Noh Omar’s resignation as Parliamentary Secretary to PM’s Department is one of five essential and urgent steps needed to restore public confidence in the credibility, integrity and legitimacy of Parliament after the unprecedented 10-day battering reducing Parliament into a national laughing stock and subjecting MPs to universal public ridicule, contempt and odium over excessive, false and corrupt claims
Media Conference Statement
by Lim Kit Siang
(Petaling Jaya, Friday): The resignation of Datuk Noh Omar as Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister’s Department is one of five essential and urgent steps needed to restore public confidence in the credibility, integrity and legitimacy of Parliament after the unprecedented 10-day battering reducing Parliament into a national laughing stock and subjecting MPs to universal public ridicule, contempt and odium over excessive, false and corrupt claims.
Thanks primarily to Noh Omar, Parliament has overnight become identified in the public mind as in the dubious company of bodies like the Road Transport Department, the Land Office, the Police and the local authorities where corruption is rife and rampant because of MPs making excessive, false and corrupt claims exceeding RM10,000 a month and necessitating the intervention of the ACA!
In fact, for the past week, the issue of excessive MPs claims competed for top public attention with the RM3 million Penang State Government fake cheque scam, the tip of an iceberg of a multi-million ringgit scam which had hit four or five other state governments in the past three years – a sad commentary of the deplorable company which Parliament fallen into.
It is most deplorable, demeaning and disgraceful that when subjected to an united attack by Members of Parliament, whether Barisan Nasional or opposition, in Parliament yesterday, Noh resorted to the cheap excuse of blaming the media for sensationalizing and blowing the issue out of proportion, and even disclaiming responsibility for the involvement of the Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) to question MPs for excessive, false and corrupt claims.
The media are not without their faults, and I have plentiful complaints about them, but it is a travesty of justice and most dishonourable for Noh to blame the press for “sensationalizing” the issue of MPs’ excessive claims, when this was solely his own making, and he should have the decency and honesty to defend his actions or apologise publicly for the great damage he had done to Parliament and MPs, instead of trying to pass the blame to the media and reporters.
How could Noh claim yesterday that he had not queried the validity of the claims exceeding RM10,000 a month, or had nothing to do with calling in the ACA, when in his parliamentary answer on Sept. 24 and his subsequent media conference to parliamentary reporters after question-time, he had
“Nor berkata, Mohd Apandi sebagai wakil Pas yang sentiasa memperkatakan mengenai Islam, kerajaan yang bersih, rasuah serta pembaziran wang rakyat, sewajarnya menunjukkan teladan baik.
“”Kata pemimpin tidak wajar guna duit rakyat … tetapi tuntutan ini juga dibayar daripada duit rakyat,’ katanya.”
Noh should be referred to the Committee of Privileges for his prevarication and dishonesty on this issue, both inside and outside Parliament, in the past 10 days, bringing Parliament to the nadir of its public repute and standing in its 46-year history!
But it is not only Noh but also other Barisan Nasional Ministers and MPs who had undergone a total change of heart on this issue. When Noh first made his “expose” of the excessive claims by Mohd Apandi in Parliament during question time on Sept. 24, there was loud table-thumping of support with boos and jeers for PAS MPs by the Barisan Nasional front and backbenchers, but yesterday, they were all thumping Noh for his indiscretion in the issue.
The notable case of such a
total change of heart is the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department,
Datuk Seri Dr. Rais Yatim. Less than 24 hours ago in Langkawi, Rais had
pontificated that “claims of more than RM10,000 a month for a Member of
Parliament is unreasonable because the average monthly claims usually amount
to about RM5,000” and gave full support to the ACA to question the 16
Members of Parliament who had made claims exceeding RM10,000 per month in
the 18 months from January 2002 – June 2003, describing the ACA’s action
as showing accountability and responsibility.
What is the reason for this sudden change of heart by Rais and Noh? Is it because the Barisan Nasional leadership has later found that although the original intention was to target the PAS MPs, it has opened up a Pandora’s Box which would implicate Barisan Nasional MPs as well if there is a full-scale investigation into improper, excessive and false parliamentary claims – as it cannot be limited to the RM10,000 figure but must involve the veracity of the claims of every MP regardless of whether above or below RM10,000 a month?
Furthermore, the Pandora’s Box will get bigger as such a precedent will lead to demands for accountability and transparency of the propriety and validity of claims by Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Parliamentary Secretaries, Chief Ministers, Mentris Besar, State Excos and State Assembly members – and even the constituency development allocations for BN MPs and State Assembly members!
Although MPs, whether Barisan Nasional or Opposition, were united yesterday in deploring Noh’s handling of the parliamentary claims controversy and the involvement of the ACA when the matter should properly be dealt with first by the Parliamentary Committee of Privileges, it must not give the Malaysian public the impression that the MPs were ganging up just to protect their own interests against the national interest of full public scrutiny of their parliamentary claims.
Yesterday’s parliamentary debate on MPs’ claims appeared to be protecting the interests of 16 MPs who had been named by Noh as having submitted claims exceeding RM10,000 a month in the past 18 months, or at most, for the sake of the 193 MPs, without taking into account the rights and interests of 25 million Malaysians for public integrity, accountability and transparency of the parliamentary claims and good conduct of MPs – which is not calculated to restore public confidence in the battered credibility, integrity and legitimacy of MPs and Parliament in the past 10 days.
Apart from Noh Omar’s resignation, four other essential and urgent steps needed to restore public confidence in MPs and Parliament are:
Zahir is the Chairman of the Committee of Privileges but because of his advanced age and long years as Speaker spanning the five-term premiership of Dr. Mahathir Mohamad since 1982, he might be loth to chair the unpleasant task of investigating 193 MPs for improper, false and corrupt claims – but this is a chore that goes with the office.
There is an alternative to the Committee of Privileges investigating the claims - the establishment of a five-men Parliamentary Claims Inquiry Committee to conduct public hearings, assisted by the Anti-Corruption Agency entrusted with the responsibility to lead the examination in the inquiry pertaining to excessive, false and corrupt parliamentary claims. The Committee should comprise two nominees each from the Barisan Nasional and the Opposition, who could be MPs or former MPs, chaired by an eminent Malaysian with unanimous support of the House.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman