Abdullah should give personal attention to public outrage about excessive ”non-meeting”parliamentary claims exceeding RM10,000 a month while Nor Omar should be censured by Parliament for unfairly subjecting all MPs to public suspicion, ridicule and contempt for submitting excessive “non-meeting” claims
- opening of the Perak DAP State Convention 2003
by Lim Kit Siang
(Ipoh, Sunday): The Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad has for the first time given a firm date for stepping down as the fifth Prime Minister of Malaysia – although I had never doubted going back to the dramatic UMNO General Assembly scene last June about his resignation according to the announced time-table at the end of next month.
Speaking last evening to the Malaysian press corps in Monaco, Mahathir said he will step down on Oct 31 and that his decision was final.
Mahathir had flown direct to the French Riveria principality after his speech at the 58th session of the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday for the Monaco Yacht Show 2003 and to perform the soft launching of the Langkawi Yacht Registration to make Langkawi an international yacht registration centre which will enable yacht owners from the world over to register their yachts in the island. The facility will be officially launched in Langkawi on Oct 2.
This means that the five-week countdown for Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to become the fifth Prime Minister of Malaysia on November 1 has started.
In the Sept. 4, 2003 issue of the Far Eastern Economic Review, well-known journalist and author of “Malaysian Journey” , Rehman Rashid, who will play an important role in the packaging of the new Abdullah administration, in an article in the magazine’s The 5th Column entitled “Malaysia’s Transition to Abdullah” wrote about four items of “unfinished business” Mahathir would bequeath to Abdullah in the passing of the baton of the Prime Minister of the country – to restore meritocracy, to reduce racial polarization, to continue the fight against corruption and to eliminate extremism.
I do not propose this morning to discuss Rehman Rashid’s article which had caused considerable disappointment and disenchantment to his erstwhile fans, but merely to use it as an opener to introduce the hot topic of the moment – the public outrage at the excessive “non-meeting” parliamentary claims of Members of Parliament for transport and other expenses exceeding RM10,000 a month even when Parliament was not in session.
Recently, Abdullah had made very impressive speeches about the cancer of corruption, the importance of ethics and integrity in the public service and the need for an all-out war against graft and a new culture of zero tolerance for corruption.
However, the reason why Malaysia’s international ranking in the Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index 2002 had fallen from 23rd position seven years ago in 1995 to 33rd placing out of 102 countries last year was because there had been too much talk and too little action to grapple with rampant corruption, particularly at the higher reaches of public life.
Abdullah must make a new start now, and not wait until he becomes Prime Minister, as he is not powerless in his present position of Deputy Prime Minister and Prime Minister-in-five-weeks-time. If Abdullah does not have the political will at present to take the necessary and proper action to build a new culture of public integrity and zero tolerance for corruption, how could he develop such political will in five weeks’ time?
This is why Abdullah should give personal attention to the public outrage about excessive ”non-meeting” parliamentary claims exceeding RM10,000 a month and establish a five-men parliamentary committee comprising MPs and former MPs to conduct detailed investigations and make recommendations to rectify and end the abuses of the system.
Tomorrow, the Prime Minister’s Department will be the first Ministry to begin the three-day Ministerial winding-up of the 2004 Budget debate in Parliament. Abdullah should go to Parliament to personally lead the government’s winding-up, not only to set a long-overdue example of the important and rightful role and place of Parliament in the system of Malaysian democracy, but to also demonstrate his personal concern over the public outrage at the excessive parliamentary claims by MPs when Parliament is not in session.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Ministers’ Department Datuk Nor Omar was not interested in the rights and wrongs, what is proper and improper, but only to score political points when he revealed in Parliament during question time on Wednesday that 14 MPs last year and six MPs in the first six months of this year, led by the PAS MP for Jeli, Mohd Apandi Mohamad, had made parliamentary claims exceeding RM10,000 a month.
He even revealed that the total amount claimed by Apandi for the 10 months last year was a “whopping” RM132,000 while for the first half of this year, his monthly claims for six months amounted to RM78,356.96.
Nor, who had subsequently told the press about getting the Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) to conduct investigations, was being utterly irresponsible when he failed to make a clear distinction between “meeting” and “non-meeting” parliamentary claims when he named the 16 MPs – eight from Barisan Nasional, 5 from PAS, 2 from Keadilan and 1 from DAP – who had submitted claims exceeding RM10,000 a month.
Looking at news reports of the parliamentary answer given by Nor, which did not give the details as to whether the months claimed were “meeting” or “non-meeting” months, it is safe to infer that apart from Apandi, claims of all the other 15 MPs named were for “meeting” months when Parliament was in session. If so, Nor owes all the other 15 MPs, eight from the Barisan Nasional and seven from the Opposition, public apologies in exposing them to public suspicion, ridicule and contempt in implying that they had done something wrong, improper, underhanded and unethical in submitting “meeting” claims exceeding RM10,000 a month.
I had asked Goh Kheng Huat, DAP MP for Nibong Tebal, who was named by Nor as one of the 16 MPs who had submitted claims exceeding RM10,000 a month, and he told me that his were “meeting” claims for the parliamentary budget meeting in October last year for hotel, meeting, living, mileage and other allowances according to the parliamentary regulations.
Parliamenjt met for 19 days for five weeks in October last year. Every MP, whether from Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah or Sarawak with record of full attendance, would be entitled to the following:
(1) meeting allowance of RM150 a day - RM150 x 19 = 2,850
(2) Hotel allowance of RM 230 a day – RM230 x 24 = 5,520
(3) Living Allowance of RM100 a day - RM100 x 29 = 2,900
Total RM 11,270
(Note: Hotel allowance calculated at 24 days for the five weeks last October as MPs are allowed an extra day of hotel stay a week to enable MPs to arrive a day before the meeting. Living allowance calculated at 29 days as MPs are allowed two extra days, one before and one after the meeting week, to arrive and leave Kuala Lumpur for home. MPs who do not stay in hotels can claim accommodation allowance of RM80 a day.)
From these three items alone, an MP would have exceeded RM10,000 parliamentary claims last October without taking into account other claims, such as laundry and telephone bills in hotels and mileage/airfare claims once a week to and from home.
For instance, for an MP from Penang Island, the weekly mileage claim at 60 sen per kilometer for the two-way 740 kilometre distance including toll charges would be in the region of RM520 a week or RM 2,600 last October (five weeks), bringing the total which could be claimed to RM11,270 + RM2,600 = RM13,870.
If the Penang Island MP does not stay in hotels and could only claim accommodation allowance of RM80 a day instead of the RM230 hotel allowance a day, his parliamentary claims for full attendance of the five-week 19-day budget meeting for October last year would also be over RM10,000, as follows:
(1) Meeting allowance of RM150 a day - RM150 x 19 = 2,850
(2) Accommodation allowance of RM 80 a day - RM 80 x 24 = 1,920
(3) Living Allowance of RM100 a day - RM100 x 29 = 2,900
(4) Mileage and toll claims - RM 520 x 5 = 2,600
Total RM 10,270
From the above particulars, all MPs who recorded full attendance for the 19-day parliamentary sittings last October and stayed in hotels should be submitting “meeting claims” of over RM10,000 for the month, with the overwhelming majority of all other MPs outside the Federal Territory who do not stay at hotels at the plus-or-minus RM10,000-level – but from Nor’s figures, there were at most only 16 such claims for last October.
Did this mean that the MPs had not been fully conscientious in the discharge of their parliamentary duties, failing to record full attendance in the October meeting last year or had they under-claimed instead of over-claimed?
What was shocking however, and even news to me although I had been MP for 30 years from 1969 to 1999, was that “non-meeting” claims by MPs could exceed RM10,000 a month, when they receive invitations to Federal, State and government agency functions.
This is why I had said that all the 16 MPs named by Nor should publicly clarify whether their parliamentary claims exceeding RM10,000 a month were “meeting claims” or “non-meeting” claims, and if they were “non-meeting” claims, to give a breakdown of the claims.
Nor should be censured in Parliament for committing a gross act of irresponsibility in failing to make a clear distinction between “meeting” and “non-meeting” claims, and thereby unfairly exposing and subjecting all MPs to public suspicion, ridicule and contempt for submitting excessive “non-meeting” parliamentary claims.
I had suggested that DAP MPs should publicly declare their parliamentary claims, both “meeting claims” and “non-meeting claims”, to set an example of accountability and transparency to Barisan Nasional and Barisan Alternative MPs as well as to the Ministers and Deputy Ministers. When DAP MPs meet in Parliament tomorrow, they should give this proposal serious consideration.
In fact, all political parties should make public the parliamentary claims of their MPs, whether “meeting” or “non-meeting”, above or below RM10,000 a month, in keeping with the principles of accountability and transparency.
The Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) Director of Investigations Datuk Nordin Ismail had said that ACA would investigate the excessive claims of MPs exceeding RM10,000 a month to ascertain as to whether any offence of corrupt practice had been committed.
The pertinent question is whether the ACA is the proper body to conduct such investigations for two reasons: Firstly, whether it would be independent, professional, unbiased and will not play “political games” to serve Barisan Nasional interests at the expense of the Opposition. The history and record of the ACA does not inspire confidence that it is an independent, professional, unbiased, fearless agency to combat corruption without fear or favour to any quarter.
Secondly, why should ACA be allowed to interfere and even to usurp the powers and privileges of Parliament to regulate its own affairs, including conducting its own investigations into abuse of privileges by MPs, such as the submission of false claims, and to administer punishments and penalties where relevant?
It is only when Parliament is unable to make any progress in its own investigations that it should hand over such jurisdictional powers to an outside body like the ACA – but this should be the result of a decision of Parliament by way of a motion and not the decision of one parliamentary secretary or a staff of Parliament.
This is why this sorry state of parliamentary affairs needs the personal attention of Abdullah, who should propose the establishment of a five-men parliamentary committee comprising MPs and former MPs nominated by the consensus of both ruling and opposition parties to investigate and to make proposals to end the abuses over parliamentary claims.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman