Call on Prime Minister to direct all Cabinet Ministers to undergo a orientation course of the Standing Orders of Dewan Rakyat so that they would not repeat the parliamentary farce on Wednesday resulting in improper two-day adjournment

by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Kota Melaka, Lim Kit Siang, in Petaling Jaya on Friday, Oct. 18 1985:

Call on Prime Minister to direct all Cabinet Ministers to undergo a orientation course of the Standing Orders of Dewan Rakyat so that they would not repeat the parliamentary farce on Wednesday resulting in improper two-day adjournment.

Wednesday’s Parliamentary farce, when the Dewan Rakyat was improperly adjourned till Monday, shows that senior Cabinet Ministers have very little knowledge about the Dewan Rakyat Standing Orders.

The adjournment of the Dewan Rakyat on Wednesday till Monday, cancelling two Dewan Rakyat sittings fixed for Thursday and Friday, was against all parliamentary practice and violate the Standing Order of the Dewan Rakyat.

The Minister for Land and Regional Development, Datuk Seri Adib Adam, had committed breach of Standing Orders in misleading the House into believing that the House had to powers to cancel the Thursday and Friday sittings by way of a motion under Standing Order 12 (1).

Standing Order 12 (1) reads:

“Each sitting of the House shall begin at 2.30 p.m. and continue until 6.30 p.m. or the earlier completion of deferment of business on the Order Paper;

Provided that a Minister may without notice move at any time a motion to be decide without amendment or debate to vary the time of sitting of the House.”

It is very clear the Standing Order 12(1) empowers the Minister to propose the earlier or later adjournment of the sitting from the usual 6.30 p.m., and not to cancel scheduled Dewan Rakyat sittings on other days.

Datuk Seri Adib Adam had committed a grave breach of privilege in misleading the Dewan Rakyat and the Speaker causing the Dewan Rakyat sittings on Thursday and Friday, for which MPs had tabled questions for oral answer, to be improperly and illegally adjourned.

Datuk Seri Adib Adam should be referred to the Committee of Privileges for such breach of privilege, which made Parliament a laughing stock not only in the eyes of the people, but in the world as well.

At the very least, Datuk Seri Adib Adam should openly apologise to the Dewan Rakyat on Monday for misleading the house to cancel the Thursday and Friday sittings of Parliament!

The government front-bench had invoked Standing Order 12(1) because it was under the misconception that the Dewan Rakyat could not meet on Thursday and Friday as the six government bills which had been tabled for first reading are not ready.

I find it most shocking that anyone of elementary Parliamentary knowledge and experience could ever for a moment thought that question hour is not part of parliamentary business. In fact, the question time is the most important part of parliamentary proceedings, for it is intended to hole Ministers accountable daily for their portfolios.

If the front-bench Ministers had consulted the Opposition before precipitately and ill-advisedly moved Standing Order 12(1) to improperly and irregularly adjourn the House on Wednesday, the Opposition would have pointed out to them the gross error, and the scandalous parliamentary farce would not have taken place.

It is clear that Cabinet Ministers are woefully ignorant about Parliamentary Standing Orders, and I call on the Prime Minister to direct all Cabinet Ministers to undergo an orientation course on the Standing Orders of the Dewan Rakyat so that they would not repeat the parliamentary farce of Wednesday.

In this connection, Parliament itself must assert its rights and dignity, to hold an inquiry as to why Bills could not be ready well in advance for MPs to have adequate time to study and consult interested groups before debate. If the Bills had been approved by the Cabinet weeks before the Parliamentary debate, why are MPs treated so shabbily and badly by being given one day or two days notice before debate on the second reading.

There is in fact a need for a Parliamentary Select Committee to be set up to review the Parliamentary Procedures and Practices of the Dewan Rakyat. Parliament celebrated its 25th Anniversary recently, but no attempt has been made to give meaningful content to Parliamentary democracy in the country.

In the last two decades, the Standing Orders had been amended several times, but every time, it was from the standpoint of ensuring greater government and even bureaucratic convenience. The Standing Orders on questions, for instance, was amended to require notice for 14 working days before the parliamentary meeting instead of before the parliamentary sitting.

This means for the eight-week parliamentary budget meeting, MPs had to give over 10 weeks’ of notice if their questions are for the end of the meeting, which makes Parliament as a up-to-date and relevant political institution meaningless. The reasoning for this amendment is for the convenience of the Parliamentary and government officials. So, here, the Sovereignty of Parliament had to yield to the Sovereignty of the Officials!

I call for a Select Committee to review Parliamentary Procedures and Practices, not from the standpoint of ensuring greater convenience to officials and more comfortable life for the Ministers, but from the standpoint of how to make Parliament more meaningful, relevant and responsive to the needs of the people.

This Select Committee should not be guided by the Standing Orders of the Dewan Rakyat at all, but should consider all procedures and practices being practised in other Parliaments and recommend whether they could and should be adopted in Malaysia, or come out with its own innovative ideas on parliamentary reform of Malaysia.