The election of a Parliament Speaker first time in 22 years should be a
national soul-searching exercise on how Malaysia could embark on the road
towards a first-world Parliament as the first serious step to end the
“First World Infrastructure, Third World Mentality” syndrome impeding the
country’s progress and greatness
Media Conference Statement
by Lim Kit Siang
(Penang, Monday): I have given notice to Parliament to propose the six-term DAP Member of Parliament for Kepong and Deputy Chairman of Public Accounts Committee, Dr. Tan Seng Giaw, as the candidate for the post of Parliament Speaker. I understand that the Barisan Nasional candidate for the new Speaker is the Public Accounts Committee Chairman and two-term MP for Pasir Salak Tan Sri Ramli Ngah Talib.
Dr. Tan has been MP for Kepong for 22 years since 1982, while Ramli was Perak Mentri Besar from 1983 to 1999 and Deputy Transport Minister from 1999 until the March general election this year.
On behalf of DAP Wanita, DAP MP for Seputeh, Teresa Kok had written to the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi proposing the appointment of a high-calibre and experienced woman as Speaker to enhance the status of women in our society and to give a new image to the Malaysian Parliament as the first ASEAN country with a woman Speaker. Malaysia should not lag behind countries like the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and Scandinavian nations which have elected women Parliament Speakers.
Teresa Kok has proposed as a suitable woman candidate for Parliament Speaker Datuk Napsiah Omar, currently Wanita UMNO permanent chairman. Before Teresa Kok wrote to the Prime Minister, she had discussed Wanita DAP’s proposal of a woman Speaker and Napsiah’s candidature with me, and I had given her full support and encouragement to go ahead.
Napsiah is eminently suitable and qualified to break the “glass ceiling” to become the first woman Parliament Speaker, and I would have full confidence in her sense of fair play, impartiality and independence required of a good Speaker. Graduate of Australian National University and Cornell University, she first entered Parliament 22 years ago in 1982, and was a four-term MP for Kuala Pilah, serving for eight years as Cabinet Minister, first as Public Enterprises Minister and then as National Unity and Social Development Minister, as well as one-term Negri Sembilan State Executive Councillor.
However, we cannot pursue Napsiah’s candidature further as there has been no positive response to Teresa Kok’s proposal from the Prime Minister, nor is Napsiah likely to give her prior consent as is required under the Parliament Standing Orders for nominations of candidates for the Speaker’s post.
When Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi became Prime Minister a year ago, he pinpointed the “First World Infrastructure, Third World Mentality” malaise as a great impediment to the success of the Vision 2020 objective of Malaysia becoming a fully developed nation, committed himself to uphold the separation of powers among the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary as well as pledged to lead a clean, incorruptible, efficient, trustworthy and people-oriented government prepared to hear the truth, guided by the motto of “Cemerlang, Gemilang, Terbilang”.
These noble goals and objectives could only be attained if there are structural and institutional changes, beginning with the creation of a first-world reform Parliament, so that the Malaysian Parliament could fully play its dual role, viz:
The 11th Parliament opened on May 17 with great promise and high hopes with the public government support for a first-world Parliament, with small but encouraging first steps for parliamentary reforms, like the appointment of an Opposition MP as Deputy Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee and the establishment of Parliamentary Select Committee on the Amendment Bill to the Penal and Criminal Procedure Codes.
But these puny steps appeared to be all that the government is prepared to take as far as parliamentary reform and modernization are concerned, which is most disappointing and a great letdown.
In May, the Prime Minister had promised to be in Parliament at least twice a week to answer to MPs during the question-hour, but Abdullah had not been able to keep to this undertaking. In the seven weeks of the 2005 budget meeting in the past two months, Abdullah had not been able even once to honour his commitment to be in Parliament at least twice a week during the parliamentary question hour – in fact, in the September and October parliamentary meetings, the Prime Minister’s appearance during question time to answer MPs had become a very rare event.
The Prime Minister may have a busy schedule, but his parliamentary commitments especially to appear twice a week to answer to MPs during the question time must remain his top priority, if the government is serious about parliamentary reform and modernisation.
If the Prime Minister cannot set an example of diligent attendance to his parliamentary duties and commitments, it is unlikely that the other Cabinet Ministers will take their parliamentary duties seriously – as evident from their frequent absence from Parliament, delegating to Deputy Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries when the Ministers should themselves be present in Parliament to answer questions or reply to speeches during debates.
Parliament had met three times since the March general election, and a total of over 70 motions had been submitted for debate by the Opposition and even government backbenchers – but not a single one had been allocated time for debate. This blatant lack of democracy in Parliament cries out for reform and modernization.
In the March general election, Abdullah won an unprecedented over-91% control of the 219 parliamentary seats – with the Opposition never more weak and so few in numbers in Malaysian parliamentary history. Any programme of far-reaching parliamentary reform and modernization to restore Parliament’s proper role as the highest legislative and political chamber of the land will not undermine Abdullah’s parliamentary position in any manner. If with such a powerful parliamentary majority, there is also no political will to embark on far-reaching parliamentary reforms and modernization, then there is little hope that Abdullah’s pledge to eradicate the “First World Infrastructure, Third World Mentality” malaise or to lead a clean, incorruptible and trustworthy government will meet with any success.
The election of a Parliament Speaker first time in 22 years should be a national soul-searching exercise on how Malaysia could embark on the road towards a first-world Parliament as the first serious step to end the “First World Infrastructure, Third World Mentality” syndrome impeding the country’s progress and greatness.
This is the time for MPs, the media and the civil society to focus on the subject of parliamentary reform and modernization, on a parliamentary reform agenda for Malaysia to have a “First World Parliament”, discussing and debating issues like:
* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman