Another act of strangulation of the democratic process

Speech by DAP Secretary-General and Member of Parliament for Bandar Melaka, Mr. Lim Kit Siang, in the Dewan Ra’ayat on the motion to amend the Standing Orders of the Dewan Ra’ayat on Wednesday, 10th May 1972.

Another act of strangulation of the democratic process

The motion in the name of the Finance minister, Tun Tan Siew Sin, on behalf of the Standing Orders Committee, seeks to the House Standing Orders by banning adjournment speeches during the first meeting of each session (i.e. the debate on the Royal Address) and during the Budget meeting.

The reason the Finance Minister has given, on surface, sound fair and reasonable. But on deeper study, this move is nothing less than another attempt to strangle the democratic process, deny a full, free and frank airing of the people’s grievances in Parliament, and to reduce the Dewan Ra’ayat into just a rubber stamp for the Alliance Government.

We have been told that it is not necessary to have adjournment speeches during the meeting debating the Royal Address, as when the Royal Address is debated, members may speak on a wide range of subjects. Similarly, we are told, during the meeting on the Supply Bill, Members also have the opportunity to speak on a wide range of topics. Hence, it is unnecessary to have adjournment speeches as any member wishing to speak on an Adjournment Speech in respect of any matter can raise such matter during the course of the debate on the Royal Address or on the Supply bill, as the case may be.

In theory and principle, this is true. But in practice, it is an untruth, for the simple reason that Members of Parliament, in particular Opposition Members of Parliament, often find it impossible to get a chance in the first place to address the House.

My colleagues and I in the DAP have had unpleasant experience of this during the First Session of Parliament, and it will be recalled that a year ago, during the debate on the Royal Address, the entire DAP Parliamentary group had to a walk-out and boycott the rest of the parliamentary session for a week.

Although we are the largest Opposition parliamentary group, till the end of a three-day debate for backbenchers and Opposition Members of Parliament, not a single DAP Member of Parliament had wanted to participate in the debate.

The Budget meeting recently was another good example of the inability on the part of Opposition Members of Parliament to get a fair chance to raise the views and interests of their constituents. For instants, my colleague, the Honourable Member of Penang Utara, tried, like a piston, as he himself described it, for 31 times to catch the Speaker’s eye, but to no avail.

We still remember the indecent haste with which during the committee of Supply stage, estimates for Ministries were rushed through without giving members ample time for debate. In fact, for two Ministries, the Ministry of National and Rural Development, involving a huge sum of $200 million and the Ministry of Information, involving $80 million, the Government resorted to a quick sleight of hand and there was practically no debate. The mountain of Bills at the end of the Budget session were also rushed through with indecent haste.

In these circumstances, Adjournment Speeches were the only parliamentary device whereby Opposition Members of Parliament could secure an opportunity to raise the grievances and problems of the people.

If Adjournment Speeches are banned during the meeting on the debate in the Royal Address and the meeting on the Supply Bill, the longest meetings in each Session of Parliament, then Members of Parliament will be given more stifled and muzzled than before.

The reason why the Government has acted to ban adjournment speeches is because DAP Members of Parliament made great use of this facility to raise the people’s problems. This is because unlike MPs from the Alliance, we take our role as the elected representative of the people seriously, and we conceive it our task and responsibility to speak out on behalf of the electorate and the ra’ayat to give voice to their hopes, fears, sufferings and grievances.

A reading of Standing Orders 17(2) indicates that the framers of the Standing Orders expect the Adjournment Speeches to be fully utilized. This sub-clause provides for the system of ballot, if necessary, by the Speaker, to determine which member or members be allotted the right to raise Adjournment Speech, if there is excess number of MPs who wish to make use of this facility – as the Standing Orders limit allows only two adjournment speeches a day. In other words, the framers of the Standing Orders expect that there will be more MPs who want to make Adjournment Speeches than two a day.

I would like here to ask the Finance Minister whether he could cite a single instance of any Commonwealth Country with a parliamentary system of government which has banned adjournment speeches during the Budget meeting and the meeting on the Royal Address.

May be, we will be told again that in Malaysia, we must re-fashion our parliamentary institutions according to Malaysian needs and conditions; that we cannot have a full Westminster-type of democracy, but Democracy ala Malaysia.

Probably, by Parliamentary democracy ala Malaysia, the government means the removal of the limited opportunities for MPs to take the floor in the Dewan Ra’ayat, the refusal to give MPs enough time to study Government Bills, the refusal to allow Opposition Members of Parliament a chance to debate their motions, and any other measure designed to make Parliament into a sycophantic rubber stamp of the Government.

Compared to the Parliament sittings before 1969, the hours of each sitting a day has been reduced by one hour. This has taken place without notice.

The DAP cannot be a party to any government move to strangle the democratic process.

The proposals by the Standing Orders Committee is entertainable only if there are at the same time amendments to the Standing orders to ensure that opposition Members of Parliament will be able to get fair rime to speak, by extending the hours of sitting a day, and by other institutional arrangements.

My colleague, the DAP Member of Sitiawan, who is a member of the Standing Orders Committee, has made a report to the DAP Parliamentary group. He is unfortunately not here today, because he has to be in Muar to conduct a legal case.

He has reported to us that the Standing Orders Committee was made aware of the greater injustice that will result from the banning of the adjournment speeches during the two major meetings of Parliament, unless there are clear-cut arrangements to allow MPs to speak in Parliament.

We find from the Standing Orders Committee Report no such clear-cut arrangements to allow MPs fair time to speak, and we in the DAP are strongly opposed to this motion as it stands.

I would ask the Finance Minister to withdraw this motion, and refer this matter back to the Standing Orders Committee for reconsideration, bearing in mind the views that have been expressed in this House, so that MPs can attend Parliament and take meaningful part in its proceedings, and not just come to mark attendance to collect their parliamentary allowance.