Senate is the “mother of all rubber stamps” and it should defer the passage of the National Service Training Bill and refer it to a parliamentary select committee to seek national consultations by holding nation-wide public hearings to prove the start of a new era for the Dewan Negara
Media Conference Statement
by Lim Kit Siang
(Tawau, Sunday): Dewan Negara President-designate Tan Sri Dr. Abdul Hamid Pawanteh, who will be sworn into the new office tomorrow, has pledged to change the general public image of the Senate as a “rubber stamp”.
This is a noble aim although it will be a tall and even impossible order, for the Senate is the mother of all rubber stamps in the country which for the past 46 years since Merdeka in 1957.
The Dewan Rakyat is already bad enough of a rubber-stamp and no Malaysian would have any illusion that the new Senate President, whatever his good intentions, has no chance of injecting some backbone into the upper chamber.
For the past 46 years, the Dewan Negara had been so spineless that it had dutifully, obediently, mindlessly and unthinkingly rubber-stamped whatever was presented to it by the Executive, and dared not even question a comma or semi-colon in any government bill or motion, that it has gained the notoriety of a rubbish-bin of political has-been and deadwood, as well as an avenue for political rejects to enter Parliament from the backdoor after failing to gain entry from the front entrance through legitimate popular vote of Malaysian electors.
I welcome however Abdul Hamid’s intention to banish the “rubber stamp” image of the Senate, but he is called upon to deliver immediately on his swearing-in tomorrow, by using his influence to persuade the Dewan Negara to defer the passage of the National Service Training Bill and refer it to a parliamentary select committee to seek national consultations by holding nation-wide public hearings to prove the start of a new era for the Dewan Negara.
This is an immediate test case whether the Dewan Negara, with Abdul Hamid as the new president, would be able to start the long road to alter its notoriety as the “mother of all rubber-stamps” as the National Service Training Bill, which would be debated by the Dewan Negara next week, is a half-baked proposal which had not been fully thought through with regard to all its implications as it had not involved the fullest prior consultation of all political parties, NGOs, communities and the civil society before it was tabled as a bill in Parliament.
For instance, Defence Minister Datuk Najib Tun Razak told the Dewan Rakyat last week that the national service training programme is not meant for national defence and is not military training to defend the country against the enemies of the nation but to instill national unity, patriotism and discipline.
He did not explain how three months of non-military national service training programme can succeed in instilling national unity and patriotism when 11 years of the education system had failed to inculcate these values.
Furthermore, why should a three-month programme to instill national unity and patriotism be studded with criminal sanctions and custodial offences to the extent of creating a 10-year jail offence under the bill?
Thirdly, how could the national service training programme instill national unity and patriotism when it affects only 20 per cent of the 18-year-old youths, as only 100,000 out of 480,000 of the 18-year-olds next year would be required to undergo the three-month training.
Fourthly, why should a law which is meant for 18-year-olds be so open-ended that it empowers the government to widen the net for compulsory non-military national service to all those in the age group between 16 to 35 years – covering some seven million Malaysians!
I fully agree with Abdul Hamid that the time has come for Dewan Negara to stop being a “mother of all rubber-stamps”, but this can only come about by going back to the original objectives of our founding fathers to create a bicameral legislative institution as the Barisan Nasional had deviated from the constitutional purpose of creating a second legislative chamber to give deeper and more studied consideration to legislative proposals by turning it into a refuge chamber of Barisan Nasional political rejects and deadwood.
The first step to reform the Dewan Negara is to get rid of the Barisan Nasional political rejects and deadwood in the upper house and go back to what the 1957 Merdeka Constitution provision in appointing Senators on the basis of merit and their ability to contribute to the nation because of their professional experience, expertise or commitment to the nation.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman