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Fax to PM to ask him to ensure that the commendable example of Ministerial responsibility and accountability to Parliament shown since 2006 budget presentation should be maintained and not be allowed to slacken or deteriorate as during the winding-up of Finance Ministry committee stage by Deputy Finance Minister yesterday
by Lim Kit Siang
The Deputy Finance Minister Tengku Putera Tengku Awang’s parliamentary reply yesterday in the committee stage debate on the Finance Ministry, allocated RM23 billion or 16.8 per cent of the total 2006 budget of RM137 billion – the single largest allocation for any Ministry – was a real washout and a shame.
It was not only Opposition MPs who had spoken, like Dr. Tan Seng Giaw (Kepong), Teresa Kok (Seputeh), Fong Po Kuan (Batu Gajah), Kamaruddin Jaafar (Tumpat), Sallehuddin Ayub (Kubang Krian) and myself who were not satisfied with Tengku Putera’s reply, I dare say that the majority of the 30 MPs who had spoken in the debate, most of whom are from the Barisan Nasional, would not have given the deputy minister a pass mark for his reply.
Tengku Putera had spoiled a very good start in Ministerial responsibility and accountability to Parliament initiated by the 2006 Budget debate. Some 25 of the 34 Ministers spoke on behalf of their Ministries during the policy debate at the second reading of the Supply Bill – a record number in recent parliamentary history.
When the committee stage debate involving Ministry-by-Ministry scrutiny started on Monday, the first Ministry – the Prime Minister’s Department – took off with a flying start with four Ministers in the PM’s Department queuing up to reply to the points raised by the MPs – Nazri Aziz, Mustapha Mohamad, Dr. Maximus J. Ongkili and Dr. Abdullah Md Zin. This must be the first time in parliamentary history so many Ministers took part in the winding-up debate for a single Ministry.
The Finance Ministry was the second Ministry to be debated. As a Ministry headed by the Prime Minister himself, the Finance Ministry should have ensured that the new high standard of Ministerial responsibility and accountability would have been kept up.
Despite his mourning at the loss of his wife, Endon Mahmood, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has decided on a hectic “work-as-usual” schedule. Today’s media reported the Prime Minister’s many activities yesterday, such as chairing the National Finance Council and attending a briefing of the Road Transport Department on the proper strategy to reduce Malaysia’s shocking road accident rate and toll. The second Finance Minister Nor Mohamed Yakcop was also pictured as accompanying the Prime Minister in the National Finance Council meeting.
In these unusual circumstances when the two Finance Ministers could not make it to Parliament for the winding-up of the Finance Ministry committee stage debate, it was incumbent on the Deputy Finance Minister standing in for them to put up a high-quality parliamentary performance which, if not of Ministerial standard, would be worthy of the occasion.
Unfortunately, Tengku Putera’s performance not only failed to match any Ministerial standard, it was not even up to parliamentary secretary level.
On many important issues raised by MPs from both sides of the House, Tengku Putera either gave a most unsatisfactory reply or ignored them altogether. In the former were the RM700 million Bank Islam scandal; greater EPF accountability, transparency and good governance; the long-standing Perwaja scandal; Petronas accountability; GLCs (government-linked companies) and the preparation for the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) on January 1, 2007.
Among the issues which Tengku Putera ignored completely were: the Financial Services Resources Centre (FSRC), the billion-ringgit losses by EPF subsidiary Malaysia Building Society Bhd (MBSB) and the serious allegation in June that Hong Leong Bank Berhad had manipulated share prices on the stock market by refusing to provide margin financing to a list of well-managed and cash-rich companies.
What was shocking was that Tengku Putera refused the leeway of further 15 minutes after 5.30 pm as provided under the Standing Orders to deal with the many issues which he had not touched on, which the Deputy Speaker Datuk Lim Si Cheng had intimated and which I clearly spelt out subsequently to draw the Deputy Minister’s attention – but Tengku Putera refused to avail himself of the extra 15 minutes despite clear reminders so that he could give MPs a more satisfactory and responsible reply to the debate. Right on the dot of 5.30 pm, Tengku Putera simply stopped his speech and sat down.
Although Tengku Putera promised to give written reply to issues which he failed to touch upon, this is completely unsatisfactory as MPs raised issues in Parliament to get a personal and direct reply which could be scrutinized immediately and not to get a written answer. Otherwise, there is no need for Parliament to meet at all and all MPs can operate from their houses.
Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP
Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission
Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman