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 JayaFriday): 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  

  • specifically named Mohd Apandi as the “champion” of excessive parliamentary  claims of over RM10,000 a month for 10 out of 12 months last year, and every month for the first half of this year – chalking up claims of RM132,335.40  for the ten months last year and RM78,356.96 for the first six months of this year. 
  • alleged that Mohd Apandi submitted claims for giving a religious sermon at a mosque in his constituency, questioning its  validity;
  • said that a report would be lodged with the ACA if there was any irregularity in Mohd Apandi’s claims.  (New Straits Times 25.9.03)
  • as reported by Berita Harian (25.9.03):

“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.

Yesterday, however,  Rais tamely ate his own words and said that the amount of claims was immaterial if  it was properly incurred, and that the issue of parliamentary claims should be dealt with internally by Parliament and that the ACA should not be involved. (Nanyang Siang Pau, Sin Chew Daily)

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: 

  1. Public declaration of all “meeting” and “non-meeting” claims by all the 193 MPs since December 1999 so that they could  be subject to public scrutiny,  accountability and transparency.  The reasons which had been given by some MPs to justify huge “non-meeting” parliamentary claims, such as the size of the constituency which is  the size of Malacca and Penang combined or being further from Kuala Lumpur are quite  irrelevant as unrelated to the basis for parliamentary claims.
  1. Suspension of all “non-meeting” parliamentary claims until completion of investigations into the parliamentary claims controversy.  Although I had been MP for 30 years from 1969 to 1999, I was shocked when I read the news that  “non-meeting” claims by MPs could exceed RM10,000 a month on the basis of invitations to Federal, State and government agency functions, which is not a productive way of spending public funds.  From the figures given by Noh,  Mohd Apandi’s “non-meeting” claims were higher than his “meeting” claims – which is illogical  and calls for a full review of the basis of MP’s  “meeting” and “non-meeting” claims.
  1. The Committee of Privileges must come out of its long hibernation to regulate the privileges  and conduct of Members of Parliament. The Speaker, Tun Mohamjad Zahir Ismail, is wrong when he said that the ACA was the appropriate body to investigate the issue of the excessive MP claims.  His statement that the Committee of Privileges could only look into matters that occurred in the House like cases of indiscipline is wrong and flies in the face of established parliamentary practices, conventions and traditions whether in the House of Commons or in other Commonwealth Parliaments.

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.

  1. The formulation and passage of a Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament to assist MPs to discharge their obligations to Parliament, their constituents, the public and nation, reminding them of their duty not only to uphold the law but to act on all occasions in accordance with the public trust placed in them and to be mindful of their general duty to act in the interests of the nation as a whole.  There is nothing humiliating for MPs to have a Code of Conduct,  as Judges in the country have also a Code of Conduct while MPs in other countries, like in the United Kingdom, are also bound by a Code of Conduct.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman