” of the Executive, but such exemplary parliamentary conduct  is not reciprocated or appreciated by the government backbenchers at all. This is why there could be such  narrow and petty-minded comment from  the BN MP for Sri Gading who defended the Speaker’s decision claiming that “No point in having more time (to speak), the opposition keeps raising the same issues until we have memorised all that they have said”.

If Mohamad Zahir wants to quote practices from other Commonwealth Parliaments, he should  use some of  the following examples which are testimony of a more meaningful functioning of  Parliament than is to be found in Malaysia:

In fact, all that is necessary to show that Parliament is becoming less and less meaningful is to compare it  with the past  parliamentary practices and conventions in Malaysia - even just last year or the previous one.

In 1998, the Dewan Rakyat Standing Orders were amended and  mutilated  to make  them more retrogressive and undemocratic, treating MPs no better than school-children as in reducing the number of questions an MP can ask at each parliamentary meeting to 10 questions - even when a parliamentary meeting can last for two months - limiting an oral question to not more than 40 words and limiting a motion of urgent, definite public importance to not more than 300 words!

As a sop, to show that the government is prepared to give more debate time to MPs,  the Standing Orders were amended to increase the maximum of  16 days for  debate for the budget committee stage to 18 days.

But what has been the real practice?  In the current session, only 12 days have been allocated to the committee stage of the debate for  a budget for next year which exceeds RM100 billion for the first time in the nation’s history.

In the early 1960s, when there were only 104 MPs, the total Federal budget expenditure per year did not even reach RM1 billion. Now, there are 193 MPs and the Federal budget exceeds RM100 billion.  Instead of more parliamentary days  for debate, there are now less.

In the early 1960s, with 104 MPs and less than RM1 billion budget, there was an allocation of 27 days (eleven days for policy and 16 days for committee stage) for debate but now, with 193 MPs and a budget of over RM100 billion, only 12 days (despite the promise of 18 days)  are being allocated for the 2002 Budget committee stage debate!

In the past, the committee stage debate for the Prime Minister’s Department would take two to three days both because of the magnitude of its budgetary allocations and the  importance of the portfolios under the ministry.

But for the 2002 Budget, only one day was allowed for  MPs to debate the  Prime Minister’s allocations which exceed RM5 billion - more than five times the entire Federal budget 40 years ago when there would be 27 days of debate for the entire budget!   The Malaysian Parliament is clearly not going forwards but backwards.

What is urgently needed is the convening of an all-party Speaker’s Conference to democratise parliamentary practices and procedures to make  the Malaysian Parliament a  meaningful forum and relevant again to the  - and not an outmoded and irrelevant institution which cannot even address the most topical concerns of the people at the moment, whether it be the Certificate of Legal Practice (CLP) exam paper leak scandal or  the nation-wide furore over the appointment of Gani Patail as the new Attorney-General.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman