The ‘saturation’ television coverage of UMNO general assembly is not only a gross abuse of government power but an insult and contempt of Parliament which should be the highest political forum in the country

Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary General and MP for Tanjong, Lim Kit Siang in the Dewan Rakyat on Monday, November 21, 1994 on the Prime Ministers Department; during the Committee stage debate of the 1995 budget

The ‘saturation’ television coverage of UMNO general assembly is not only a gross abuse of government power but an insult and contempt of Parliament which should be the highest political forum in the country

In the last few days, there had been ‘saturation’ mass media coverage of the UMNO general assembly particularly over the government-run radio and television channels.

This is not only a gross abuse of government power, where the important distinction between government and party had been completely blurred, but also a supreme insult and contempt of Parliament which should be the highest political forum in the country.

Mass media and in particular television coverage of parliamentary proceedings have been minimal and cannot even campare with the long-running saga of the Mona-Fandey murder trial.

What is worst, in the minimal mass media coverage for parliamentary proceedings, opposition views have either been completely ignored or distorted with a lot of mass media coverage simply trivialising parliamentary proceedings involving opposition MPs.

The time has come to restore Parliament to its rightful place as the apex of the democratic system of government in the country and not as at present, a mere appendage of the Prime Minister’s Department whose role is that of a rubber-stamp only.

The restoration of a meaningful Parliament is high on the DAP agenda calling for Full Liberalisation in Malaysia and I hope that in the national interests, all MPs regardless of party affiliation can give their support to the upliftment of the status and role of Parliament.

Firstly, there should be meaningful parliamentary reform to make Parliament the highest decision making process in the country where Members of Parliament from all parties are not just rubber-stamps but can play important roles in policy-formulation and the legislative process.

I have been calling for meaningful parliamentary reforms since the 1970s but my calls had fallen on deaf ears.

If there had been changes and amendments to the standing orders in the past 25 years, they were not to make Parliament more meaningful but to further constrict and conscribe the freedom of MPs to discharge their duties as the tribunes of the people.

Government budgets for instance had increased by leaps and bounds in the past quarter of a century and the number of MPs have also increased considerably but debate time in Parliament have not only failed to keep pace with such increases, they have in many occasions been further slashed.

As a result, Ministers have been able to play truant from their parliamentary responsibilities and the worst example is none other than the MCA President and the Minister for Transport Datuk Seri Dr. Ling Liong Sik.
At the last Parliamentary meeting, the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir in reply to a question from the DAP MP from Petaling Jaya, Dr. Kua Kia Soong, had revealed that Liong Sik had attended only 24 days out of 272 days of parliamentary sittings since the 1990 general elections.

This means he hardly turned up for six days in Parliament in one year. And out of these 24 days that he attended Parliament, 80% were because there were formal functions like the official opening by the Yang Dipertuan Agung, the annual budget speech, constitution amendment bill debates and voting and the Prime Minister moving important motions like the Second Perspective Plan, the Sixth Malaysia Plan Midterm Review.

It was only after Liong Sik have been ridiculed publicly as the worst Cabinet Minister who has played the most truant from his parliamentary duties, that Liong Sik turned up in Parliament on the first day of the current meeting of Parliament on question time to personally answer a question directed to him. This was the first time that he answered question in Parliament since his appointment as Transport Minister eight years ago making him as the only Cabinet Minister who had not dared to face MPs to justify the stewardship of his Ministry.

Ministers, Deputy Ministers and Parliamentary Secretary should not be allowed to answer more than three questions on the same subject in one go during question time to ensure that they do not evade strict parliamentary scrutiny

What is most shocking is that Liong Sik answered 27 questions in one go which is most irresponsible and unparliamentary as it not only denied MPs the right to ask supplementary questions on 27 separate occasions but allowed Liong Sik to evade many issues asked in the 27 questions with one omnibus answer.

For instance, among the 27 questions which Liong Sik disposed in one go, the Transport Minister have failed to answer specific queries posed by many MPs both Opposition and Barisan Nasional on:

* when Liong Sik first knew about the Subang Radar fire, when he first informed the Prime Minister about the disaster and why he did not visit the airport until 60 hours later;

* the cost on the waste of fuel incurred by air- crafts which had to circulate the airspace waiting for landing clearance as the result of the fire; (Dr. Kua Kia Soong)

* outcome of investigations into the stowaway Shamsul Ramli who died in the MAS 747-200
aircraft to Johannesburg on 15 March 1993; (Kerk Kim Hock)

* the number of times and dates that Liong Sik had answered questions and debates in Parliament on KLIA; (Lim Guan Eng)

* cost incurred by Malaysian Airport Berhad and MAS as a result of the Subang Radar Station Lire; (Wee Cboo Keong)

* why the promise of the former Deputy Prime Minister Ghafar Baba that the result of the investigations into the airport control tower fire in October 1992 would be made public within two week was not honoured; (Lim Kit Siang)

* the specific question by the MP for Kimanis, Datuk Nurnikman Abdullah whether there are plans to change the wiring system for all major airport in the country especially Kota Kinabalu, Kuching, Senai and Penang (15 November)

* whether the Minister is aware that in Japan, England and other countries, those responsible for disasters like the airport fire would resign and not be transferred to other department as in Malaysia; (Mohamad Zihin bin Mohd. Hassan – Larut)

Unless Liong Sik was prepared to give a proper and. conscientious reply to all the 27 questions in one go – which will have taken more than one hour of question time – the Transport Minister had no business to dispose of all of them in such a most unparliamentary manner.

I seriously suggest in future no Minister, Deputy Minister or Parliamentary Secretary should be allowed to answer more then three questions on the same subject at one go so that they do not use this as a device to evade parliamentary scrutiny.

Many MPs may be asking questions on the same subject – which shows the importance MPs place on this issue – but this does not mean that all these questions should be disposed summarily at one go for they may be deal with different aspects which also deserve specific answers.

I would urge the Speaker not to allow Ministers, Deputy 1inisters and Parliamentary Secretaries to evade parliamentary responsibility and scrutiny by answering more than three questions on the same subject in one go.

The Cabinet should also play its role by directing Cabinet Ministers riot to ask for the Speaker’s permission to answer more than three questions on the same subject in one go.. and MPs from all parties should henceforth stand up to protest in the strongest terms possible if there are attempts by any govern- merit front-bencher to do a ‘Ling Liong Sik’ who answered 27 questions in one go.

On behalf of the DAP, I want to give notice that DAP MPs will protest everytime there is an attempt by any government frontbencher to answer more than three questions on the same subject in one go unless the Minister concerned can satisfy the House that he would be able to deal with all aspects and issues raised in the questions as well as give ample time for supplementary questions to be asked, at the rate of at least two supplementaries for one question dealt with.

Liong Sik will now be the most malleable and vulnerable MCA Minister in history as he owes his ministerial post to the charity of the Prime Minister after committing grave ministerial negligence and duplicity

In fact, the Cabinet should go one step further and demand higher ministerial standards and performance from all Cabinet Ministers.

The Transport Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Ling Liong 51k had clearly committed a grave and unforgivable ministerial negligence when he failed to take any action for 60 hours until after the Kuala Lumpur International Airport fire at the Subang radar station on 13 August this year. Liong Sik would not have visited the site of the fire for an even longer period if the New Straits Times had not exposed the cover-up of the Subang airport fire with an exclusive report.

What is even more grave and unforgivable was the blatant attempt by the Transport Minister and the relevant departments to deceive the Malaysian public as well as the Prime Minister himself about the third airport fire in two years where the Prime Minister had to read about the airport fire from the New Straits Times exclusive report.

Under normal circumstances in any part of the world, such a Transport Minister who had been guilty of such gross negligence and duplicity not only against the people but also against the Prime Minister himself would have been sacked on the spot if he did not have the decency arid the sense of honour to submit his resignation earlier.

Maybe the Prime Minister has very good reason for not forcing the resignation of Liong Sik after such unthinkable ministerial negligence and duplicity, for Liong Sik has become t most malleable and vulnerable MCA Minister as he now owes hi cabinet post not to his own merit, quality or even to the MCA’S position in the Barisan Nasional but solely to the charity of the Prime Minister.

Meaningful parliamentary reforms must provide for effective parliamentary devices whereby negligent and duplicitous Ministers could effectively be called to account by Parliament, which must act as the highest court in the land over such ministerial misconduct.

Another area for parliamentary reform is the establishment of a mechanism whereby Parliament can hold Ministers to account for their promises and pledges given in Parliament whether during question time or debates.

At present Ministers are very free with promises that they would look into complaints, grievances, injustices or other issues raised by MPs whether opposition or government during question time or debate but which are immediately forgotten after parliamentary meeting.

As a result, such promises given by Ministers in Parliarnent are good for newspaper headlines but are completely worthless in practice. A whole volume of such broken promises and pledges given by Ministers in Parliament could be culled from the Hansards over the years. I do not propose to catalogue this long list of broken promises except to give one example.

This concerned the widespread objections to the Land Acquisition Amendment Bill which was presented to Parliament in July 1991 which allowed the government to acquire private land not just for public purpose but for any development purpose including f or the benefit of private companies and individuals. I had warned in Parliament that the Land Acquisition Amendment would become the mother of all corruption, abuses of power, conflicts-of-interest and unethical practices in Malaysia’.

The smallholders whose 2,234 acres of land would be acquired for Seremban II project feel that they have been robbed of their fundamental and constitutional right to property

I had also said that the DAP strongly opposed the bill because we were acting for Malaysians of all races because every Malaysian who owns land, whether with large landholdings or an ordinary kampong Malay, a Chinese new villager, or an Indian wage-earner, could be deprived of his constitutional right to property under the new amendment to the Land Acquisition Act.

To allay these widespread objections and fears, the then Deputy Prime Minister Ghafar Baba promised that a new guideline had been formulated for all land acquisitions to ensure that there would be no abuses of power and that the legitimate rights of the people would be fully safeguarded.

This solemn parliamentary promise of a Deputy Prime Minister had been violated to the extent that there are more and more cases of arbitrary, oppressive and inequitable land acquisitions in the various states in the country.

What is even more shocking is that last week in Parliament, the Parliamentary Secretary in the Prime Minister ‘s Department Othman Abdul openly denied Ghafar Baba’s claim at the time that a special guideline had been drawn up for all state government to ensure that there will be no abuses of power over land acquisitions.

What worries me is that such violations to the constitutional right to property of Malaysians, though increasingly widespread, would be mere child’s play when compared to the scale and magnitude of arbitrary land acquisitions after the next general elections.

I was in the Mambau New Village community centre last night which was crammed to capacity with over a thousand people who all felt like other Malaysians of all races who had become the victims of arbitrary government land acquisitions whether they are Malays, as in Pantai Kundur and Pantai Tanah Merah in Malacca or the Malays in Kedah, who had to fight. and defeat acquisitions of their land for the Jerai International Park; or the Chinese, as in Paya Mengkuang, Kuala Sungai Baru or Ayer Salak New Village in Malacca who also faced arbitrary, oppressive and inequitable ‘government land acquisitions.

Their one and common feeling when faced with such arbitrary land acquisitions is that of been robbed of their fundamental and constitutional rights to land ownership.

Many affected smallholders in Rasah, Mambau and Labu whose land would be acquired under the Seremban II project, openly expressed their frustrations and bitterness, using the analogy of being openly robbed o their rights by the government.

In April this year, the Negeri Sembilan state government gazetted its intention to acquire 2234 acres of land in the Mukim of Rasah, Seremban for a proposed new satelite township of Seremban affecting some 600 land owners.

In July, the first batch of 44 landowners were summoned to the land office and told of the offer of compensation which averaged from RM27,000 to RM30,000 per acre although the highest offer was for RM50,000 per acre for one particular case.

The affected landowners were told orally that if they did not object to the land acquisition compensation, the government would increase the quantum of compensation to the range between RM43, 000 to RM60, 000 per acre.

However, all the affected smallholders whose land were being acquired objected, as the state government had never make any prior announcement about such’ a massive project as the new Seremban Town II project, and from all indications it was clear that it would be a favoured private developer who would reap huge profits from the project.

According to one calculation, the developer stands to net profits to the tune of billions of ringgit from the Seremban II project.

The Seremban II land acquisitions are a violation of the promise by Ghafar Baba in Parliament that there would be no abuses of power or disregard of the legitimate rights of ordinary Malaysians in the use of land acquisition powers

The affected landowners sought the help of the MCA and met the MCA Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Wong See Wah four times. Instead of getting more help, all that Wong See Wah could offer the affected landowners was the return to the original compensation quantum averaging RM27, 000 to RM30, 000 for most landowners together with a ten percent increase. This is very much less then the oral offer to increase the quantum of compensation to $43,000 to RM60, 000 if the affected landowners relinquish all rights to objection.

This is a classic example where instead of getting help from the MCA, the deal offered by the MCA Deputy Minister was even worse than that proposed by the Land Office and the landowners might as well have accepted the oral offer in July in the first place.

The affected smallholders object to the quantum of compensation as the market price for their land is easily three to four times the government offer.

It is most unfair that a private developer could reap billions of ringgit of profits from the Seremban II project at the expense of the 600 smallholders whose lard would be acquired at dirt-cheap prices. It violates all principles of accountability and transparency as the affected landowners and the public knew nothing about the Seremban II project which was not even mentioned in the Seremban Structure Master Plan.

The acquisition of 2,234 acres for Seremban II project to benefit a private developer, without giving the affected landowners prior information, the option of a fair quantum of compensation or the chance to participate in the development of Seremhan II project is a violation of the promise that there could be no abuses of power and disregard of the legitimate rights of ordinary Malaysians in the use of land acquisition powers.

DAP calls for the establishment of a Parliamentary Standing Committee to scrutinize all land acquisitions to ensure that the promise given by former Deputy Prime Minister Ghafar Baba that there will be no abuses of power in land acquisition is honoured

When a promise solemnly given in Parliament is broken as in till case of Ghafar Baba’s promise on land acquisition, Parliament must investigate and rectify the injustice if Parliament is to maintain its standing and credibility.

Last night a signature campaign of the affected landowners of the Seremban II project was launched at the Mambau New Village community centre calling for the intervention of the Prime Minister to repeal unjust provisions of the Land Acquisition Amendment Act 1991 and to freeze all further action on the acquisition of 2,234 acres for Seremban II project until justice is restored to the affected landowners where they could either get fair compensation or the option to participate in the development of Seremban II.

Until a fair settlement has been reached, no work on the Seremban II project should be allowed and the affected landowners should not be treated as illegal squatters, losing all their rights to their rubber, durian and fruit cultivations.

As it is in Parliament that the assurance that be no abuse of power and disregard of the legitimate rights of the people was given, Parliament must set up a standing committee to scrutinize all land acquisitions to ensure that Ghafar Baba’s promise is honoured.

This Parliamentary Standing Committee to check land acquisition abuses should also scrutinize cases where the Lad Acquisition Act had been used for an improper motive.

A good example is the land acquisition of over 220 hectares of land in Paya Mengkuang in Malacca currently used for pig rearing. Paya Mengkuang is one of the largest pig rearing areas in Malaysia, involving a RM100 million industry, responsible for the entire Malacca market as well as exporting to Singapore. Nearly 3000 people are directly dependent on this industry while the livelihood of 10,000 people would be adversely affected if a total ban on pig rearing is imposed.

Three years ago, the Malacca state government announced its intention to ban pig rearing in the state. After strong objections from the DAP, this government plan was quietly shelved.

However, the Malacca state government is now using the Land Acquisition Act to resurrect its plan to ban pig rearing in Paya Mengkuang by proposing to acquire all Paya Mengkuang land for industrial purpose.

This is a gross misuse of the Land Acquisition Act which is another example of the breach of promise given by Ghafar Baba in Parliament over the issue.

I was in Paya Mengkuang ten days ago and I was shocked that no MCA Minister, especially the MCA President Datuk Seri Dr. Ling Liong Sik had visited Paya Mengkuang in the last three years to help resolve the problems of the pig rearers although Paya Mengkuang has the most number of MCA life-members in the country.

This is another example of ministerial irresponsibility and ineptitude which should be a matter of grave concern to a Prime Minister and a Cabinet which demand high standards of excellence and achievement in the public service.

For the information of the House, unless Ling Sik shows more responsibility as a Minister and MCA President to take time off from his karaokes and immediately visit Paya Mengkuang to resolve the problems of the .pig-rearers, the MCA life-members in Paya Mengkuang as well as ordinary MCA members would make a bonfire of their MCA membership cards as a supreme protest.

DAP calls for a total revamp and upgrading of the Parliament library to make it the best in the world in keeping with the ‘knowledge-triumphant’ motto of Anwar Ibrahim

Meaningful parliamentary reforms must also involve the establishment of Parliamentary Specialist Committees to allow MPs to specialise in the various portfolios of government so that they can play a more active and constructive role in policy formulation and decision making.

The Deputy Prime Minister is fond of talking about developing a ‘knowledge-triumphant’ Malaysia. Let there first of all be a ‘knowledge-triumphant’ Parliament with a Parliamentary library and research facility among the best in the world.

However, whoever visits the Parliament library today must conclude that knowledge cannot ‘triumph’ in Malaysia for it must be one of the worst Parliamentary library in the world with completely no research officers or facilities whatsoever. I hope that in keeping with a ‘knowledge-triumphant’ motto, the Parliament library will undergo a total transformation in the next few months.

Call on the Prime Minister to create a Ministry of Religion to promote inter-religious understanding and dialogue to prevent insensitivities and violation of religious rights like the stoppage of the construction of the RM3.5 million Shah Alam Catholic Church

I refer the Biro Tatanegara whose objective is to change and mould the thinking and values of Malaysians.

One of the most important values which must be inculcated among all Malaysians in particular leaders in government at all levels is to respect the unique multi-religious character of Malaysia.

There have been instances where government leaders have been insensitive to the religious rights of non-Muslim faiths in the country. One example is the stoppage of the construction of the RM3.5 million Shah Alam Catholic Church by the Selangor state government last year although it has received all planning approvals.

The Selangor state government overrode the planning approval granted by the local municipal authority for no rhyme or reason and demanded that if planning approval is to be granted again, the 70-feet height of the buildings should be slashed by more than half so that it would not exceed 30-feet.

I understand that the Catholic Archbishop Soter Fernandez had written officially to the Prime Minister on the matter but no reply have been forthcoming.

The church had spent almost all the RN500000 donated by the people for the project into piling for the original design as the site is a very swampy area. The church has now been forced to alter their building plan to slash the original 70-feet designs to 30-feet and the church that will be constructed in Shah Ala have a flat roof without a steeple ad would look more like a community hall.

Although the amended building plan in accordance with the state government’ s requirements has been submitted to the state government for about a month, no word has been heard from the authorities to date.

This issue has caused a lot of unhappiness among not only the Catholic community but also the people at large.

There is an urgent need for inter-religious dialogue among the different religions, and in particular between the Muslim and the non-Muslim communities to create inter-religious understanding and harmony and avoid insensitive actions like the stoppage of construction of the Shah Alam Catholic Church and the slashing of the original approved design from over 70-feet to 30- feet.

The DAP calls on the Prime Minister to create a Ministry of Religion to promote inter-religious dialogue and understanding not only among the different religions, but even more important, between the Muslim and non-Muslim communities so that Malaysia will be spared inter-religious misunderstandings, ill- will and conflicts.