Parliament Speaker should apologise for being misled by false information into rejecting Fong Po Kuan's urgent motion on SARS last Thursday and the Chua Jui Meng should be referred to Committee of Privileges for deliberately misleading the Speaker on SARS outbreak resulting in the rejection

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya,  Monday): The Speaker of Parliament, Tun Mohamed Zahir, should apologise to the DAP MP for Batu Gajah, Fong Po Kuan and to Parliament for being misled by false information into rejecting Fong's motion of urgent, definite public importance on the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak last Thursday.

The Health Minister, Datuk Chua Jui Meng, should be referred to the Committee of Privileges for deliberately misleading the Speaker with incorrect information, inducing him to reject Fong's urgent motion and denying Parliament the opportunity to conduct a full and focussed debate on the SARS outbreak at the earliest opportunity.

Last Thursday (3.4.02), Fong entered the Parliament chambers before the start of the morning sitting prepared to raise Standing Order 18(2) after question time and to ask MPs to agree to an urgent debate on the SARS outbreak as she had given the requisite 24-hour notice for a motion of urgent, definite public importance, only to find on her table a rejection letter from the Speaker, giving the most ridiculous of grounds, viz:

"Saya diberitahu oleh pihak Kementerian Kesihatan berkenaan dengan empat kes di Hosptial Ipoh itu. Kes-kes itu hanya disyaki sahaja sebagai kes SARS. Dua kes di Hospital Kuala Lumpur juga dimasukkan sebagai kes yang disyaki. Kesemua kes ini bukan sebagai kes SARS mengikut criteria WHO. Ada akhbar telah menyiarkan kes-kes ini sebagai SARS.

"Sebab itu, Kerajaan tidak melaporkan kes-kes ini kepada orangramai. Mereka tidak boleh melaporkan sesuatu yang tidak betul."

The reasons given to the Speaker by the Health Ministry on the SARS outbreak, leading him to reject Fong's motion, was palpably incorrect and false, for the previous day, the Director-General of Health, Tan Sri Dr. Mohamad Taha Arif had publicly admitted 59 suspected SARS cases, with 19 patients under quarantine, comprising five cases in Selangor, four cases each in the Federal Territory, Perak and Sarawak and one case each in Johor and Kelantan - which were given prominent coverage in all the media on Thursday morning itself!

The two-paragraph reason to reject Fong's urgent motion on SARS has brought the high office of Speaker to public ridicule and odium, as it not only showed the Speaker to be uninformed and gullible, but reduced himself to be a purveyor of false information on behalf of the Health Ministry, when he should have jealously guarded the dignity of his high office and summoned the Health Minister to appear before Parliament to account and justify his handling of SARS outbreak.

Although Chua may not have personally given the false information on SARS to the Speaker, he must bear full Ministerial responsibility for the false information which misled the Speaker to reject Fong's motion, and this is why he should be referred to the Committee of Privileges for gross abuse of Ministerial responsibilities to Parliament.

The deliberate supply of false information to the Speaker, misleading him to reject urgent motions by MPs, must be taken seriously, for it reflects poorly on Parliament's ability to be relevant to the times and the concerns of the people. On Saturday, for instance, the country have been told that there are 75 suspected SARS cases and one SARS death - although there are strong reasons to believing that the 75 suspected SARS cases is a serious under-reporting of the actual number of cases in the country if the World Health Organisation (WHO) case definitions are strictly followed.

This episode should also cause a review of the Speaker's most unsatisfactory handling of Standing Order 18 with regard to urgent, definite public importance motions by MPs - as it is completely unacceptable for the Speaker to compromise the impartiality of the office and to be reduced to be a spokesman for Ministries on urgent issues raised by MPs in their motions, making prejudgments and siding with the Executive against MPs, when the proper conduct for the Speaker is to examine the merits of the MPs' applications largely on the contents of their motions and leaving to the various Ministries to make their own case.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman