Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Dap Secretary-General and MP for Kota Melaka, Lim Kit Siang, in the Dewan Rakyat on Tuesday, March 26, 1985 on the Motion of Thanks for the Royal Address
DAP calls for a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the functioning of parliamentary democracy for the last 25 years and make recommendations for its improvement in the next 25 years
I rise to support the Motion of Thanks to the Yang di Pertuan Agong for his Gracious Address to both Houses of Parliament yesterday.
Since his accession to the Throne a year ago, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong has endeared himself to thepeople of Malaysia for his simplicity and concern for the people’s welfare. Both these qualities were amply evident when the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, together with the Raja Permaisuri Agong, opened the new Parliamentary session yesterday. The DAP will like to take this opportunity to wish the Yang di Pertuan Agong and the Permaisuri Agong an illustrious reign.
As the Yang di-Pertuan Agong has pointed out, the system of parliamentary democracy in Malaysiais more than a quarter of a century.
The Malaysian Parliament is now making its 25th anniversary, and there is no better and fitting way to celebrate Parliament’s Silver Jubilee than for a nation-wide review and re-examination of the past 25 years’ of parliamentary democracy, and to propose recommendations for its better functioning for the next 25 years.
Yesterday, when Members of Parliament from both Houses gathered at the Dewan Rakyat to await the arrival of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and the Raja Permaisuri Agong for the delivery of the Royal Address, there was a breakdown when the Parliament ushers found that the Division Bell which should be rung first had malfunctioned.
This breakdown is very symbolic and should perforce be a reminder to all MPs that there had also been breakdowns in the functioning of parliamentary democracy these 25 years, resulting in the erosion and dimunition of the role , responsibility and status of Parliament as originally intended by founding fathers of the nation on the achievement of Merdeka in 1957.
Any independent and impartial observer must agree that the Merdeka idea of Parliament as the highest legislative and deliberative chamber in the country, representing the supreme will of the people, had come under systematic assault in the last 25 years, reducing Parliament more and more to a rubber stamp to give formal approval to what had already been decided by Cabinet.
The people have become so accustomed to the diminished role of Parliament, somewhat equivalent to a minor department in the Prim Minister’s Office, that nobody finds it amiss that the Silver Jubilee celebrations of the Malaysian Parliament was decide and being organized by the Government rather than by Parliament itself.
In theory, the Executive is answerable to Parliament, but the Executive encroachment and usurpation of the powers and role of Parliament had gone so far that Parliament had become a mere appendage of government. The result is that Parliament has grown increasingly irrelevant to the problems and aspirations of the people.
I will give an example. In March 1983, the DAP MP for Kuching, Sdr. Sim Kwang Yang, sought to adjourn the Dewan Rakyat to debate the detailed reports of an Asian Wall Street Journal article about the Bumiputra Malaysia Finance scandal, which reported on how BMF officials made use of their position to get loans and credit facilities for themselves. In an abysmal act of irresponsibility, Parliament showed no interest whatsoever in the BMF scandal as the government was publicly denying impropriety, and Malaysians had to wait for another 20 months to read about such BMF scandals in the Ahmad Nordin Inquiry Committee briefs.
I suspect that in the 25 years of its history, the Malaysian Parliament has never stood so low in public esteem as now. For Malaysia’s sake and future, Malaysians must take the opportunity of the 25th anniversary of Parliament not just to stage exhibitions or indulge in self-praise, but to conduct a deep and thorough re-examination of our system and functioning of parliamentary democracy to restore to Parliament its pre-eminent place in Malaysia and public esteem.
A Royal Commission should be established to study into the functioning of parliamentary democracy for the last 25 years and make recommendations for its improvement in the net 25 years, and such a Royal Commission Report should be tabled in Parliament for debate to mark the culmination of the national soul-searching.
Parliament’s Silver Jubilee could only be meaningful if it leads to a new commitment by Malaysians at all levels of society to restore to Parliament its powers and role as well as relevance.
Such a self-examination should be conducted on two broad fronts: firstly, a study of the need for parliamentary reforms involving Parliamentary procedures, practices and conventions to allow MPs to perform their role as members of the highest legislative and deliberative chamber in the country. Over the years, there had been piece-meal amendments to the Dewan Rakyat Standing Orders, but these amendments share one common objective: to curtail the rights and freedom of Members of Parliament in particular from the Opposition to speak up for the people in Parliament.
Twenty-five years ago, Parliament met for five hours for every sitting, but now, although the number of MPs have increased, and government has assumed vast responsibilities and multiplied its expenditures manifold, Parliament sits for only four hours a day. In the 1960s, MPs could ask three oral questions a day and unlimited number of written questions; but in the 1970s, MPs were limited to 20 oral questions per parliamentary meeting even if it last two months, and the limit of five written question each parliamentary meeting.
When DAP MPs made used of private member’s bill provisions in the Standing Orders to bring up proposed legislations, the government amended the Standing Orders to change the order of parliamentary business so as to ‘kill’ such a provision. These tendencies to curtail freedom of elected representatives from speaking up were followed in the various State Assemblies, to the extent that in one State, Malacca, the state government found the question time so onerous that the Assembly Standing Orders were amended to make it the last item of business, instead of being the first item as is parliamentary practice!
Other Parliaments have experimented with innovations to make them more relevant and meaningful, as in the establishment of Specialist Parliamentary Committees to enable MPs to specialize as well as to participate in policy-making, but in Malaysia, we seem more interested in devising ever new methods to deny backbenchers, and in particular, the Opposition, opportunities for Parliamentary ventilation.
Secondly, apart from the parliamentary practices, procedures, conventions, the Royal Commission should also study the constitutional, legal and political conditions obstruct the free operation of the system of parliamentary democracy.
Firstly, the government of the day must respect the people’s rights to choose their own MP or Assemblyman, without fear of victimisation or discrimination, as unfortunately happened in Tambunan after the Sabah State Assembly by-election last December.
The Berjaya Sabah State Government announced the abrogation of the district status of Tambunan after the Berjaya candidate, Roger Ongkili, lost to the then independent candidate, Datuk Joseph Pairin Kitingan in a by-election on December 29.
Although the Sabah Chief Minister, Datuk Harris Salleh, subsequently denied that Tambunan’s district status had been abrogated, and that there were merely some administrative changes to the district, there is no doubt that the Berjaya State Government was only trying to deflect nation-wide uproar and condemnation against the latest example of dictatorial action by the Berjaya State government and in particular its Chief Minister.
In actual fact, two Berjaya Government leaders had publicly defended the action to abrogate Tambunan’s district status. The Berjaya Sabah State Finance Minister, Datuk Haji Muhammad Noor Mansor, in a front-page Daily Express story on January 9 asserted that the abrogation of Tambunan’s district status was within Berjaya’s ‘political rights’ while Sabah Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Suffian Koroh defended the abrogation in a statement on 14th January by claiming that the State Government would only provide development, economic opportunities and no other benefits to its supporters.
What the Berjaya State Government and the Sabah Chief Minister, Datuk Harris Salleh, had done in Tambunan was nothing less than blatant discrimination against the voters for exercising their free choice to vote the elected representative they want.
In defence of this action, Tan Sri Suffian Koroh even quoted the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamed who, on one of his visits to Sabah, warned the people not to ‘bite the hand that fed them’.
This is not only illogical, but a perversion of the truth. For if there is any feeding, it is the people who are feeding the government, and not the other way round. The money used by government leaders for so-called development are not the Ministers’ personal monies, but are the people’s money raised from taxes and rates. Therefore, if there is anyone who is ungrateful, it is the government leaders who want to deny the people their right to free choice although they had been fed by the people, and not the other way round.
The Tambunan case should be an interesting case-study by the Royal Commission as to how the Politics of Money and Fear is undermining the smooth functioning of parliamentary democracy.
The Malaysian Constitution should be amended to make it a fundamental right for every Malaysian to exercise his or her political choice without fear of discrimination, and to make it an offence for anyone to take punitive actions like the abrogation of Tambunan’s district status or down-grading of its administrative status as a form of punishment for the people’s electoral decision unfavourable to the ruling party.
Another aspect the Royal Commission should go into are the obstacles to freedom of speech, assembly and association which made it impossible or very difficult for the people to exercise their democratic freedom of choice, as well as the electoral abuses committed by thee ruling parties.
For instance, public rallies had been banned which affect the Opposition the hardest, while the ruling parties are free to hold public rallies under the guise of government functions to campaign for votes.
Tomorrow, the Sabah Chief Minister, Datuk Harris Salleh, will be holding a public rally for government servants, employees of statutory bodies as well as members of the public in Sandakan, which is clearly the formal launching of the Berjaya campaign in Sandakan for the Sabah State General Elections breaking two laws in one act, the ban on public rallies as well as the ban on election campaign before Nomination Day.
What guarantees can the Elections Commission, the Police and the Federal government authorities give that the forthcoming Sabah General Elections will be conducted in a clean and honest manner, were there will be no Politics of Money to buy voters, resulting in millions of dollars being spent in one constituency when the electoral law limits electoral expenditure to only $15,000, or the Politics of intimidation to frighten voters from supporting the Opposition?
Datuk Harris Salleh came to Kuala Lumpur over the weekend to get the support of the Barisan Nasional party leaders, and to get them to go to Sabah to campaign for Berjaya – but the ban on m entry into Sabah, even for ‘legitimate political activities’ as guaranteed by the Immigration Act and the Constitution, is still arbitrarily and unlawfully imposed!
The mass media is another area which the Royal Commission should study, for through their influence and control over communication channels, they have a great impact on democratic conditions in the country. From the Prime Minister’s remarks at a press conference after the Barisan Nasional supreme council meeting in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday, it would appear that general democratization in Malaysia, especially the democratization of the mass media, is the last thing to find favour with the government.
What the Prime Minister wants is for all newspapers in Malaysia to become ‘government gazettes’!
This bring us to the fundamental question as to whether the Government has the will and vision to foster the growth of parliamentary democratic ideas, conditions and tradition, even if it means inconvenience, embarrassment or setbacks to the ruling parties, or whether it equates the interests of the ruling parties to the interests of the government, to the extent that critics of the ruling parties are regarded as enemies of the government and the State.
It is disturbing to note that he Prime Minister seems to be articulating this view quite often. I do not know whether this is because of the pre-election fever that is beginning to hit the country, but whatever the reason, it is most unworthy of the Prime Minister.
Two days ago, the Prime Minister attakced the Opposition parties as being anti-national, as not committed to national unity, and not having compunction in pushing racial issues. A fortnight ago, he said the country needed a healthy opposition but the DAP is not a healthy opposition.
Let me put the record straight. Malaysia needs a healthy government, but the Barisan Nasional government is not a healthy government, and this is why three years after the landslide general elections victory of the Barisan Nasional, and the MCA’s promise of ‘political breakthrough’ for the Chinese and the Gerakan’s slogan of ‘Attack into the Barisan Nasional to rectify the Barisan Nasional’, the country and people face even more intractable problems such as aggravation of racial polarisation, religious polarisation, persistent poverty and growing gap between the rich and the poor, rampant corruption and the latest threats of new assaults on the people’s fundamental liberties.
The DAP is being blamed for the Bukit China, Papan and import of Mandarin oranges issues, in that they have become racial issues.
If there is anyone who must bear full responsibility for allowing Bukit China issues to aggravate racial polarisation, he is none other than the Malacca Chief Minister, Datuk Abdul Rahim Thamby Cik, who seemed to have forgotten that as Malacca Chief Minister, he is not just UMNO leader but leader of all racial, religious and cultural groups in the state.
I can speak at length to explain myself, but as there appears to be a likely settlement of the Bukit China issues, I do not propose to do so in the hope that it would not be re-opened. What the DAP sought to do in the entire Bukit China controversy was to get the Malacca State Government to understand that respect for the various cultural and religious sensitivities in a multi-racial country like Malaysia is a prerequsite to successful nation-building. But if the DAP is going to be unreasonably blamed for aggravating racial polarisation in the Bukit China issue, then we reserve the right to rebut such allegations and to put the record straight.
Both the Papan radioactive waste dump and the Mandarin oranges issues are classic examples of a government which had become too insensitive to the feelings and aspirations of the people. The government should not look for excuses for these blunders. Regardless of whether the people of Papan are Chinese, Malays or Indians, their rights to oppose the dumpling of radioactive waste materials in their vicinity must be respected.
It is also clear that the government is not prepared to admit its mistakes in the Mandarin oranges bungle. Here I call on the Prime Minister to give an explanation why the government leaders gave two different versions on the Mandarin oranges bungle both before and after the Chinese New Year. Before the Chinese New Year, when the Deputy Minister for Mandarin oranges, Datuk Dr. Tan Tiong Hong, was busily trying to encourage the Malaysian Chinese to honour Chinese customs by selling and buying Mandarin oranges, the people were told that the original decision to grant virtual monopoly of Mandarin oranges import to Satria Utara Sdn.Bhd. was the ‘deviation’ of Ministry of Trade and Pernas officials. But after the Chinese New Year, the people found the Prime Minister saying nothing about the ‘deviation’ of officials in the bungle, but blaming the Malaysian Chinese for being ‘chauvinistic’ for their boycott of Mandarin oranges.
The boycott of Chinese Mandarin oranges must not be distorted or misunderstood. It was directed against any race. In fact, we could say that the Malaysian Chinese have shown that they are not ‘chauvinists’ because they are prepared to do without the Mandarin oranges from China, and settle instead for oranges from Thailand, Cameron Highlands, Pakistan and sunkists from other countries.
The unorganized spontaneous boycott of Mandarin oranges must be seen as firstly, a protest against the high-handed manner in which certain government officials and leaders are acting in disregard of the rights and sensitivities of the people; and secondly, as a protest against the relentless process of erosion of political, economic, educational, cultural and religious rights especially in the last three years. It is a protest not to separate the Malaysian Chinese or non-Malays from the Malaysian body-politic, but an agonizing cry born of intense frustration to demand the attention of the authorities that they should be fully integrated in the national mainstream of aspirations and rights.
Or let me put it in another way. The Mandarin oranges boycott is not a manifestation of the chauvinism of the Malaysian Chinese to be Chinese first and last, but their expression of frustration that they are not being treated as full equal Malaysians.
The Minister of Agriculture, Anwar Ibrahim, said in Singapore over the weekend that the officials responsible for the Mandarin oranges bungle had ‘learnt heir lesson’. The people want to know what is this ‘lesson’, whether disciplinary action had been taken against those concerned.
Why did the Ministry of Trade and Pernas grant virtual monopoly in the Mandarin oranges trade in the original instance to a company which had not been incorporated, had no finance or experience in the Trade, and why were traditional importers or wholesalers denied the opportunity to import in compliance with the so-called new requirements about direct China trade?
The Mandarin oranges scandal has a dark and seamy side, involving not just bad judgement, but probably corruption and improprieties. I call on the Anti-Corruption Agency to conduct a thorough investigation into the case.
I want to declare here that the DAP is as committed to national unity as anyone in the Barisan Nasional parties. The DAP has spoken out on a host of issues because we see the Barisan Nasional government ignoring or trampling on the legitimate political, economic, educational, cultural and religious rights of Malaysians, which could only undermine and retard national unity in the country.
POLITICS OF RACE
If we do not cherish national unity and the Malaysian nation, DAP leaders could allow these divisive factors and forces to grow, until they threaten the very basis of the multi-racial Malaysian nation. DAP leaders are sticking their necks out, incurring the wrath of the ruling government and the paying the price of our convictions, because we want a enduring Malaysian nation for our children and children’s children, regardless of race, and this is why we continue to speak out.
The racial situation in Malaysia has not be helped or eased by the politics of race as practiced by the Barisan Nasional. UMNO, MCA and MIC for instance, cannot deny that in the final analysis, their politics is the politics of race. It will score political points, but make no contribution to problem solving, if Barisan Nasional leaders ignore the anti-national and negative effects of their politics of race on racial relations, and put the blame on others.
I have said many a time that the DAP is a Malaysian nationalist patriotic movement, whose commitment to Malaysian wellbeing and interests is total. Let no one doubt our commitment to Malaysia, our loyalty to the country and our aspiration for national unity, for it will result in our doubting the doubter’s commitment to Malaysia, loyalty to the country and aspiration for national unity.
Politics of Morality
POLITICS OF MORALITY
The Yang di-Pertuan Agong said in his Gracious Address that ‘the nation needs a united, educated, disciplined and virtuous young generation who are willing to contribute towards unity and national development.’
We cannot have a ‘virtuous’ young generation unless the present leadership set an example in the Politics of morality. If political leaders regard politicians as commodities, to be bought and sold depending on the right price, we are teaching the young generation that principles and morality do not count.
To ensure political morality and environment whereby could nurture a ‘virtuous’ generation mentionable by Yang di-Pertuan Agong, I call on the government to introduce legislation to require MPs or Assemblymen to vacate their elected seats when they resign of defect from the party on whose ticket they got elected. Such a law was enacted in the Indian Parliament recently. If the Malaysian government is sincere in wanting to foster greater morality in Malaysian national life, it could not object to such a law , unless the Barisan Nasional parties want to have the freedom to try to tempt and seduce opposition MPs and Assemblymen with monetary, material or other temptations or by other means, including intimidation and subtle forms of blackmail.
Although the 2M Government started office with the slogan of ‘clean, efficient and trustworthy’ administration, the government has lost public credibility that it is serious in its campaign against corruption.
It is the general impression that corruption in public life has become more rampant than ever, while arrests and prosecution of small-fries are made by ACA more for publicity purpose than as part of a serious campaign to uproot corruption.
The arrest and prosecution of the corrupt in high public places appear to be made with a view to extract maximum political advantage for the government. If this is the case, then I will not be surprised if with the approach of the coming general elections, the ACA will be allowed to arrest and prosecute one or two political personalities who will serve the purpose of trying to demonstrate that the corrupt in high public places can expect no immunity under the 2M government.
Finally, I want to touch on an issue which had created many socio-economic as well as law-and-order problems of Malaysians- the presence of illegal Indonesian immigrants in Malaysia, the Filipino refugees in Sabah, and now, I understand, some 20,000 illegal Burmese Muslim immigrants mostly in Terengganu.
The problem of the illegal Indonesian immigrants, the Filipino refugees and the illegal Burmese Muslim immigrants are largely due to the government’s closing its eyes to their entry. The presence of the illegal Indonesian immigrants are particularly disturbing, because of their participation in criminal activities, including murder, armed robbery and rape.
The people of Malaysia have a right to demand that the government take a firm stand to repatriate illegal Indonesian immigrants from Malaysia instead of playing s cat-and-mouse game with the illegal Indonesian immigrants as well as with the people. Illegal Indonesian immigrants rounded up for return to Indonesian are found to be back in Malaysia in a matter of days if they ever leave in the first place.
If the Government introduces a law to make it an offence punishable with serious penalty for any Malaysia found helping to bring in, employing or giving accommodation to illegal Indonesian immigrants, then the people of Malaysia would be spared the problem of the
illegal Indonesian immigrant criminal a activities- which have now gone as far north as Penang.
It is a great injustice that the Malaysian government ignores the problem and plight of the 30,000 red identity card holders who, apart from citizenship status, are Malaysians in every sense of the word, while illegal Indonesian immigrants are allowed virtual freedom inside the country.
I am still coming across citizenship applications made as far back as 1970, 1971 and 1972, who are still waiting for final news about their application. Can the Minister of Home Affairs give any acceptable reason why citizenship applications should take over 10 or 12 years? I hope the Minister could tell the House how many citizenship applications have been outstanding for over five years, and that he would direct that all such applications be processed within three months as in keeping with the government motto of ‘clean, efficient and trustworthy’!