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Why is the Finance Minister not prepared to discharge his ministerial responsibility to be answerable for the Customs Department with regard to the attacks by the MP for Jasin?


Speech on 2006 Supplementary Estimates (4)
by Lim Kit Siang  


(Parliament, Monday) : Next, I come to the issue of integrity which was raised in Parliament last week, with the MP for Jasin, Mohd Said Yusof calling for the release of the names of those who bought the 159 seized luxury cars from the Customs and Excise Department.


Mohd Said said that from what he gathered, seven were sold to politicians.


The list had been submitted to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Integrity, which had called the Customs Director-General Datuk Abdul Rahman Hamid and his officers to appear to respond on the issue.  The MP for Jasin had also appeared before the Parliamentary Select Committee on Integrity.


Members of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Integrity are bound by parliamentary rules not to reveal anything which transpired at the proceedings until a report had been submitted to Parliament.


As such, I will not be able to say anything on the names  on the list, which I have seen, although I am surprised by Jasin MP�s figure of 159.


Be that as it may, the Deputy Finance Minister, Datuk Ng Yen Yen had admitted that she bought Mercedes Benz 320 at RM50,000, which was valued at RM590,000 for a new car and RM180,000 for a used car in 2004.


To be fair to Parliament as well to all MPs, whether those who had benefited or not, the Finance Ministry should make public the list of government servants, MPs, politicians and others who had bought seized luxury cars from the Customs Department at very low prices, giving all the particulars.


There is nothing to prevent individual MPs from declaring whether they had or not bought a seized Customs luxury car at very low prices. I for one can declare that I have not bought any such car. In fact, I never knew there was such a provision allowing MPs to buy such cars until the issue blew up in July.


It is most regrettable, however,  that after nearly three months no action has been taken on the integrity issue concerning the MP for Jasin, over his �one-eye closed� scandal on the import of illegal timber from Indonesia � as if it has inspired all those concerned with its investigation, whether the Anti-Corruption Agency or the Cabinet to keep at least one eye closed.


In Thursday�s  New Straits Times, another case has been reported of Mohd Said abusing his position as Member of Parliament to intimidate a senior Customs Department officer in Malacca from carrying out his duties through an SMS.


Mohd Said has admitted sending the SMS to Customs Preventive director Adnan Arrifin over the department�s action regarding his company, although he claimed that he sent it �as a friend� he had known for more than 10 years and that it wasn�t meant as a threat.

The SMS, originally sent in Malay, read: "Ass kum, ji. Kau nak ajak berjumpa, SiRomainor d mka tak habis habis mencari pasal dgn co aku. Kalau ni berterusan jangan marah kalau aku bangkitkan hal2 Kastam lagi. TQ." Translation - �Peace be upon you, Haji. You want to invite me to meet up. Romainor in Malacca is continuously finding fault with my company. If this continues, don�t be angry if I continue to raise Customs issues. Thank you."

Rumainor Sharif is the Malacca Customs preventive chief who refused Mohd Said�s request to "close one eye" over a consignment of timber belonging to a company for which Mohd Said�s firm was the forwarding agent.


Leaving aside whether the SMS is a threat or friendly message, one thing is very clear � that Mohd Said had misused his parliamentary position to advance the interests of his company, which is a clear conflict-of-interest.


I do not want to get involved in the vendetta between Mohd Said and the Customs, but Parliament is being dragged into the tussle when it must not allow its integrity to be besmirched in the slanging match, especially when there is the serious allegation of breach of privileges by Mohd Said in misusing his position as an MP.


For the sake of the honour and integrity of Parliament, Mohd Said should be referred to the Committee of Privileges for a comprehensive inquiry into allegations of his breach of privileges in his dealings with Customs as well as whether parliamentary privileges had been violated in the vendetta between him and Customs, especially whether he had spoken  in Parliament on matters where he has pecuniary interest.


In this connection, I am surprised by the news report yesterday that the Chief Secretary to the Government Tan Sri Samsudin Osman will be meeting the Attorney-General to discuss the immunity enjoyed by MPs, especially in attacking government departments in Parliament.


Samsudin Osman  - who is to retire shortly - said government agencies had a job to do and carry out their responsibilities without fear of favour. He wants to know what the parliamentary immunity entails.


I agree with the Minister in the Prime Ministker�s Department, Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz that there can be fetters to parliamentary immunity, as MPs have the fullest freedom to speak up in Parliament, subject to the constraints on the four sensitive issues specifically prohibited by the Constitution as well as the rules of breaches of privilege which could only be regulated by Parliament itself.


Civil servants who are unfairly attacked by MPs have a remedy � as it is the responsibility of the Minister of the department to come to the defence of any such civil servant in Parliament or the Minister will be failing in his ministerial duties. In this case, we are referring to the Finance Minister. There is also the Second Finance Minister.  Why are both of them keeping silent to come to the defence of Customs Department or give an appropriate response to the MP for Jasin?  Or are they admitting that whatever the MP for Jasin said are right?


The departmental Minister concerned must either defend or denounce the civil servant concerned, all the time bearing Ministerial responsibility for what transpired in his Ministry.


Or do we have a situation where the departmental ministers concerned are not prepared to discharge their ministerial responsibilities and to give adequate defence to civil servants under attack by MPs � as by making public the SMS message which would show that the MP for Jasin had been involved in a serious conflict-of-interest situation?


The issue at stake is not seek the opinion of the Attorney-General but to find out why the Finance Minister and the second Finance Minister are not prepared to uphold the principle of ministerial responsibility as far as the Customs Department is concerned.



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

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