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Showing posts with label The Sun. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Sun. Show all posts

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Doing good by PAS

Dr Siti Mariah Mahmud, a first-time Member of Parliament (Kota RaJa) and a central committee member of PAS, represents the new dynamic progressive voice of the Islamic party. She spoke to Rathi Ramanathan on issues ranging from women’s issues, the NEP and homosexuality.

TheSun: You were a practising medical doctor. When and what made you turn to a political career with PAS?
Siti Mariah: I was a practising doctor for less than three years before I joined UKM as a lecturer, in pre-clinical science. I still do a bit of clinical work like diagnosing hypertension, diabetes etc.

I joined as an ordinary member of PAS in 1993 but only became politically active in 1997 when I resigned as a lecturer from UPM. I chose PAS because of my religiosity and Islamic tendencies. Islam is a way of life, so understanding of politics is one thing, but the party reflects Islamic values. All in my family are PAS members, including my mother who rose to be deputy chief of the Muslimat (women’s wing).

Interestingly, there are more women drawn into politics through PAS. Did your husband object to your joining PAS?
My husband is also a PAS member. I waited until the youngest of my six children started Standard One before I made the decision to be politically active in 1997. Before that I also had a full-time job.

Do you miss being a doctor?
I do miss it as I love seeing patients. But a doctor’s job is demanding and my priority was then with my family. I was also helping my husband run his business before being elected MP.

As a first time Member of Parliament, how are you finding public life? How has it affected your life and how are you coping?
I hardly have time for the family. I have to reschedule the time with my family due to my parliamentary and constituency demands. But I am enjoying these new demands because I love meeting people. Furthermore, I no longer have to worry about earning an extra income as there is more financial independence when you are an MP and it gives me the flexibility to check in on the family business when I need to but I have delegated my duties to my daughter.

PAS appears to be reinventing itself. What can you tell us about the party’s progressive agenda?
It has a progressive agenda. Islam is a universal religion. In the last 10 years of engagement with the various sectors of society, we have found that Islam has been propagandised. However, when we took time to explain the universality of Islam and that Islam protects all and gives rights to all, we found non-Muslims to be very receptive.

Race is not an issue as Islam is the overarching banner which is why we have created a new slogan – PAS for all – which communicates the message that we will fight for everyone’s right. However, PAS is an old party ... now 50 years old and we have a wide spectrum of members with intellectual and economic capacities. Our grassroots are mainly Malay rural folk and now urban and lately, we have attracted non-Muslims, too.

We have been toying with the idea of having non-Muslims, especially the younger generation of Indians as members for the last ten years. We know we cannot be the main and dominant party without the non-Muslim support. They also want us to consider extending membership to them. Our own members consist of old-timers and non-progressives who fear that if we have non-Muslims as members our Islamic agenda will be diluted and we have conveyed that fear to our non-Muslim supporters.

How have you attracted urban support?
It has been through our openness toward new ideas. When it comes to Islamic knowledge and understanding of politics, the urban members are more exposed, well-read, and intellectually stronger compared to our core rural supporters. But we still have to keep in mind our core supporters. They believe Islam is a way of life but in terms of knowledge, we base our interpretation on the Madinah (Medina) model. But we have to adapt accordingly so we have intellectuals who do this and this process in turn has attracted the urbanites.

So would you say the road to a progressive agenda and to re-invent PAS is based on getting the non-Muslims on board or the reforms have to happen before wooing the non-Muslims?
I think it has to be both. You must engage the non- Muslims and also maintain your core supporters. Right now the non-Muslims are prepared to join us and have expressed that they are happy to just join as members. However, they would not have the full rights as standing members and cannot join party ranks.

The head of the party will always be a Muslim and the ulamah will also have a final say in policy matters even if we did allow non-Muslims in as members.

Our decisions are based on the Quran and the Sunnah and we do not make decisions without lengthy debate which needs consensus building. The party head can use veto powers but even before that, he must have consensus.

For example, our Hindraf supporters, because they don’t belong to a party machinery, have a harder time accepting changes and understandably want to see instant improvements. So we worry also that there may be some tension within the party should they join.

The status quo is that we would rather work on the basis of accepting our members as equals and at the same time educate our non-Muslim aspirants on our party struggle. If our core members can accept this then we will allow non-Muslims into our party, otherwise, there will be conflict.

Is one of area of contention the Hudud laws?
Hudud law is only the criminal part of Islam. Until and when people can understand those laws, we will not implement them. There remains a lot of ignorance surrounding Hudud laws as we were never given the opportunity to explain. Hudud laws would apply to only criminals and the process of law is still the same as any other, only the final punishment differs. As Muslims we have to believe in the ultimate law of God and make sure it can function.

It is not unlike what women’s groups and the civil society underwent when lobbying for the rape laws. Without proper guidance and education, there was a lot of resistance.

We will need also to engage academicians and experts on jurisprudence before we implement the laws and then we need to train lawyers, too. Furthermore, as a member of the Pakatan, we also have to ensure that the other parties also accept the Hudud laws.If we cannot convince them, how would we be able to convince the rakyat? It is not on the top of our agenda as uppermost in our list is social justice and the welfare of the people.

How large are the progressive voices within PAS?
The progressive voices are evident in the middle ranks and they are now large, and growing.

Let’s talk about the progressive agenda of women’s rights and gender equality. What efforts has PAS made towards this end?
Islam itself guarantees women’s rights but it is the practices that are not in line. As far as women’s rights are concerned, we have no problem with the methodology. We do need to understand husbands’ rights and wives’ rights. And, if we are talking about rights, we also have to talk about responsibilities.

In PAS, these things are clear, and we do not agree with the position that the party is gender biased. It is up to the women in the party to chart their role in this society.

It is how you quote the laws as the principles are there but lawyers, jurists have to interpret them in a way that is just for both men and women.

On the issue of polygamy, men talk about it as their right, but it is not. There are clear conditions that must be satisfied and women can refuse to allow it. If we were to remove polygamy now, women would be the victims as many marriages are not even registered. So the focus in our view is on enforcement. Are these men in fact getting their wives’ permission?

Polygamy would not be widespread unless women have consented to it. That is why polygamy is not about your right ... it also concerns the right of the family. So we need women and men to understand the laws and issues surrounding polygamy.

Is PAS engaging Sisters (SIS) in Islam?
Unfortunately, not actively. I think it is because of their image that there are problems in engaging them. SIS have done wonderful work, it is just their approach. Customs and traditions are difficult to overcome. We have our ulamah who think in a certain way. Sometimes progressive ideas are perceived to come from the West and when they fail to succeed in engaging these, the ulamah become defensive.

Are you and other women in the Muslimat (women’s wing) pushing for a progressive agenda for women?
We are focusing on the role of women, yes. Ten years ago women in PAS generally were happy not to be in the front line but that view has shifted. We played an active role and demanded, in subtle ways and pushed for ourselves to participate politically, for example, in elections.

Now we are witnessing PAS women candidates in the front line but we do not support the idea of quota, because we believe these candidates must be capable as much effort has been made in training them not to feel inferior. If we see women who are capable, we push them forward. We have seen steady progress. For example, in previous elections only 11 women were fielded and in the 2008 elections, that number rose to 13. At the state level, we have ensured that in both Kelantan and Kedah executive councils women are represented.

Is there a ceiling for women in PAS?
Yes, one day, but in my life time, perhaps as high as vice-president, not president. The party is not ready for that kind of change.

You are a member of the steering committee on the Coalition Against Health Care Privatisation? Can you explain what the coalition intends to focus on?
We have to press on with the "health for all" agenda and we want to protect our public health sector so that it is accessible to all citizens and non-citizens. There are new forces like health tourism which have negatively impacted on the delivery of quality health services as more doctors are drawn to higher salaries in the private sector. The extending of private wings in public hospitals is also a big worry as it cannot but have an impact on the quality of healthcare services when doctors will be overworked.

While we understand that health tourism brings in foreign exchange, we would prefer to focus on paying the doctors and paramedics better wages, fees.

What is PAS’s position on HIV and homosexuality? Shouldn’t the Health Ministry be concerned about sodomy laws that prevent men having sex with men to come forward for prevention, testing, care and support?
HIV is just like any other disease. It can easily move into an epidemic stage. Sad to say, PAS has never actively engaged itself with people living with HIV and the homosexuals. But we don’t support the Health Ministry’s position regarding distribution of condoms.

The reason being, we worry that values are not being addressed and certain sexual practices become a norm and these practices will flourish.

Religion is a powerful tool for behavioural change and should be part of the HIV response. We only focus on harm reduction programmes without trying to change their values. Our experience has been that religious leaders are only engaged at the end and made use of.

So you are saying you are not involved in the policy formulation and that any consultation is tokenism?
Yes. Only when they want us to talk about our perspective, is our position and viewpoint asked. We don’t have a committee looking into issues of HIV, AIDS and sex workers for example unlike other areas like poverty eradication. When NGOs and other civil society groups involve us in their consultation we will direct our resources and information so that PAS can be better informed.

However, it is clear that there is no active attempt to impart religious values. NGOs will call it indoctrination. But we need to impart values and at the same time, hold their hand. When one focuses on helping sex workers, you must also offer them real informed choices and the right support services to get them out of sex work permanently.

Would it be because of the fear of further stigmatisation that NGOs have been reluctant to engage religious leaders and PAS members?
We have to train our people. For myself, there is no problem as being trained as a doctor I can hold anyone’s hand. Engagement will help us to be less judgmental. We are less judgmental now than in the past because we are engaging. We want to hear what these groups have to say. I don’t blame them from staying away and fearing PAS. For example, religion does not allow me to shake hands with men and non-Muslims when I visit my constituency but I compromise by using a glove as I know there is little time to educate them on this. After the elections, by engaging non-Muslims and talking to them they now accept why I cannot salaam them and they accept it and respect my principles. Even the issue of entering a Hindu temple ... there is nothing haram about me going into a Hindu temple but as a politician I worry because of the backlash from Muslims. However, now my Indian constituents do understand me.

So PAS can never accept homosexuality?
We accept the people but we cannot accept the act. Our focus is getting them to come back to the straight path. When we engage them, our aim is to correct their values. Whether we succeed in their rehabilitation or not is not our responsibility. We give them the option of listening to our message.Whether you change or not is between you and God.

What is PAS’s position on the NEP? Many would argue it is a form of institutionalised racism? Would you agree?
Initially, it was not like that when it was developed on the premise of narrowing the income gap between the Malays and non-Malays and to eradicate poverty irrespective of race and religion. But yes, it has developed to become institutionalised racism. While Malays have benefited, it is the Indians now who are impoverished.

So NEP led to the poor condition of the Indians?
Yes, but I would not just blame the NEP but also the MIC leaders who have not brought up the Indian issues to the forefront. That is the role of leaders just as Umno has been strong in advocating for the Malays.

While PAS’s position, however, is to reform the NEP, my personal position is that it being a form of institutionalised racism it is difficult to reform and must be dismantled because it is so entrenched. We have to start afresh with a new affirmative action for all who need it.

Do you support the idea of a system that leans towards a safety net based on income levels?
The government has already extended its safety net programme but it has to be more than that. I have already raised in Parliament for a separate fund to be set aside so that one child per family is given the opportunity to go to university. We have learnt how powerful education can be in lifting families out of poverty. Also, we need poverty eradication to be more targeted so MPs can help families directly and not have to refer the needy to two or three ministries. PAS would also lend its support for an Anti-Discrimination Act to protect all who are discriminated based on race, religion, gender. Discrimination is happening not just at the public sector but the private sector as well. There is so much fear that if the NEP is dismantled, the Chinese and Indians will not hire the Malays. This legislation is aimed at protecting all and alleviating such fears.

What is PAS’s position on human rights?
We believe in social justice and basic political and civil rights, freedom of expression, assembly, but it must be contexualised within collective rather than individual rights. The bottom line with the Islamic struggle is whatever we do, Islam is to be respected and we can practise our religion and if we are suppressed we will fight it. It is our duty to convey and spread the Islamic way of life. We do not coerce people to follow Islam. However, the principles of participation is encouraged through lengthy debates. We never come out with a position without a debate among all party ranks. We believe change has to come from the top and the bottom.

Monday, June 30, 2008

No plan to abolish Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra

The Sun (30/6/08): The government has no plan to abolish or reduce the expenditure cost of the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO) although the Opposition MPs claimed it does not benefit the masses, especially the poor.

Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department K. Devamany said the MPO was in line with the government’s holistic development approach and part of Petronas' social corporate responsibility (CSR).

"As a country with multi-racial community and expatriates, this facility provides an alternative to those interested in live performances of international-level symphony orchestra. Apart from raising the image of the country, the fine arts of classical music can instil discipline among society," he told Mahfuz Omar (PAS-Pokok Sena) in Parliament today.

Mahfuz said during this time of crisis, such programmes did not benefit the people in general but Devamany said it has helped for example, in creating 1,000 local musicians who had taken part in MPO's instrumental programme.

Azmin Ali (PKR-Gombak) then compared with a similar orchestra in Venezuela which, since 1975, had trained more than 600 youths from poor families and set up 125 youth orchestras, 57 children orchestras and 30 adult orchestras, whereby 90% of them were from the poor.

"If it is about CSR, why is Petronas' profit not also enjoyed by the majority of poor children but only circled among the elites?" he asked.

However, Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia said Devamany did not have to answer as it was already time for debate.

Opposition MPs walk out of Parliament

The Sun (30/6/08): Opposition MPs staged a walk-out after a 30-minute argument over the Speaker's decision to allow Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak make a "ministerial speech" to elaborate on the 9th Malaysia Plan (9MP) mid-term review (MTR).

At the start of debate time in Parliament today, the House was told that the government was making a statement and Najib stood up and said he wanted to elaborate on the motion tabled by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi on Thursday (June 26), specifically on the government's strategy to restructure the society.

Before he could proceed, Lim Kit Siang (DAP-Ipoh Timur) asked whether Najib was taking part in the debate or making a statement as it is "unusual" for such a statement to be made.

Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia then explained Najib was only making "an additional explanation to the facts made in the speech of the Prime Minister" and it was not against parliament order.

Mahfuz Omar (PAS-Pokok Sena) then asked does this mean Abdullah was not fully prepared when delivering his speech, saying: "This means the Prime Minister was not able to give a clear explanation. He should be prepared with his facts and everything. Why take from our time to debate now?"

Pandikar Amin said it was not for the MPs to debate whether Abdullah was prepared or not but for him to decide whether Najib's speech violates the Standing Order or not and he had decided it was not.

Lim stood up again saying: "This is unusual and unparliamentary. He (Najib) had missed the opportunity to argue his points when seconding the Prime Minister’s speech, so now he wants to compensate for it."

Pandikar Amin disagreed and quoted a point in the order which says Speaker’s decision is final but Lim quickly said the Speaker should not simply use the order to justify all his decisions because parliamentary practices must also be observed.

The Speaker said if Lim was not satisfied with his decision he can bring the matter up as a motion but Lim said it would be meaningless if the Speaker later decides not to accept the motion to be debated.

The exchange continued with Pandikar Amin insisting that his decision is final and saying Lim can bring a motion if he is not satisfied with the latter asking for a guarantee that his motion would be accepted by the House later.

Salahuddin Ayub (PAS-Kubang Kerian), Tian Chua (PKR-Batu) and Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad (PAS-Kuala Selangor) also stood up a few times to support of Lim.

Karpal Singh (DAP-Bukit Gelugor) then raised a point of order, saying according to the House of Common Practice, a ministerial statement can only be made to correct an error in a statement made in the House.

"So, where was the error in the Prime Minister’s speech. He should clarify it, not another minister," he added.

Pandikar Amin disagreed with him, saying it was a matter of interpretation and he also had studied all relevant parliament laws and according to his interpretation, the ministerial statement by Najib was proper and according to order.

When Karpal and Lim tried to argue further, the Speaker started on his lecture, saying: "I shall not jeopardise the authority given to this chair. I really wish to create a world-class parliament here. Please listen to the Speaker.

"In the House of Common, as soon as the Speaker raised from his seat, everyone kept quiet. But here, if I were to interject too much, I will be criticised. I do my job to my utmost. Please."

He then asked Najib to continue but Lim was still not satisfied and tried to interrupt the speech but when it was not entertained by the Speaker and Najib, he said he wanted to leave the House and all other opposition MPs followed suit.

Najib then continued with his speech, saying: "Thank you. It is much easier without the Opposition in the House."

In the lobby, Lim said all Pakatan Rakyat (PR) MPs had walked out because what happened did not adhere to the Standing Order.

"This is unacceptable, unparliamentary and we will table a substantive motion to re-study the decision of the Speaker and also the decision to suspend Gobind Singh (DAP-Puchong) for two days," he said.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Newbie Sulaiman fumbles with his words

The Sun (29/5/08): Deputy Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Sulaiman Abdul Rahman Abdul Taib gave a very bad first impression in Parliament today when he fumbled with his words to answer questions on the RM10 million being allocated for the State Tourism Action Council (MTPN).

At one point, he was even "helped" by another BN MP from Sarawak, Norah Abdul Rahman (BN-Tanjong Manis) who said she wanted to provide some information to Sulaiman on one of the issues raised.

This prompted Tian Chua (PKR-Batu) to quip: "You want to help out the new (deputy) minister, eh?"

Winding-up debates for the item under the Supplementary Supply Bill, Sulaiman was flooded with questions from the Opposition MPs on a point raised by Minister Datuk Azalina Othman Said last week in which the MPs tried to refer her to the Committee of Privileges.

Azmin Ali (PKR-Gombak) said he was not satisfied with Azalina's clarification on signature tourism events being dropped in Pakatan Rakyat (PR) states.

"The MTPN which is meant to promote tourism at state level is used by the ministry for political revenge," he said, adding he wanted the Dewan to record the explanation given by Azalina to him in the parliament lounge on May 20.

Sulaiman clarified the calendar events were not dropped as the minutes of a meeting dated March 26 quoted by Azmin has been cancelled and replaced by another dated April 1.

While seemingly stuttered in forming his sentences, he went on to say the ministry was willing to cooperate with PR states, therefore the accusations that it has neglected tourism in the five states were untrue.

"The ministry wants tourists to come to the whole of Malaysia, anywhere in the country. Previously, we had promoted Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Langkawi. At that time, we should have focused on enhancing (world's) knowledge about Malaysia.

"But, if we were to promote the whole country, it would be difficult for the foreign tourists to focus. So, we had focused on destinations which are easier to be promoted and highly beneficial to the country," he said.

Later, when he repeated his readiness to work together with all state governments, irrespective of the ruling party, Datuk Abdul Halim Abdul Rahman (PAS-Pengkalan Chepa) stood up to ask for an explanation on Azalina’s statement last week.

She had said the Kelantan state government had failed to pay MTPN officers three months salary in 2002 but Abdul Halim said the pay was the responsibility of the federal government.

To this, Sulaiman read out quickly a prepared statement on the chronology of events from the MoU signed between the ministry and Kelantan in February 2002, to set up the MTPN until Jan 2003 when Kelantan had to refund the RM2 million given following the cancellation of the MoU in Oct 2002.

He said the MoU was cancelled because the state government did not follow the right procedure in the appointment of MTPN chairman, and during this process, the MTPN staff were deprived of their three-month pay.

Abdul Halim who was Deputy Mentri Besar at that time said Kelantan did not agree with the chairman picked by the ministry as he was an Umno member and argued that the selection of chairman should be the prerogative of the state government.

Only 60% of positions for docs, specialists filled in govt hospitals

The Sun (29/5/08): Only 60% of positions for doctors and specialists in the Health Ministry's hospitals are filled, its minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai said.

"We are working towards filling up the vacancies," Liow said in his winding-up for the purpose of a RM200 million allocation under the Supplementary Supply Bill in Parliament today.

Admitting thatvthere is a severe shortage of doctors and specialists in government hospitals, Liow said there were constant opportunities for training and upgrading of skills that were being provided, in addition to looking to speed up promotions of doctors and specialists under the ministry.

"We have 1,860 doctors working out of the 3,628 positions," he said, adding that the ministry was also working on efforts to prevent specialists and doctors from migrating to the private sector.

To a question by Datuk Dr Marcus Mojigoh (BN-Putatan) for migration figures, Liow said he did not have the detailed figures but disclosed that in 2007, the ministry had 1,867 specialists compared with 1,680 this year.

"These numbers comntinue to fall despite yearly replacements. The more we train, the more will leave," he added.

However, in response to a different question raised earlier, Liow said general practitioners in the private sector were also welcomed to help government hospitals in extended hours of services.

"We encourage doctors to come to the hospital and we give them an allowance of RM80 an hour," he said, also admitting to a shortage of nurses.

Liow said health services amounted to 4% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and that escalating costs were a burden.

"The government has been giving 98% subsidies for treatment costs and only 2% pay for the treatment under the full-paying patient scheme in which patients who can afford to pay for treatment pays for the service.

"We will be studying the full-paying patient scheme in August but the costs are rising daily and government’s subsidies are also bloating," he said, adding that the ministry received RM10 billion in subsidies in 2007 and RM12.9 billion last year.

Liow also reassured Khalid Abd Samad (PAS-Shah Alam) that the ministry will build a hospital in Shah Alam city under the 9th Malaysia Plan.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Govt grilled over CYC

The Sun (28/5/08): The government was grilled in the Dewan Rakyat (Parliament) today over its commitment to organise the controversial Champions Youth Cup (CYC) which costs taxpayers RM17 million per edition.

Criticisms from the Pakatan Rakyat MPs came during the debate on the Supplementary Supply Bill, and Deputy Finance Minister Datuk Ahmad Husni Mohamad Hanadzlah had his hands full defending the programme which was held for the first time last year to poor audience support.

The Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) has decided not to give its sanction to this event this year. Even if it is not held, the government has to forego RM8 million as it is tied to a contract for three years.

Datuk Abdul Halim Abdul Rahman (PAS-Pengkalan Chepa) questioned the benefits the CYC brings to the country.

Mahfuz Omar (PAS-Pokok Sena) said it is too costly to host the CYC and suggested the Malaysian team be sent overseas for training as it is cheaper.

He said the players can learn from the clubs there and gain exposure instead of spending RM17 million.

"If we focus too much on sports tourism, it will affect the focus of our sports, like the current state of our football."

William Leong (DAP-Selayang) said the CYC does not have the support of the FAM. "So what is the urgent need to give the funds?"

Mohd Firdaus Jaafar (PAS-Jerai) said the CYC has only resulted in two players being sent for training overseas. "Furthermore, Malaysia has dropped in the ranking to 169."

Datuk Ibrahim Ali (Ind-Pasir Mas) suggested the Youth and Sports Minister visit Africa where world class players are also produced. "They play barefoot, they don't even have jerseys to wear and yet they are of world class standard. Take me along so I can be your driver."

In defending the CYC, Ahmad Husni said: "There are the tangible and intangible benefits to it, the intangible becomes tangible when training is provided to the young talents." He cited Brazil’s Ronaldo and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo as world class players who benefited from such training.

"After they are spotted, and with exposure, they become world class players so CYC has good elements.

"The CYC is one of three programmes by the Youth and Sports Ministry which benefits in terms of sports and tourism. The tangible part of it is attracting some 21 million tourists," Ahmad Husni said.

He said an ad hoc committee set up between the FAM, the Attorney-General, the ministry and a panel of advisers will look at the organisation of the CYC. The CYC involves a cost of RM17 million per year being paid to the Gifted Group Limited (GGL).

While making no mention of the RM17 million allocation for each year, Ahmd Husni said the amount given for the organisation of the event stands at RM2 million, adding that such events provide training and exposure for our athletes.

"The CYC also has relevance to giant football clubs like Manchester United, Latin America’s Flamingo, Chelsea, Arsenal, AC Milan, Ajax, Barcelona and it was supposed to include Real Madrid this year. Imagine a 16 or 17-year-old competing with players from these giant teams. It will display his competence, strength and skill. Furthermore, through agreements (under the CYC), we can also send our athletes overseas and several people have already benefited from this," Ahmad Husni added.

Close shave for RM16.8b bill

The Sun (28/5/08): Had the Barisan Nasional (BN) MPs - ministers, deputy ministers and the parliamentarians - not reacted fast enough to the bell, the RM16.8 billion Supplementary Supply Bill would not have been passed in Parliament today.

After a 15-minute wait for division (vote), Deputy Speaker Datuk Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar ruled the bill was passed 92 to 60 votes, with one abstaining from voting.

The division process erupted from the usual process of Wan Junaidi asking for those in support of it to state if they agree or disagree but he noted that the voice for agreeing was quite soft, then ruling that the voice of disagreement was sharper than agreement.

Tian Chua (PKR-Batu) then stood to ask for a division but Wan Junaidi waved it off saying there was no need for it, echoed by some BN MPs to which Mohamed Azmin Ali (PKR-Gombak) then said there was indeed a need for it.

"The sum of RM16 billion is a big amount," Mohamed Azmin said, supported by fellow Pakatan Rakyat (PR) parliamentarians.

Wan Junaidi agreed on the point that it involved a big sum of funds.

"As a matter of principle, we will also want to know who is involved in this and are agreeing to waste the people’s money," Tian Chua said, drawing a loud roar from the BN MPs.

"Show your dissatisfaction outside lah," quipped Datuk Tajuddin Abdul Rahman (BN-Pasir Salak).

Chong Chieng Jen (DAP-Bandar Kuching) said: "There are many ministers and deputy ministers who are not around and are not willing to sit in the House, so let’s have this to also teach them a lesson so they will attend proceedings."

Wan Junaidi then succumbed to the pressure and asked for parliamentarians to vote.

"Yang Berhormats, there are more than 15 who asked for division and according to Standing Order 46, the division will be held … Now," he said.

Throughout the 15 minutes of collecting votes, MPs started jeering, including Mahfuz Omar (PAS-Pokok Sena) who said: "Those who agree to this are indeed wasters."

Wan Junaidi then called for order and asked the MPs to take their seats.

"No need for you to stand up, Yang Berhormats. Those who are not counters, sit down. There is no need for chaos in the House," he said.

While the bell rang for MPs to return to the House, Wan Junaidi’s instructions and call for calm seemed to have fallen on deaf ears.

Boos and jeers were heard as MPs returned to the House, and even Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi took his seat to support the vote. Wan Junaidi was seen smiling at members entering the House.

A few moments later, Lim Kit Siang (DAP-Ipoh Timur) called for Point-of-Order in Standing Order 48(7) (5) where it provides that members with self-interests cannot support a motion and each parliamentarian needed to declare this.

BN MPs including Datuk Noh Omar (BN-Tanjung Karang), Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal (BN-Semporna) and Datuk Lilah Yassin (BN-Jempol) did not take this sitting down, as they "roared" against this.

After taking control of the situation, Wan Junaidi rejected the Point-of-Order, saying: "The question of interest was not raised in debates, secondly, if we want to investigate one-by-one, we will not be able to solve this even in 2010."

M. Kulasegaran (DAP-Ipoh Barat) then stood to defend Lim to which Wan Junaidi said: "Yang Berhormat! Everybody has interest in these funds because it is also used for salaries and projects and for roads."

"We all have an interest in it. Stop raising petty issues," he retorted.

Instantly, there was more noise from the PR MPs as Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak made his entry to place his vote.

Khalid Abd Samad (PAS-Shah Alam) quipped: "Next time, let the government's side be better represented."

Dr Mohd Puad Zarkashi responded: "Yang Berhormat! (Referring to Datuk Shahrir Abdul Samad – Khalid’s brother) Watch your sibling. He’s too naughty."

Following this, Education Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein also made his entry amid a noisier House.

"Please be patient and don’t make noise," Wan Junaidi pleaded before announcing the decision.

Order only resumed after the BN MPs jeered their PR peers for wasting time while Khalid then said the BN members could now leave the House again since the division was completed.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Gobala apologises for 'lunging' at Speaker

The Sun (27/5/08): N. Gobalakrisnan (PKR-Padang Serai) today apologised in Parliament for "lunging" at the Speaker to whisper the meaning of a Tamil word which he claimed a Barisan Nasional MP had used on him.

Earlier, newbie Gobalakrishnan asked Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia to make a decision against Deputy Higher Education Minister Datuk Idris Harun for uttering an unparliamentary word in Tamil.

"That's a vulgar word," he said after Idris muttered something in Tamil during question time while he was replying to a supplementary question from Mohd Nasir Zakaria (PAS-Padang Terap).

However, Pandikar Amin said he did not understand what was uttered and Gobalakrishnan also did not want to fill him in.

M. Kulasegaran (DAP-Ipoh Barat) interjected saying Idris should not say the word if he could not pronounce it properly, saying it was a very offensive language.

Idris then told Pandikar Amin the word he used was "sit down" or "wokarengeh" in Tamil but Kulasegaran insisted it was not that and Gobalakrishnan called for a point of order, saying rude words are unparliamentary.

(The word may have been pronounced differently to sound like "wokurengeh" or "F***ing")

Gobalakrishnan wanted Idris to apologise and retract his word but Pandikar Amin said he cannot make a ruling only based on the former’s argument as he himself does not understand the meaning of the word.

"I also cannot fully depend on you (Gobalakrishnan) so I will ask people outside the house," he said. At this point, Gobalakrishnan approached his chair and whispered something to his ears.

This was when BN MPs like Datuk Seri Tiong King Sing (Bintulu), Datuk Bung Moktar Radin (Kinabatangan), Salleh Kalbi (Silam,) Dr Mohd Puad Zarkashi (Batu Pahat) and Ismail Mohd Said (Kuala Krai) shouted to protest his action which they said was rude and unacceptable.

Pandikar Amin reminded them to behave as a Commonwealth Speaker was present in the House.

"When I reminded you not to use unparliamentary words, YB Padang Serai had to leave his seat and explain to me what the word is. Sooner or later we will become like other parliaments where the opposition and government reps were throwing shoes, books and chairs and Speakers were attacked.

"Thank God YB Padang Serai did not attack me. He just whispered to me. But next time, please don’t do that," he said.

Datuk Bung Moktar Radin then stood up, raising a point of order on Gobalakrishnan’s behaviour as he could have misled the House and called for him to be referred to the Committee of Privileges.

"I have been in the House for three terms but this is the first time that an MP does not know how to use House. He thinks this is a gangster House but no, this House has to be respected, this is a serious matter," he said.

This was followed by all BN MPs including the ministers standing up to show their support.

However this was not for long as Mohd Azmin Ali (PKR-Gombak) suddenly stood up and Pandikar Amin said he wanted to listen to him as he is the PKR chief whip.

Mohd Azmin said he has consulted party president Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail (PKR-Permatang Pauh) and they have agreed that Gobalakrishnan should apologise and hoped it would not happen again in due respect of the House.

Gobalakrishnan then stood up and said: "Because of the weaknesses, I tender my apology as I did it unconsciously."

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Opposition states won’t be victimised, says Ong

The Sun (26/5/08): The Housing and Local Government Ministry will not hold back federal funds to victimise the people in the five states overned by the Pakatan Rakyat.

Its minister Datuk Seri Ong Ka Chuan said the people are entitled to the development funds under the Federal Constitution and the ministry will not hold them to ransom by denying the funds due to them.

In fact, he said, the five state governments can request the ministry for necessary funds in times of natural calamities like floods and for major projects that will benefit the public.

Ong was responding to a suggestion that the federal government is discriminating against the five state governments by not channelling funds through them, whereas the BN state governments are getting the funds directly from the ministry.

“As far as my ministry is concerned, the ultimate aim is for the funds to go to the grassroots. It is merely a technicality when the federal funds are diverted through the federal development officer. The funding has to be split into federal and state departments as the state and federal governments have different accounting and auditing procedures,” he said.

“There are guidelines for the federal development officer to follow in distributing federal funds. He can either channel the funds through the district offices or call for tenders for major projects like building bridges or installing traffic lights.”

Ong said although there are different administrative procedures at the state and federal levels, the money still goes to the grassroots.

“There is no conflict of interest in such different procedures as far as the implementation is concerned; it is a mere technicality and the purpose is the same. It will not affect the people’s interest,” he said.

He was speaking to reporters after officiating a Red Crescent Society function at the Red Crescent Malaysia, Perak branch on Sunday, at which 120 Red Crescent students from 24 schools received awards and letters of appreciation.

On the call by the National House Buyers Association to make it mandatory for all developers to adhere to the build-and-sell concept, Ong said it would have to be on a voluntary basis as the smaller developers cannot survive because of the high costs involved.

Also in the ministry’s pipeline is the revival of the National Housing Policy which will see the reduction of red tape which is not conducive to the building industry.

In addition, steps will be taken to protect house buyers when housing projects are abandoned. The revised policy is expected to be implemented early next year.

Lajim says 'fate' among reasons for train derailments

The Sun (26/5/08): Deputy Transport Minister Datuk Seri Panglima Lajim Ukin listed "fate" as one of the main reasons for train derailments in the counrty in his answer to a supplementary question.

Other reasons he cited were human error, moisture and stagnant water on tracks in his answer to Fong Kui Lun (DAP-Bukit Bintang) who also asked about the rate of train accidents in the country.

"Train accidents do not only happen in Malaysia but in Japan, China and other sophisticated countries. However, Keretapi Tanah Melayu Bhd (KTMB) has its engineers, architects and we conduct inspections on our tracks almost every week," Lajim said.

He said the government is spending some RM16.935 billion on the double-tracking project running from Ipoh to Padang Besar and Seremban Gemas.

"Based on a re-census last October, some 1,607 squatter houses need to be relocated," Lajim said in his answer to an original question by Dr Mohamed Hayati Othman (PAS-Pendang) on the double-tracking railway up-grading project.

Hayati also asked whether the the cost of the double-tracking project had doubled because the Seremban–Gemas track was first given to Erkon and India and then cancelled, postponed and given again to the company with the condition that Scomi gets one billion worth of projects in India.

"Has the cost doubled because of projects reciprocated to companies under the Prime Minister’s ambit (referring to Kamaluddin Abdullah – Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's son who owns Scomi)?" Mohamed Hayati asked.

Lajim said: "We gave it to Erkon because we have a government to government negotiation where traders from our country gets contracts to build roads in India."

"These negotiations have nothing to do with the Prime Minister’s ambit and so on. Whoever it is that can work, if he is the Prime Minister’s child or the Opposition’s child, if he can work towards getting contracts overseas, what’s wrong?

"There is nothing wrong with that," Lajim quipped.

Latiff says 'docs have licence to kill'

The Sun (26/5/08): "Licence to kill" was a subject that dominated 20 minutes of argument but it was not about Ian Fleming's secret agent James Bond that the MPs were at loggerheads with.

It was the sentence "doctors have the licence to heal and licence to kill" in a supplementary answer in Parliament today by the Deputy Health Minister Datuk Dr Abd Latiff Ahmad (BN-Mersing) that sparked a furore amongst the doctors amid the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) representatives.

Dr Mohd Hatta Mat Ramli (PAS-Kuala Krai) was the first to start the ball rolling asking Abd Latiff to withdraw his statement as it sets a wrong impression on medical doctors.

Dr Lo’ Lo’ Mohamad Ghazali (PAS-Titiwangsa) was next to voice her dissatisfaction on the statement also citing concern that there would be misunderstanding amongst the students who visit the House frequently.

Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia first waved it off and asked for proceedings to continue but this did not go down well with Opposition parliamentarians, with Mohd Hatta standing up to ask Pandikar Amin to order Abd Latiff to withdraw the statement.

And this was also called for by a few other MPs like Lim Kit Siang (DAP-Ipoh Timur) who cited Point of Order that the statement had not complied with the Standing Orders of the House.

Opposition Leader Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail (PKR-Permatang Pauh) also stood up to notify that doctors took an oath to protect the lives of their patients and Abd Latiff’s statement was inappropriate.

Dr Tan Seng Giaw (DAP-Kepong) also said he hoped Pandikar Amin would rule that such words would no longer be used and for Abd Latiff to withdraw the phrase.

Pandikar Amin agreed with Tan and looked for affirmation from Abd Latiff in saying that he did not have bad intentions when he uttered the phrase.

"Yes, I had not meant it in a bad way," Abd Latiff said.

After much ruckus, Pandikar Amin asked for the parliamentarians to refrain from using terms or phrases that may insult their peers and can be defined through other perceptions. Further, he asked Abd Latiff to withdraw the statement.

Abd Latiff said: "I am sorry to have said that and I had no mean intentions. I will not repeat it but I will not withdraw my statement."

This caused another loud roar from the side of PR but Pandikar Amin then ticked off the MPs, reminding them of their shared responsibility in ensuring smooth proceedings that adhere to the Standing Orders.

He said he had taken note that this was not the first time Abd Latiff had used the phrase but was also sure that he had no bad intentions in saying it.

"From what I gather, what he meant was sometimes there are doctors who are careless and that was what he meant," he said.

The Rules in the Standing Orders were thrown across the House, asking for Pandikar Amin’s actions and when he had seemed to have had enough, he quipped: "I have memorised all these rules – up, down, left and right."

Pandikar Amin refreshed the memory of the MPs that he had first decided to ignore the phrase and carry on with proceedings and the decision could only be reviewed with a motion under Standing Order 43.

"You all have this responsibility of ensuring that the meeting goes smoothly. Next time, don’t use that term," he said.

At this point, Lim stood to refer to a Standing Order allowing parliamentarians to refer the act of a fellow-MP to a Special Committee.

After some resistance, Abd Latiff put an end to the issue when he said: "I will not apologise for the remark but I will withdraw it."

Thursday, May 22, 2008

ACA quizzes Kota Belud MP

The Sun (22/5/08): The Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) has started an investigation into a disclosure in Parliament by Kota Belud MP Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan that he was offered enough money to last "two or three future generations" to defect to Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR).

Its Director of Investigation Datuk Mohd Shukri Abdul told theSun when contacted today that an ACA officer had lodged a report on the disclosure which was reported in the newspaper, adding that Abdul Rahman is also being investigated on why he failed to report the bribery attempt.

Shukri agreed with a statement by Transparency International-Malaysia (TI-M) president Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam that it was an offence not to report bribery attempts and that Abdul Rahman had also a moral responsibility to do so, as a people's elected representative.

Shukri said once the investigation is completed, the ACA will submit investigation papers to the Attorney-General (A-G) and it is up to the A-G to make decision on whether there was a case for prosecution.

theSun had reported today that Abdul Rahman had yet to lodge a report with the ACA. He told the newspaper he would do so when PKR names 30 MPs it claims are jumping ship so that the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) can form the next government.

The MP had said in Parliament last week that he was promised a cabinet post as well as money to cross over to PKR, describing the sum as sufficient to "last two or three future generations".

The issue created waves in Parliament today, when Ipoh Timur MP Lim Kit Siang accused Barisan Nasional (BN) MPs of not being committed to fighting corruption, citing Abdul Rahman's case.

In reply, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Nazri Abdul Aziz refuted theSun report, saying the ACA has contacted Abdul Rahman on the matter.

“I was contacted by the ACA to ask what kind of action to be taken. I told him to see Kota Belud to get his information,” he told Lim.

Mahfuz Omar (PAS-Pokok Sena) then interjected, asking why the ACA was contacting him first and ask for his instruction before taking action, saying it was as if the agency does not know its own jurisdiction.

Nazri then clarified that the ACA did not seek his permission but was only informing him about the case as he is the minister in charge of Parliament.

Karpal Singh (DAP-Bukit Gelugor) then asked whether Abdul Rahman could confirm in Parliament that he made such statement (that he was offered the money), and if it was true, he could be arrested immediately under citizen's arrest.

Abdul Rahman was seen standing for some time, waiting for deputy speaker Datuk Wan Junaidi’s nod for him to speak and for Nazri to give way.

However, Nazri ignored Abdul Rahman, saying it was true that Abdul Rahman made that statement in the Dewan.

"Let me give the answer. No need (for Abdul Rahman to speak). He can only stand to seek explanation from me. I am still the Minister in the PM’s Department. If you (Karpal) Singh want to ask him, do it outside. He (Abdul Rahman) cannot stand up. He’s a new MP. He does not know. It’s okay. He cannot stand up," he said repeatedly to shouts by Karpal Singh asking him to give way to Abdul Rahman to explain himself.

Selection of new palace contractor questioned

The Sun (22/5/08): Selection of Maya Maju (M) Sdn Bhd to build the new Istana Negara wasraised in Parliament on Wednesday by Mahfuz Omar (PAS-Pokok Sena) during the winding-up speech by Works Minister Datuk Mohd Zin Mohamed.

He asked why the project was given to Maya Maju which is not registered either with the Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB) or the Contractor Service Centre (PKK).

Mohd Zin said the company has been registered as a grade G7 contractor with CIDB effective Aug 8, 2006, until Aug 7, 2009, but it has been given exemption from registration with PKK.

Mahfuz was not satisfied, saying this move would only deny the credibility of other PKK registered companies.

Zin stressed that the ministry has been professional in discharging its duties responsibly, saying: "The government believes that the design-and-build concept and direct negotiation is the (suitable) process to ensure all objectives are achieved. Of course, we have considered everything thoroughly."

In Nov 2006, the Dewan was told a new palace complex costing RM400 million will be built on Jalan Duta to replace the Istana Negara which has been used since 1928. It was slated for completion in 2009.

Last December, the ministry announced the complex will cost RM650 million, inclusive of additional work as the original estimates did not take into account certain costs, such as earth works, road construction and palace workers’ quarters.

On another matter, Zin said the ministry will consider taking over all toll highways, including the Kuala Lumpur-Seremban Highway, as a measure to help alleviate the burden faced by people.

However, he added, the matter needs to be looked into thoroughly, therefore a committee headed by the Malaysian Highway Authority chairman has been set up at ministry level for this purpose.

To a question from Loke Siew Fook (DAP-Rasah), Zin said the ministry needs three months to come back with a decision as it involves 22 concessionaires and the study would be done in stages.

To Che Rosli Che Mat’s (BN-Hulu Langat) question, he said the Kajang-Seremban Highway, its completion delayed by various reasons, will be completed soon.

Abdullah calls emergency talks over Mahathir

The Sun (21/5/08): Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi called an emergency session of his ruling party's top policy-making body today, seeking to stamp his authority after the dramatic resignation of ex-premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad form Umno (United Malays National Organisation).

Mahathir's departure, which cast further doubt on Abdullah's future, has raised Malaysia's political risks and spooked investors as the government grapples with high inflation, slowing economy and rising subsidies.

Abdullah, who has scheduled to chair a special meeting of an Umno supreme council at 8pm today, also faced pressure from former deputy premier Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, the leader of the Opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalition.

Anwar has said his group had the numbers to topple the government.

"The excessive politicking has generated extra uncertainties into the whole political and economic environment," said Zainal Aznam Yusof, a senior fellow in Malaysia's Institute of Strategic and International Studies.

Umno has been in turmoil since a poor showing in the March 12th General Election, when the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition which Umno dominates lost its crucial two-thirds majority in parliament.

Malaysia said today the annual inflation rate hit 3.0% in April, the highest in 15 months, led by firmer food prices. The government is also considering reforms to fuel subsidy policy, aware that substantial fuel price hikes could stoke popular anger.

Record food and energy prices are increasing Malaysian price pressures but price controls on goods such as flour and cooking oil are helping to keep inflation among the region's lowest.

The stock market eased today, after losing more than 1% the previous day on jitters over the political flux, prompting the second finance minister to reassure the market that economic fundamentals remain strong.

ANWAR WAITING IN THE WINGS?

Mahathir's bombshell resignation on Monday (May 19) from the party he led for 22 years came with a call for other Umno members to quit en masse. A meeting of lawmakers yesterday ignored the call and rallied behind Abdullah.

Mahathir, who has become increasingly vehement in criticism of his successor, said he was leaving Umno in an attempt to force Abdullah out.

Mahathir wrote in his blog www.chedet.com that BN lawmakers should temporarily leave the coalition and declare themselves as independents in a vote of no-confidence in Abdullah.

"This is one way to force Abdullah to resign. Once he resigns, the MPs can return to the BN fold," he said.

Abdullah has refused to quit. Analysts said the most likely outcome of tonight's meeting was a reaffirmation by Umno leaders of their support for him.

"At this point, there are so many factions and alliances within the leadership," said Lee Hock Guan, senior fellow with Singapore's Institute of South East Asian Studies.

"But he will probably get the support of the majority within the Supreme Council."

Mahathir's resignation came three days after Abdullah ordered the Attorney-General to investigate the former premier and five others on possible offences over the appointment of judges while the former premier was in power.

The political uncertainties have added to speculation over whether the BN coalition can keep its stranglehold on power. An emboldened Opposition, headed by Mahathir arch-foe Anwar, is seeking to wrest parliamentary control by wooing BN defectors.

'WE HAVE THE NUMBERS'

"I do intend to topple the government, we have the numbers," Anwar told reporters in Singapore, a claim echoed by government insiders.

"I'm looking forward to early elections," Anwar said, adding that he hoped these would take place before September.

"The moment we are sure we can contest, we move."

"If you have a one to two majority, the government will be too fragile ... You don't need a two-thirds majority," he said, adding that he wanted a majority of five or six and saw a vote of no-confidence in parliament as the best course of action.

Umno, backbone of the 14-party BN coalition that has ruled since independence from Britain in 1957, holds 79 of its 140 seats.

The opposition is a loose alliance of Islamists (PAS), a Chinese-based party (DAP) and the multiracial Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), and needs to gain just 30 seats to win a simple majority and form the government.

In a sign that the party is tearing itself apart, the leader of Umno's youth wing demanded today that another senior member, Mukhriz Mahathir, son of the former premier, face disciplinary action for urging Abdullah to resign.

Mukhriz said yesterday he would not join his father in quitting Umno but demanded that the premier steps down.

But another of Mahathir's sons, businessman Mokhzani, decided to leave the party, along with Mahathir's wife. - Reuters

Opposition MPs twice tried to refer Azalina to Committee of Privileges

The Sun (20/5/08): Opposition MPs twice called for Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said to be referred to the Committee of Privileges while winding up the debate for her ministry in Parliament today.

Azalina first riled Opposition members when she said the signature events in the Opposition-led states were dropped because of a negative experience in Kelantan before.

"We have experienced it in Kelantan, whereby the staff of the State Tourism Action Council (MPTN) were not paid (their salary) for three months," she said to a point raised by Mohd Azmin Ali (PKR-Gombak).

She then told Nga Kor Ming (DAP-Taiping), who said she should have displayed a more respected political maturity, that the decision was made because of the contradicting policies between those practised by the federal and state governments.

This prompted shouts of protests from Opposition MPs like M. Kulasegaran (DAP-Ipoh Barat) and N. Gobalakrishnan (PKR-Padang Serai) and many of them stood up to argue, including Nga and Mohd Azmin.

However, Azalina continued with her speech despite the noise in the background coming from both MPs and Deputy Speaker Datuk Ronald Kiandee who repeatedly asked them to take their seats as the minister did not wish to give way.

Later, Datuk Wan Abdul Rahim Wan Abdullah (PAS-Kota Baru) raised a point of order, saying Azalina had used impolite words when she said the PAS-led Kelantan government had not paid the salary of MPTN staff for three months.

"I would like to state here, there has never been an incident where PAS did not pay their salary," he said, to be corrected by Kiandee that it does not constitute an impolite language as stated in the Standing Order.

Azalina then explained that she was informed about this by a ministry officer and promised she will write a reply to Wan Abdul Rahim and stressed that she will not withdraw what she has said.

She then said the Barisan Nasional (BN) government does not discriminate Opposition-led states, saying under the 9th Malaysia Plan, some RM980,000 has been allocated for various tourism programmes in Kelantan.

Mohd Azmin then stood up to raise Article 36(12) and 26(1)(p), suggesting that Azalina be referred to the committee because she has confused the House and he said he has black and white proof to support his argument.

"I have proof that on March 25, 2008, the Tourism Minister decided for programmes under the signature events to be dropped and she had instructed the people concerned not to include them in their calendar of events or other promotional activities.

"But now, she is saying they were not dropped. She must be referred to the committee as she has confused the House," he said, followed by Lim Kit Siang (DAP-Ipoh Timur) who stood up to second the proposal.

According to Article 36(12), any member who gave statements that mislead the House is deemed to be in contempt of the House and the member may be referred to the committee for the offence.

And under 26(1)(p), a motion relating to a matter of privilege does not need a notice to be proposed, unless provided otherwise by the Standing Order.

However, Kiandee said there is no need for her to be referred to the committee as the situation did not reach to that extent.

Mohd Azmin disagreed, saying a decision should be made by way of a ballot and the Speaker does not have to apply his discretion. This was supported by Fong Po Kuan (DAP-Batu Gajah).

Later, after the lunch break, when Azalina continued with her speech, Wan Abdul Rahim stood up again to say he has checked the fact with five relevant persons in Kelantan and found that MPTN staff are actually paid by the federal government and not state government.

He also questioned Azalina’s statement as the incident happened in 2002 while she only held the position for two months, adding Azalina should be referred to the committee.

However, Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia ruled that the matter was considered hearsay as both had different arguments, therefore, he asked both Azalina and Wan Abdul Rahim to write to the Speaker to explain their points.

Islamic Studies graduates less marketable, the reason for withdrawing MoU

The Sun (21/5/08): The Higher Education Ministry clarified that the Memorandum of Understanding with Al-Azhar University was withdrawn because Islamic Studies graduates were less marketable.

Nasharuddin Mat Isa (PAS-Bachok) in a supplementary question in Parliament today asked why it was withdrawn, while pointing out that many colleges, including the Selangor Islamic University College, had suffered from this decision.

Minister Datuk Seri Khaled Nordin explained that Islamic studies were amongst the less-marketable courses.

"To control the volatility of the market, we have limited the courses applied for, including Islamic studies and courses like ICT," he said.

To another question, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Zaid Ibrahim agreed with Dr Tan Seng Giaw (DAP-Kepong) that the Judicial Appointments Commission will not solve all the judiciary issues and weaknesses, including the backlog.

"However, I give you my guarantee on the backlog cases. We have set up an Implementation Committee that I chair to draw up actions to solve this problem.

"On the performance of judges, we have a Code of Ethics that judges are bound to and the senior judges and the Chief Judges ensure adherence to the Code.

"We will monitor the effectiveness of this. It's too early to say the code is ineffective, so let us allow the Chief Judges to watch this closely," Zaid added.

Tan also asked if the government was considering setting up a Commission to study the weaknesses in the judiciary.

Zaid said he didn’t see the need for another Commission for this.

To the original question by Datuk Eric Enchin Majimbun (BN-Sepanggar) on the duties of the Chief Judge Malaya and Chief Judge Borneo, and if the government plans to merge the two judicial bodies, Zaid said: "The judiciary is a single body."

Zaid said the Chief Judge Malaya was tasked to the High Courts and lower courts in the peninsula while the Chief Judge for Sabah and Sarawak was in charge of the courts of the same levels in East Malaysia.

"Their positions are on par and the question of the merging does not arise because there is only one judiciary," he said, affirming a supplementary question by Eric Enchin (BN-Sepanggar) that judges from both the peninsula and East Malaysia had equal opportunity to assume the position of Chief Justice.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Azalina just makes it to answer a question

The Star (21/5/08): The Government bloc narrowly escaped embarrassment when Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said managed to slip into the Dewan at the last minute to take a question.

Norah Abd Rahman (BN – Tanjong Manis) had stood to ask an original question when the MPs realised that neither the minister nor deputy were present to answer.

At this point, Mahfuz Omar (PAS – Pokok Sena) stood up as a low rumbling of “mana mentri?” (where is the minister?) sounded from the Opposition bloc.

However, Azalina was then seen running into the Dewan, leading to Mahfuz to comment that he “was about to reply on the ministry’s behalf.”

Replying to Norah, Azalina said the number of foreign tourists who visited Sarawak last year had increased by 19.9% compared

to 2006. “Some 2.43 million people visited Sarawak last year,” she said.

Meanwhile, Opposition MPs failed to cite Azalina to be referred to the Committee of Privileges twice for apparently “misleading the House” in her reply while winding up the debate on the motion of thanks on the royal address.

Azalina had chided Azmin Ali (PRK – Gombak) for alleging that tourism activities in Opposition-led states were not supported by the ministry.

However, Azmin read out a memorandum that tourism offices in these states – Perak, Penang, Selangor, Kelantan and Kedah – were instructed to drop signature events and were also not included in the calendar of events.

Azmin, supported by Lim Kit Siang (DAP – Ipoh Timur) then said MPs should be allowed to vote for a proposal to have Azalina referred to the Committee of Privileges for misleading the House.

Deputy Speaker Datuk Ronald Kiandee ruled that Azalina was still replying and that she had not reached the stage for a referral.

When she resumed her reply in the afternoon, Datuk Wan Abd Rahiman Abdullah (PAS – Kota Baru) stood up to cite Azalina to be referred to the same committee again over her reply that tourism officers from Kelantan had not been paid for three months.

Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia ruled for both parties to submit a written reply on the matter

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Karpal Singh: Shabery should be ashamed

The Sun (15/5/08): Information Minister Datuk Ahmad Shabery Cheek should be the last person to label members of opposing parties switching sides as "political prostitutes" since he himself had done so, said DAP chairman Karpal Singh.

Shabery also said only those addicted to prostitution would use such a method to achieve political satisfaction.

Karpal Singh stressed that he himself did not subscribe to crossovers. "To me they are political kangaroos who betray the very people who voted them," he said.

"Shabery appears to have a short memory," said Karpal Singh.

"He, together with his political master Gua Musang MP Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah disbanded Semangat 46 and engaged in full-scale "political prostitution" by crossing over lock, stock and barrel to the Barisan Nasional," he added.

Karpal Singh said Shabery and his compatriots in the now defunct Semangat 46 have no business now to speak from a high moral ground.

"His statement against crossovers constitutes undiluted and unadulterated hypocrisy for which he should be ashamed," he said.

Karpal Singh said Shabery should take time off to ponder over the following adage: "Those who live in glass houses should draw the curtains before undressing."

By hitting out at crossovers, Shabery has undressed himself without drawing the curtains, thereby showing the whole world the naked truth.

Amirsham blunders by reading from text

The Sun (15/5/08): Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Amirsham A. Aziz – a newbie in the administration – was caught with his pants down when he was spotted reading the answer to a supplementary question in Parliament today.

Ironically, the topic was the New Economic Policy (NEP) – already a controversial subject – and the first supplementary question was posed by Khairy Jamaluddin (BN-Rembau).

Amirsham was meat to the prey when the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) parliamentarians pounced – all with a wide grin on their face – on his antics of bowing his head to read from his prepared text.

Lim Kit Siang (DAP-Ipoh Timur) was the first to let all hell loose in the House, saying the supplementary question was already prepared.

"It was a planted question. The answer is all ready," charged Chong Eng (DAP-Bukit Mertajam).

"The question was leaked!" shouted Khalid Abd Samad (PAS-Shah Alam) and in the background someone was heard screaming "Crony! Crony!"

Gobind Singh Deo (DAP-Puchong) also rose to add to the ruckus by accusing Amirsham of having his answers ready.

"Siap jawapan sampai dua muka! (Prepared answers run to to pages!)"said Mahfuz Omar (PAS-Pokok Sena).

Deputy Speaker Ronald Kiandee tried to calmly take charge of the ruckus by saying: "Cukup lah Yang Berhormat (enough Yang Berhormat), Yang Berhormat sila duduk (Yang Berhormat, please sit down). Sila duduk Yang Berhormat (Sit down Yang Berhormat),". However, he seemed to have had little control over the situation as the shouting continued while Amirsham went on reading his answer.

Khairy asked if he (Amirsham) thought Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng (DAP-Bagan)'s vow to abolish the use of NEP in the state administration is because "it breeds corruption, cronyism and systemic efficiency".

"If that is his conclusion, then anyone who got assistance from it whether in loans, job opportunities, scholarships, entrepreneurship opportunities and others are cronies and corruptors," he said, going on to provide figures while the ruckus continued.

Allowing the second supplementary question by Prof Dr P Ramasamy (DAP-Batu Kawan), someone was heard saying: "Tengok boleh jawab tak (let’s see if he can answer)."

Ramasamy asked whether the NEP had lost its original principle of affirmative action which is widely known throughout the world to be giving to the minority instead of the majority.

"Affirmative action is to help the people who are left behind like the poor and the lower income community. That is the NEP's aim and its policies are to help overcome and reduce poverty as well as to give equal opportunities to all Malaysians," Amirsham replied.

Amirsham said the government did not plan to change the policies evolving from the basic spirit of the NEP, the National Development Policy, the National Vision Policy and the National Vision under the 9th Malaysia Plan.

Kiandee then called for Mohamed Azmin Ali (PKR-Gombak) to take the floor to raise his question.

But just before Mohamed Azmin took the floor, Datuk Seri Panglima Abdul Ghapur Salleh (BN-Kalabakan) called for a Point-of-Order in Standing Order 44, asking the Speaker to take control of the situation.

"This is like a market, Speaker! People watch us on television! Can we ask for control?" he said to which Kiandee assured that it was under control and Lim stood up to call for no "extreme control to the point that the minister has answers (to the supplementary question)".

When Mohamed Azmin had the floor again, he said: "Dewan jadi pasar sebab Rembau pengerusi pasar (The House is like a market because Khairy is the market chairman)!"

Khairy did not take it sitting down, calling for Point of Order on Rule 36 (character assassination) and asked for Mohamed Azmin to retract his statement.

The peace in the House ws restored when Kiandee asked Mohamed Azmin to proceed with his question.

Anifah: Once the defections start, there's no stopping

The Sun (14/5/08): If and when East Malaysian Barisan Nasional (BN) parliamentarians defect, the ruling coalition cannot do anything anymore (to stop the defections), said Datuk Anifah Aman (BN-Kimanis).

Anifah, one of the many Sabahan and Sarawakian MPs who voiced their concern and dissatisfaction over BN’s lack of attention to issues in the two states in debates on the motion of thanks on the royal address, did not discount himself from doing the same.

"I will do it (defect) if it is in the best interest of the people," he told reporters in Parliament lobby today.

However, Anifah defended that the Sabah leaders were actually trying to stop the people from defecting.

When asked about the up till August time frame given by Datuk Yong Teck Lee (Sabah Progressive Party President and Gaya MP), Anifah said people were getting impatient and were drawn to the 20% oil royalty offer by Pakatan Rakyat (PR).

"It makes a lot of difference for Sabah. Whether it becomes a reality, is debatable. What we are saying is 'look into our grievances', the problem of illegal immigrants.

"If you can set up the Judicial Appointment Commission and the Malaysian Commission against Corruption, why can’t you set up a commission to look into this matter," he lamented.

Parti Bersatu Sabah president Datuk Joseph Pairin Kitingan likened the situation to the government being the doctor who is not treating the aches and pains of the people, the patient.

"It is just like when we are sick, the doctor doesn’t treat you to get rid of that pain in the body, you will continue to feel sick and unhappy and miserable. The aches and pains have been expressed in the Dewan and the patient has been talking and telling the doctor they need treatment," he said, adding that Sabah MPs were merely protecting the country and its sovereignty.

"This means illegal immigrants must be sent away. We have laws which must be enforced. Who are you choosing, your citizens or the illegal immigrants? Of course your citizens must be protected," said Pairin.

On the oil royalty, Kitingan said it needed to be considered "as I see it as a lopsided agreement".

"It is also being fully exploited by the Opposition and the agreement has to be studied. You can’t just dismiss it as not being lopsided but there must be a discussion with all the MPs and leaders to look at the facts and figures so that the people are satisfied," he added.

Datuk Seri Panglima Abdul Ghapur Salleh (BN-Kalabakan) denies any knowledge of MPs "jumping ship" and says he isn’t one, for now.

However, he quipped: "If I am not satisfied, I will form my own party. Why should I jump? I don’t want to jump because the other party will also tie my legs, like BN". "All I am saying to the leadership is we don’t want to be second class citizens."

Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan (BN-Kota Belud) said the election gave the people a chance to change the political model of country and he is all for a two-party system in the country.

On Yong’s ultimatum that his party may leave BN in August if the state issues are not resolved, Abdul Rahman said he believed Yong said it in good faith as he was only presenting the views of the people in Sabah and Sarawak.

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