Nazri is too bogged down with trivial and even  non-issues when he should be grappling with big and substantive issues of parliamentary reform and modernization to make the Malaysian Parliament a “First World Parliament” that could be a model institution of the 116 NAM countries as Malaysia is currently Chair of  NAM for three years

Media Conference Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Parliament House, Tuesday): Since being assigned the portfolio of parliamentary affairs in the new Cabinet, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Nazri Aziz has shown to be a conscientious and “hands-on” Minister although one may not fully agree with what he is saying, thinking or doing. 

For instance, Nazri is too  bogged down with trival and even non-issues when he should be grappling with the big and substantive issues of parliamentary reform and modernization to make the Malaysian Parliament a “First World Parliament” that could be a model institution of the 116 Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) countries as Malaysia is currently Chair of  NAM for three years.


He has come up with a very novel and even creative way to address the problem of absenteeism of Barisan Nasional MPs, what he called the “buddy system” for the BN backbenchers to ensure quorums during Parliament sittings.


Under Nazri’s “buddy system”, the 100-odd Barisan Nasional backbenchers would work in pairs; when one of them is out of the chamber, the other has to be there to ensure a quorum – thus a constant attendance of some 50 BN MPs.


The inventive “buddy system” however raises two fundamental questions: Firstly, why should absenteeism among the Barisan Nasional MPs be a problem at all?  Barisan Nasional has won with an unprecedented nine-tenth parliamentary majority, controlling 90.4  per cent of the parliamentary seats in having 198 of the total of 219 parliamentary seats.


As the quorum is only  26 MPs, why is absenteeism among the 198 Barisan Nasional MPs so intractable that it could not at any one time ensure that at least 13 per cent of its MPs are in the House?  The Malaysian voters are entitled to ask why Barisan Nasional leaders are so keen to be candidates and to win in the general election, and yet are not prepared to perform the most elementary duty of attending Parliament?


Secondly, why is Nazri’s “buddy system” applicable only to Barisan Nasional backbenchers and not the front-benchers?  Malaysia has one of the biggest jumbo Cabinets in the world – having more full Ministers than even India, although Malaysia has only 2.3 per cent of India’s one billion population! 


There are altogether 33 Ministers,  38 Deputy Ministers and 22 Parliamentary Secretaries in Malaysia, making  a grand total of 93 on the government front-benchers.


If the “buddy system” also applies to the front-benchers, providing that at any one time for any Ministerial portfolio,  there should be a Minister, Deputy Minister or parliamentary secretary present in the House, the quorum of 26 would have been met without having to apply the “buddy system” on the Barisan Nasional back-benchers or  depending on the Opposition’s 21 MPs to make up the quorum.


The problem of Barisan Nasional absenteeism and lack of quorum should not be a problem in the first place if all MPs, including BN front-benchers and backbenchers,  are serious about  their parliamentary responsibilities.


What Nazri should be addressing are the big and substantive issues which can  transform the Malaysian Parliament into a “First World Parliament” not just in terms of Parliament Building and infrastructure, but in parliamentary mind-set, culture,  practices and performance.


His continued objection to the idea of having an Opposition MP to head the Public Accounts Committee is one such example of misguided thinking.  I am surprised by Nazri’s dismissive response to my urgent letter to the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, urging a review of the decision not to have the Opposition to head the Public Accounts Committee.


I will feel very sad and disappointed if Nazri is right, that the government’s position that the Opposition should not head the PAC is set in stone and cannot be changed by superior arguments and reasons.  This is because at stake is not so much Nazri’s credibility but the credibility of the pledges by Abdullah since becoming the fifth Prime Minister to deliver to Malaysians a clean, incorruptible, accountable, transparent and trustworthy government which is prepared to hear the truth from the people.


I hope Abdullah can see the bigger picture which seems to be lost to Nazri and be prepared to take the first significant step in fulfilling his pledge of a clean, incorruptible and trustworthy government and the restoration of the doctrine of separation of powers between the legislature, executive and the judiciary with the appointment of an Opposition MP to head the PAC.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman & Member of Parliament for Ipoh Timor