Tsu Koon should convene special State Assembly meeting where the party whip is removed to allow all State Assembly members a free vote on the PORR project putting the people’s interests above party or personal interests
by Lim Kit Siang
(Penang, Tuesday): In the three-day Barisan Nasional public furore over the abstention by two MCA Penang State Assembly members, Tan Cheng Liang (Jawi) and Lim Boo Chang (Datuk Keramat) on the motion by the DAP Assemblyman for Batu Lanchang, Law Heng Kiang, in the Penang State Assembly to defer the RM1.02 billion Penang Outer Ring Road (PORR) project until the RM400 million Jelutong Expressway was completed, the most important issue - PORR - has been totally sidelined and ignored.
The very fact that eleven Penang Barisan Nasional State Assembly members did not vote against Law’s motion, despite the earlier directive by the Penang Chief Minister, Tan Sri Dr. Koh Tsu Koon at a pre-council briefing, is a measure not only of the unpopularity of PORR but the failure of both the Federal and State Government to even convince Barisan Nasional state assembly members of the suitability and legitimacy of the project and that it is in the best interests of the people of Penang.
It is clear that although two Barisan Nasional Assembly members openly abstained, at least eight others indirectly abstained by absenting themselves from the vote, whether in the precincts of the Assemby or outside.
The Penang Barisan Nasional Whip, Datuk Dr. Hilmi Yahaya said that of the nine Barisan Nasional Assembly members who were absent when the voting was conducted, one of them Abdul Ro’ni A. Hassan (UMNO-Permatang Berangan) was away performing the umrah, while three others, Datuk Dr. Sak Cheng Lum (MCA – Bagan Jermal), Lau Chiek Tuan (MCA-Berapit) and Datuk Dr. Toh Kin Woon (Machang Bubuk) were excused by Koh to attend to other functions.
The remaining five backbenchers were Lim Chien Aun (MCA-Bayan Lepas), Lee Hack Teik (Pengkalan Kota), Lim Gim Soon (Kampung Koalm), Hilmi Rashid (Umno-Bertam) and Syed Amerruddin Datuk Syed Ahmad (Teluk Kumbar).
It is unprecedented in the history of the Penang State Assembly that the ruling Barisan Nasional could not muster two-thirds of its Assembly members to take a common stand on an important issue like the controversial RM1.02 billion PORR project.
Instead of focusing on whether and what disciplinary action should be meted out to Tan and Lim, the Barisan Nasional leadership, both national and state, should give serious consideration as to why PORR project is so unpopular that it could not muster the open, willing and voluntary support of even two-thirds of the Barisan Nasional Assembly members in the State Assembly.
Although all political parties have the whip in Parliament or State Assemblies, such party discipline should not be imposed in blatant disregard of the public interest or to suppress the democratic aspirations of the people.
In the case of Law’s motion to defer PORR until the Jelutong Expressway was completed, Tsu Koon should have withdrawn the whip especially as the national and state governments have failed to convince the people, including Barisan Nasional Assembly members, of the merit and desirability of the project.
In the circumstances, Lim and Tan should be commended by the Barisan Nasional leadership for drawing its attention to the depth of public opposition against PORR instead of baying for their blood for abstaining in Law’s motion.
It would have been better of course if Lim and Tan had voted in support of Law’s motion or at least spoken up in the debate to explain why they were abstaining – to remove any doubt as to the true reasons for the abstention, whether because of the demerits and undesirability of PORR or because of some inter-party Barisan Nasional power-play.
Be that as it may, all demands for disciplinary action against Tan and Lim should cease, and instead, the Barisan Nasional leadership should order a full review of the PORR project.
Tsu Koon, on his part, should convene a special State Assembly meeting where the party whip is removed to allow all State Assembly members a free vote on the PORR project putting the people’s interests above party or personal interests.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman