Tun Zahir should  resign as Speaker to end his capricious and  arbitrary decision-making and subservience to Ministers undermining Parliament from meaningfully performing its triple  functions to legislate, deliberate and hold the government to account

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang,  Friday): The time has come for the Speaker, Tun Zahir Mohamad Zahir to resign as Speaker of Parliament to end his capricious and arbitrary decision-making and subservience to Ministers undermining Parliament from meaningfully performing its triple functions to legislate, deliberate and hold the government to account. 

One of the greatest blots of Zahir’s five-term Speakership was his role in the ignominous six-month suspension of young woman DAP Member of Parliament Fong Po Kuan without parliamentary allowance for speaking up against the injustices of the Certificate in Legal Practice (CLP) examinations scandals, completely against the rules of natural justice and all accepted parliamentary traditions and conventions.  

But  the short two-week Dewan Rakyat meeting which ended yesterday  has given more instances to show that Zahir has become a big  stumbling block to a   root-and-branch reform of Parliament to revitalize and restore a  strong Parliament to ensure genuine representative democracy and a good and accountable government in Malaysia.  

I have nothing personal against Tun Zahir, having worked with him for more than  17 years in Parliament from 1982 to 1999.  Tun Zahir has in fact just completed his 20th year as Speaker of Parliament on 14th June, the longest-serving of six Speakers in the history of Malaysian Parliament.  The previous longest-serving Speaker was the third Parliament Speaker, Tan Sri Chok Mohamad Yusuf bin Sheikh Abdul Rahman (25.11.1964 – 30.7.1974).  

I have no objection whatsoever if Tun Zahir continues to complete his fifth term as Speaker until the 11th general election of the country is held, so long as he is fully conscious of the crisis of confidence faced by  Parliament because of  its failure to perform its three most important functions, to legislate, to deliberate and to hold the government to account in an effective  and meaningful manner.  

But when Tun Zahir is not only  oblivious to  the national crisis of confidence in Parliament but worse, continue in his two-decade role  to help oversee the  relentless  decline, denigration and emasculation of the function  of Parliament by an overbearing Executive, then the time has come for him to vacate his   office for a new Speaker  more attuned with the aspirations of the times in wanting Parliament restored as a place where the Executive is held properly to account by Members of Parliament,  where Parliament is not a “rubber-stamp” of the Executive  and where the terms of trade between the Government and Parliament are shifted back in favour of  the elected representatives of the people.  

The failure of the Speaker to announce the appointment of the new Parliamentary Opposition Leader before the adjournment of Parliament and its postponement till September is inexcusable and reflects contempt for the Opposition. 

I had said on Tuesday that there could be no reason why the new Opposition Leader to replace PAS President Datuk Fadzil Noor could not be formally appointed and announced in Parliament latest by the last sitting yesterday, as Fadzil Nor had died on Sunday and by Wednesday, all the Opposition MPs had agreed to the new Opposition Leader.  

Would Zahir be so lackadaisical, indifferent and bureaucratic if the post to be filled is the Government Chief Whip and not the Opposition Leader?  Would anyone imagine that he would have postponed the announcement of a new Government Chief Whip in the same circumstances to the next Parliamentary meeting in September, and if not, why the double standards in the case of the appointment of Parliamentary Opposition Leader?  

Some of the examples of Zahir’s capricious and arbitrary decision-making and subservience to Ministers in the just-concluded eight-day Dewan Rakyat meeting are as follows: 

  1. His failure to explain  why he approved the urgent motion of PAS MP for Pokok Sena, Mahfuz Omar to debate the issue of non-Malay quota in matriculation courses and MARA colleges, but rejected the urgent motion of the DAP MP for Tanjong, Chow Kon Yeow to debate the Suhakam Annual Report 2001.   

In the 21st century era of openness, transparency and good governance, no person including the Speaker of Parliament can  hide behind traditional immunities like parliamentary privilege to justify unaccountability but owes an active  duty to explain to the Malaysian citizenry the reasons  for his decision in refusing to allow a parliamentary debate on the Suhakam Report in connection with the important  cause to protect and promote human rights.    

  1. On Monday, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Dr. Rais Yatim made the shocking revelation that Cabinet Ministers and parliamentary secretaries spend more than half a million ringgit of the taxpayers’ money as entertainment allowances when finally  replying to the persistent questioning by the DAP Secretary-General and MP for Kota Melaka, Kerk Kim Hock.  

In the previous  Parliamentary meeting in March, Zahir arbitrarily gave approval to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister’s Department not to answer the question “on the ground of public interest”, and Rais’ answer on Monday had only highlighted that the Speaker had acted irresponsibly in giving baseless and capricious approval in March to the government not to reveal the gargantuan entertainment allowances given to Ministers and parliamentary secretaries completely without parliamentary sanction.  

Did Rais and Zahir feel that in the highly-charged emotional  atmosphere in the country following the dramatic “resignation” announcement by Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad last Saturday, the public would have no interest or attention-span to scrutinize or respond to the  shocking revelations about the secret gargantuan entertainment allowances, ranging from over RM27,000 a month for the Prime Minister, RM22,000 for Deputy Prime Minister,  RM16,000 for Cabinet Ministers,  RM6,000 for Deputy Ministers,  RM4,200 for parliamentary secretaries, RM3,300 for political secretaries,  which are not inclusive of their  monthly allowances and other perks like  housing allowances – which only made Zahir’s “flip-flop” decision even more capricious and untenable. 

  1. The  sloppy answer given by the Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Douglas Uggah Embas the previous Thursday that the Prime Minister spent more than RM12 million since 2,000 for his official and unofficial overseas trips, viz: RM2.6 million for 16 overseas trips in 2000; RM1.8 million for 14 overseas trips in 2001 and RM8.6 million for 16 overseas trips for the first six months until 13th June this year.  The Speaker gave  the Deputy Minister permission to provide details of the costs of each overseas trips to Parliament in writing, which is a most irresponsible delaying tactic  when  the public has the right to know their  full details without any undue delay.   

It was fortunate that the DAP MP for Seputeh, Teresa Kok, had a question yesterday that the country now knows that Mahathir’s trip to the Antartica had cost the taxpayers the enormous sum of RM878,054.60, when the people were given the impression that this was largely a private holiday trip and visit by Mahathir’s contingent, funded by private sponsors!  

  1. The Speaker’s role in the steamrolling of the Islamic Banking Bill in the Dewan Rakyat yesterday, when Standing Order 90 was invoked to take the bill through all three readings in a one-shot operation all on the same day without prior notice to MPs   and without proper justification or acceptable reason.    

  1. The disgraceful Parliamentary homepage,  www.parlimen.gov.my, which continues to be most deserving of the prize for the most user-unfriendly, inaccessible,  uninformative and useless  website among the world’s Parliaments and Malaysia’s public websites – despite complaints for six years.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman