Call on Prime Minister to clarify as to which Minister, Nazri or Keng Yaik, had told a lie about the Cabinet decision on January 19 to establish a Parliamentary Select Committee on the two water bills
- Parliamentary Opposition Leader and MP for Ipoh Timor
by Lim Kit Siang
(Dewan Rakyat, Tuesday): The prevalent Ministerial culture regarding Parliament as a mere rubber-stamp and refusal to accord Parliament its proper role in the decision-making process can be seen in the sorry saga about the establishment of the Parliamentary Select Committee on the two water bills.
The Minister for Energy, Water and Communications, Datuk Seri Dr. Lim Keng Yaik is to be commended for arranging for a briefing for MPs on the two water Bills, the Water Services Industry Bill and the National Water Services Commission Bill, last Thursday, but which could not go very far as both the Bills are still not ready.
I particularly welcome his assurance last Thursday that he had no intention to bulldoze the two water bills and that he would respect “the voice of Parliament”, promising to resubmit the proposal for a Parliamentary Select Committee to the Cabinet tomorrow.
In a parliamentary democracy, where there is the true doctrine of the separation of powers among the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary as the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had pledged to restore and uphold in his maiden official speech which was made in Parliament on 3rd November 2003, Ministers individually and the Cabinet collectively must not only “respect” but yield and submit to the “voice of Parliament” – or Parliament would become a mockery, reduced to a mere rubber-stamp and appendage of the Executive.
Keng Yaik should not just be a postman of Parliament to resubmit to Cabinet the proposal for a Parliamentary Select Committee on the two water bills, but be the advocate on behalf of MPs to convince the Cabinet why it is right and proper that such a Parliamentary Select Committee should be formed.
Keng Yaik said last Thursday that he did not at anytime in the past made any promise to set up a select committee as he only promised to take the MPs’ request to the Cabinet. Implicit in this undertaking is that he would not go behind the back of the MPs to oppose the establishment of a Parliamentary Select Committee in Cabinet, as his undertaking would be totally meaningless if he is going to secretly lobby against the proposition, rendering him guilty of trifling with the MPs, whether Barisan Nasional or Opposition.
I have no doubt that if Keng Yaik had fully conveyed and represented the legitimate views and positions of the MPs in earlier Cabinet meetings, the Cabinet would not have vetoed the establishment of the Parliamentary Select Committee.
If the Minister responsible for the water portfolio espouses the case and cause of the MPs in Cabinet for the setting up of a Parliamentary Select Committee, nobody believes that the other Ministers who are not involved with the water issue would have any reason to object.
If Keng Yaik merely raises the issue of the MPs’ demand for a Parliamentary Select Committee in Cabinet, but expresses his objection as a Minister, then he is not being honest and sincere and is guilty of trifling with the MPs.
In this connection, I call on Prime Minister to clarify as to which Minister had told a lie about the Cabinet decision on January 19 to establish a Parliamentary Select Committee on the two water bills.
After Thursday’s briefing, Keng Yaik told the press that the Cabinet never agreed at its meeting of January 19 to establish a Parliamentary Committee on the two water bills.
Let me quote The Sun of April 15, 2005 in the report under the heading: “Persistent MPs get their way with Keng Yaik”:
“Lim (Keng Yaik) said when the parliamentary select committee was mooted during the sitting to amend the federal constitution, it was submitted to the cabinet.
“’Although it was discussed, the cabinet, however, did not decide on it,’ Lim said, clarifying reports that the Cabinet had agreed to the formation of the body.
“He said the cabinet then discussed the matter in March and decided the formation of such a body would delay the establishment of the water regulatory body and the Water Asset Holding Corporation (Wahco).”
What Keng Yaik said is diametrically opposed to what the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Departmernt, Datuk Nazri Aziz, said in Parliament during his reply on the issue on 12th April in the debate on the Royal Address.
Nazri confirmed that following pressure from MPs from both sides of the House during the special parliamentary meeting on January 17 and 18, 2005 on the Constitution Amendment Bill 2004 on water federalization and privatization, Keng Yaik brought to Cabinet the next day, i.e. January 19, 2005, the parliamentary proposal and secured approval for the establishment of a Parliamentary Select Committee on the two water bills, the Water Services Industry Bill and the National Water Services Commission Bill.
The Cabinet decision to approve the establishment of a Parliamentary Select Committee on the two water bills was announced by Nazri after the Cabinet meeting the same day. Nazri said the Parliamentary Select Committee would be headed by Keng Yaik and will comprise six other MPs, with two members from the Opposition, one each from DAP and PAS, and that it would have three to six months with which to gather public feedback and present its report to Parliament, so that the two water bills could be passed by the end of the year.
If Nazri is right, then Keng Yaik should explain why, without public knowledge or parliamentary consultation, he went back to the Cabinet two months later on March 16 and secured Cabinet approval to revoke its January 19 decision on the establishment of a Parliamentary Select Committee.
When I asked for the reason why the Cabinet revoked its January 19 decision to establish a Parliamentary Select Committee, Nazri claimed that this was to fulfil the King’s wishes as expressed in his Royal Address to Parliament to have the issue resolved by the end of the year.
This is the lamest of all lame excuses, for two reasons:
Firstly, the King’s Royal Address was made at the official opening of Parliament on March 21, five days after the Cabinet decision on March 16 to rescind its January 19 decision on the establishment of a Parliamentary Select Committee on water federalization and privatization.
Secondly, it is most irresponsible for a Cabinet Minister to try to drag the King into a public controversy, as the Royal Address of the King is the policy pronouncement of the government of the day, and any change or criticism of the Royal Address is no personal reflection on the King but legitimate and democratic responses to government policies and stances.
When the government has to try to drag in the King, which is most improper and disrespectful to the constitutional monarch, to justify the volte face of a Minister or the Cabinet on any policy issue or question, it only highlights the great weakness of the government case, such as reversing its earlier decision to approve the establishment of a Parliamentary Select Committee.
The important and pertinent point however is that Nazri admits in Parliament that the Cabinet had revoked its January 19 decision to establish the Parliamentary Select Committee, which is denied by Keng Yaik. Are they both in the same Cabinet?
In claiming that the Cabinet on January 19 had never agreed to the establishment of a Parliamentary Select Committee, Keng Yaik is openly contradicting Nazri statement in Parliament. One of them is clearly an untruth.
All the Cabinet papers relating to the January 19 and March 26 meetings of the Cabinet on the Parliamentary Select Committee should be made available to MPs so that Parliament can know who is telling an untruth – and if Nazri had deliberately told a lie inside Parliament, he should be referred to the Parliamentary Privileges Committee for appropriate action to be taken against him.
The Cabinet tomorrow however should end the Cabinet confusion with a clear-cut decision to accede to the wishes of MPs from both sides of the House for the establishment of a Parliamentary Select Committee on the two water bills.
I can agree with Keng Yaik about the urgency to have a regulatory framework for the water industry in the country, but Parliament is not the cause for any delay in bringing the water legislation to the statute books.
Keng Yaik himself admits that he had expected to table the two water bills for Cabinet approval tomorrow, but he is now unable to do so even for next Wednesday as only the English version of the Bills would be ready.
The urgency for national water legislation and regulatory framework cannot be an excuse to violate one of the most fundamental principles in the formulation and enactment of national water policy and legislation – the involvement of all stakeholders and sectors of society to create a consensus on a national vision on water from a full range of policy options.
Keng Yaik has claimed for instance that NGOs support the two water bills, but my information is different, as trade unions like the MTUC and in particular the Coalition Against Water Privatisation comprising some 30 civil society groups had been excluded from such consultation.
During the January debate in Parliament, Keng Yaik had said that he did not understand what Malaysian water specialist, Charles Santiago meant in advocating “Public-Public Partnership (PUP)” as an alternative to water privatization or PPP (Public-Private Partnership).
Anyone who googled “Water Public-Public Partnership” would be returned with 8,710 files, a mountain of literature on the PUP concept and practice, as well as the definition of PUP as “a partnership where the public sector (government) contracts another public sector or statutory body (e.g. a water board) to deliver services.”
This episodes highlights the need for a more extensive and meaningful public consultation process involving all stakeholders, including MPs and the consumers, before the two water bills are passed, which will have far-reaching repercussions for future generations.
Although the two water bills will not be ready for presentation to Parliament until the June meeting – through no fault of MPs – a Parliamentary Select Committee on Water Policy and Legislation should be set up before the end of present parliamentary meeting on April 28 so that MPs could begin work immediately without any undue delay on the two draft bills and a national water policy as a whole.
Such a Parliamentary Select Committee should allow for a meaningful consultative process and the formation of a parliamentary as distinct from an executive perspective on the issue of water federalization and privatization, which is a strong reason why the Parliamentary Select Committee should not be headed by the Minister for Energy, Water and Communications, or even his Deputy Minister, but by a senior MP so that the Ministry would not be seen to be exercising undue and improper influence on the deliberations and decisions of the Parliamentary Select Committee.
Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman