Is Parliament relevant?

on the Members of Parliament (Remuneration) Bill 2005
by Lim Kit Siang

(Dewan Rakyat, Wednesday): When the House adjourned yesterday, I was touching on the speech earlier by the Chairman of the Barisan Nasional Backbenchers Club and MP for Johor Baru Datuk Shahrir Abdul Samad and the two New Straits Times commentaries and its front-page report last Thursday, headlined “‘Humiliated’ MPs attack NST – DAP’s Kit Siang leads with support from BN members” with the photographs of four MPs, akin to  a “rogue’s gallery”, with the screaming heading,  “The untouchables?”. 

My speech yesterday on the Members of Parliament (Remuneration) Bill 2005 was dismissed NST report today by Sheridan Mahavera as  “joining in …the tirade against the NST” and the  “the feast of vitriol”, this time allegedly led by the BBC Chairman, when the bulk of my speech was not on the NST. 

Among the highlights of my speech yesterday were: 

  • The failure of Parliament in the past 18 months to take firm and positive steps to become a First World Parliament  to effectively and meaningfully perform its three most important functions, to legislate, to deliberate and to hold the government to account.
  • The irrelevance of Parliament to the problems and hardships faced by 25 million Malaysians, as highlighted by its inability to address the diesel crisis, which for four months had  become a nightmare for transport operators and users, crippling  the transport industry, threatening to disrupt the lives of hundreds of thousands of Malaysians including school children as school bus operators had given warnings to parents that school buses may be grounded because of the unavailability of diesel, with the June Gawai Dayak festival in Sarawak a casualty if the diesel shortage crisis is not ended – and mounting crescendo of   calls nationwide for the resignation of the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Shafie Apdal for his  sheer incompetence and  ineptitude.
  • Further examples to highlight the irrelevance of Parliament, as the failure of Parliament to play any meaningful role, when it should be playing a leadership role, in the campaign against corruption, with:

    1. Barisan Nasional MPs, who comprise 92 per cent in the House,  oblivious and ignorant about the year-old National Integrity Plan, which proposed the controversial five-year  objective of TEKAD 2008 for Malaysia to be ranked at least No. 30 in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index 2008, as well as a six-strategy Action Plan  involving Parliament, such as a Parliamentary Select Committee on National Integrity (a proposal which I had also made last year) and the public declaration of assets by Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Parliamentary Secretaries, Chief Ministers, Mentris Besar, MPs and State Assembly members; and
    1. Parliamentary insensitivity and indifference to the scourge of corruption in the country, whether the “VIP corrupt” or  the death of Sarawak Department of Environment officer, Rumie Azzan Mahile, whose wife and family believed was killed because of his diligent and conscientious investigation into toxic wastes scandal although the police have claimed that there was no foul play – appearing to be a replay of the murder of auditor Jalil Ibrahim in Hong Kong in the Bumiputra Malaysia Finance scandal more than 20 years ago.
  • Whether the 10 per increase in the allowance of Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Parliamentary Secretaries and MPs would lead to a 10 per cent upgrading in Ministerial and parliamentary performance and standards and the quality of parliamentary debate.
  • Criticisms of Ministerial and Deputy Ministerial performance and standards, both on the quantity and quality of Cabinet, with Malaysia having the biggest front-bench of 93 Ministers, Deputy Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries – even more than India with 67-member front-bench with a  1.1 billion population, i.e. Malaysia has almost twice the number of government front-benchers than India although India has almost 44 times our population!  I also queried why Cabinet Ministers are allowed to be absent from Parliament for prolonged periods to discharge  their parliamentary duties, and why one Cabinet Minister is absent most part of each week from his Ministry duties in the Ministry, leaving his deputy minister as the de facto Minister and my call for a Cabinet reshuffle for a leaner, cleaner and more efficient Cabinet.
  • After 18 months of the premiership of Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who had pledged in his maiden official speech in Parliament on 3rd November 2003 to respect and uphold the doctrine of separation of powers among the Executive, Parliament and the Judiciary,  where Parliament is not a “rubber stamp”, Ministers and MPs have only embraced the “First-World Parliament” slogan without any “First-World Parliament” mentality and mindset. In my speech, I  called for a start on the “First World Parliament” journey, urging the Cabinet today to reconsider MPs’ call for a Parliamentary Select Committee on the two water bills as well as to allow and respect the independence of Parliament by allowing MPs to debate the motion on Myanmar on Thursday, before the end of the current parliamentary meeting.

None of these and other  “substantive” issues were reported by the NST today, only that I “joined” in the “tirade” and  “feast of vitriol” against the NST! 

As Microsoft  Encarta Reference Library appears to have become the dictionary of authority  of NST, I checked its definition for “tirade” and  “vitriol”, which are  as follows: 

  • Tirade – long angry speech: a long angry speech, usually criticism or denunciation. 

  • Vitriol – 1. bitter hatred: extreme bitterness and hatred toward somebody or something, or an expression of this feeling in speech or writing. 2. chemistry glassy metallic sulfate: a glassy metallic sulfate such as copper sulfate or iron sulfate. 3. chemistry sulfuric acid 

Was there a “tirade”, a “long angry speech” or denunciation, or worse,  “a feast of vitriol” against the NST in Parliament yesterday, with MPs pouring vitriol, whether sulphuric acid,  on Zainul Arifin,  Chok Suat Ling or Datuk Kalimullah Hassan because of the MPs’  “extreme bitterness and hatred” towards them? 

I cannot and will not speak on behalf of Shahrir or Barisan Nasional MPs, who should be able to defend themselves to the charge of “vitriolic” behaviour in Parliament yesterday, but I want to invite the NST to list out in detail in tomorrow’s publication  the “vitriol” which I had poured on NST in the debate yesterday, out of “extreme bitterness and hatred”, failing which NST should have the grace to apologise for another baseless accusation against me. 

Last Thursday, NST had headlined on its front page “‘Humiliated’ MPs attack NST – DAP’s Kit Siang leads with support from BN members” 

This is why in my reply to the NST on the same day, I had said: 

“I did not lead, and I have no doubt that Barisan Nasional MPs do not want to be led by me, in any onslaught on NST.  In fact, Barisan Nasional MPs are very sheepish and shame-faced about the whole episode.   

“I do not know whether Barisan Nasional MPs are ‘untounchables’ but DAP MPs and leaders have always belong to the  most vulnerable political group  in the eyes of the “mainstream media”, or I would not be treated as a “non-person” by them all these years, including the 17 months of a new premiership which is supposed to herald reform, including in the fourth estate!”

This was not published by NST.  Now the onslaught appears to be led by Shahrir, with me joining in the “tirade” and  “feast of vitriol” against NST.

Let me state that I do not have to join in any “tirade” or “feast of vitriol” led by Shahrir or any Barisan Nasional MP, that my criticisms of NST are fair and can bear scrutiny and audit, which have always stood on their own.

Why didn’t NST publish my criticism of the NST of be guilty of the very principles laid down by Zainul Arifin in his comment piece, “Our MPs are not ready for prime-time TV”, the reference to the “no-smoke-no-fire rule” governing the media, where he said:

“It (media) will not report what it does not see or hear  And there are plenty of things to see and hear in Parliament. Sometimes they can be downright funny too.”

This is why  had complained yesterday that NST had been most unfair, unethical and unprofessional in not giving fair coverage to my reply on its misguided and mischievous front-page attack on me last  Thursday  on at least four  grounds:

  • Not giving  equal front-page treatment for my reply to the NST  front-page report  “‘Humiliated’ MPs attack NST – DAP’s Kit Siang leads with support from BN members” yesterday.
  • Refusal to apologise for  missing and mistaking the thrust and purpose of my raising the Zainal Arifin NST column “Our MPs are not ready for prime-time TV” in Parliament, which  was to  highlight the deplorable behaviour of a handful of Barisan Nasional MPs who had brought Parliament into disrepute and public contempt rather than to target and penalize Zainal.
  • Failure to publish correction of the NST claim that MPs “spent the morning session” on Wednesday to criticize the NST for having “humiliated” them, when in actual fact not more than 7.5 minutes were spent in the morning on the NST column or about 4% of the three-hour morning session; while continuing to publish “letters to the editor” perpetuating this myth.
  • Most irresponsible of all, failure to point out that a video clip of the impugned parliamentary proceeding had been sent to NST and is  publicly accessible on the DAP website,,

to allow the public the opportunity to judge whether the NST had any basis and was fair or right to launch such an attack to ridicule and malign  me as one of the “untouchables”.

The NST episode has highlighted two  issues: the deplorable standard of parliamentary debate and performance by MPs and the equally deplorable media reporting and commentary of parliamentary proceedings. 

MPs who had brought Parliament into public contempt and disrepute because of their irresponsible utterances in Parliament in the past month, whether on issues like the  LRT courtesy campaign advertisement, MAS stewardess uniform and  polygamy, or made sexist, offensive,  silly remarks or “hare-brained” proposals should stand up one by one in this debate to express their sincere apology  and undertake to turn over a new leaf. 

The Parliamentary Committee of Privileges should meet urgently to uphold the public esteem and dignity of Parliament,  with a two-prong approach: 

  • To identify the instances where MPs had brought Parliament into public ridicule and contempt because of irresponsible utterances in the past month; and
  • To identify the instances of media reporting and commentary which had brought Parliament into public disrepute, ridicule and contempt because of their baseless allegations, either against individual MPs or in making too sweeping a generalization unfair to all MPs.

I am not suggesting that punitive action should follow in both cases, but it would be a salutary exercise as a first step  to uplift the standard and quality of both parliamentary debate and performance by MPs as well as media reporting and commentary of parliamentary proceedings.

In fact, I would call on the Privileges Committee to submit annual reports on these two specific terms of reference.


Doctrine of Separation of Powers – Constitutional Position 

Article 43(9), 43A(4), 43B(5) and 64 make it very clear that Parliament shall by law make provisions for the remuneration of Cabinet Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Parliamentary Secretaries and MPs, and “Remuneration”, as defined in Article 160 “includes salary or wages, allowances, pension rights, fee or subsidized housing, free of subsidized  transport, and other privileges capable of being valued in money”. 

However, MPs are completely in the dark about the allowances of Ministers, Deputy Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries, although Parliament is the body to decide by law such remuneration. 

As I said yesterday, when DAP MPs sought through parliamentary question in the last Parliament for  information on Minister’s allowances, the then Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in March 2001 refused to answer on ground of “public interest”.

It was only in June 2002, in answer to the then MP for Kota Melaka, Kerk Kim Hock, that the following information was given: 

Elaun-elaun tetapi bagi Anggota Pentadbiran pada tahun 2001   

Jawatan Elaun Keraian (Sebulan) Elaun Anggota Jemaah Menteri (Sebulan) Elaun Kediaman Rasmi (Sebulan) Bayaran Pembantu Rumah (Sebulan)
YAB Perdana Menteri RM18,865 RM8,500 Disediakan Rumah Kediaman Pembantu rumah disediakan
YAB Timbalan Perdana Menteri RM15,215 RM6,700 Disediakan Rumah Kediaman Pembantu rumah disediakan
YB Menteri RM12,320 RM4,000 RM4,000 RM2,500
YB Timbalan Menteri RM6,000 - RM3,000 RM1,500
YB Setiausaha Parlimen RM4,200 - RM1,000 RM1,000
Setiausaha Politik RM3,300 - RM750 RM500

The question at issue is why MPs know nothing about the allowances for Cabinet Ministers, Deputy Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries when such decision should constitutionally be made by Parliament.  


*  Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman