Motion to refer two deputy ministers Abdul Latiff Ahmad and Sothinathan to Committee of Privileges to ascertain who was misleading Parliament  in telling an untruth and the disciplinary action that should be meted out to the guilty party

Media Conference (2)
by Lim Kit Siang

(Parliament, Thursday): Yesterday, the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi suspended Datuk S. Sothinathan as Deputy National Resources and Environment Minister for three months with immediate effect for breaking ranks with the Government in Parliament. 

The appointment, suspension and expulsion of Ministers, Deputy Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries is the prerogative of the Prime Minister, but this must be exercised in a fair, just and and transparent manner in a government which gives top priority to justice, fair play, accountability, transparency and good governance. 

Nobody questions the prerogative of the Prime Minister to suspend any front-bencher but he must be subject to public opinion whether he had exercised this prerogative fairly and justly or whether he had acted over-hastily without observing the rules of natural justice in giving Sothinathan the right to be heard and meted out an excessive punishment without taking fully account the mitigating circumstances. 

Sothinathan had indeed broken ranks with the Government in questioning another deputy minister, Deputy Health Minister,  Datuk Dr. Abdul Latiff Ahmad in Parliament and as such has breached the principle of collective Ministerial responsibility but in the circumstances of the case, a reprimand is more than adequate. 

This is because the greatest challenge facing the system of parliamentary democracy in Malaysia is how to break the mould of Parliament’s decades-old role as a mere rubber stamp of the Executive and re-establish  Parliament’s pre-eminent role as the highest political and legislative chamber of the land. 

This can only come about if the winds of change  can blow through the corridors of Parliament to bring about a new parliamentary culture where there is a blurring of party lines in Parliament on issues of justice, fair play and good governance to allow parliamentarians, whether from ruling coalition or opposition, front-bench or back-bench, to effectively voice the aspirations and concerns of the people without having to toe a party line on every single issue, big or   small. 

Such a new political and parliamentary culture cannot evolve if it is left solely to parliamentary backbenchers for two reasons: the Barisan Nasional hegemony of Parliament controlling over  92 per cent of the parliamentary seats and  the nature of the ruling coalition with 14 component parties which does not encourage or permit dissent. 

For this reason, there must be leeway for front-benchers, particularly deputy ministers and parliamentary secretaries, to lead the ordinary backbenchers  to voice the aspirations and concerns of the people without having to toe a party line on every single issue.  

This is why I call on the Prime Minister to revoke the three-month suspension of Sothinathan as Deputy Minister as a reprimand is adequate and proper  in the circumstances of the case. 

Yesterday, UMNO MPs like Datuk Mohd Said Yusof (Jasin) and Datuk Mohamed Aziz (Sri Gading) said I have no right to comment on the Sothinathan suspension as it was a Barisan Nasional problem, but I would advise them to come out of the “frog in a well” outlook and realize that this is a bigger issue than just a Barisan Nasional problem since it concerns justice. 

For the past 48 hours,  however,  another important aspect of the Latiff-Sothinathan fracas in Parliament on Tuesday had been overlooked. 

I have this morning submitted a motion to refer the  two deputy ministers, Dr. Latiff and Sothinathan, to the Committee of Privileges to establish who was misleading Parliament in telling an untruth during  Tuesday’s debate on my emergency motion on the Malaysian Medical Council (MMC)’s derecognition of Crimea State Medical University (CSMU) medical degrees and the disciplinary action that should be meted out to the guilty party. 

The nub of the case for the suspension of Sothinathan as Deputy Minister is that he had said in Parliament that Dr. Latiff had not spoken the truth after he had reminded the Deputy Health Minister to speak truthfully in particular on Dr. Latiff’s claim that 200 medical graduates from unscheduled universities – all Indians – were given additional opportunity when they should not have been given opportunities after failing three times the medical qualifying examination. 

As recorded by Hansard of Tuesday’s debate (p. 125), Sothinathan first interjected Dr. Latiff with the reminder “Cakap yang benar” followed by the judgment “Jangan kata yang tidak benar”

A strict but deplorable enforcement of the principle of collective Ministerial responsibility would require front-benchers to back a Minister or Deputy Minister who is openly tell a lie or untruth in Parliament, forbidding them to point out the falsehood – but Malaysia should not blindly and slavishly ape such uncritical and mindless application of the Westminster principle of collective Ministerial responsibility and instead allow front-benchers to point out the falsehood committed by a Minister, Deputy Minister or Parliamentary Secretary. 

When a Minister or Deputy Minister utters an untruth in Parliament to mislead Members of Parliament, it may be in keeping with the principle of collective Ministerial responsibility, but it is nonetheless a gross breach of parliamentary privilege. 

One of the two Deputy Ministers have told a lie or untruth in Parliament during Tuesday’s emergency debate on the CSMU medical degrees derecognition – either Sothinathan or Dr. Latiff.

The Committee of Privileges should meet urgently to investigate which Deputy Minister had misled Parliament and told an untruth and to recommend the punishment that should be meted out to the guilty party.  It would be ridiculous if the DAP MP for Bukit Glugor, Karpal Singh could be suspended for six months as MP for misleading Parliament when he had not told any untruth or falsehood in the House, while a Deputy Minister can enjoy immunity for breach of parliamentary privilege in telling an untruth in the House, which had been openly pointed out by another Deputy Minister.



*  Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman