I welcome the storm of protest over the 2021 Budget vote in Parliament yesterday as it is surest sign that the quest for a New Malaysia is still very much alive
I welcome the storm of protest over the 2021 Budget vote in Parliament yesterday as it is the surest sign that the quest for a New Malaysia is still very much alive. I see the protests in a very positive light.
Even my former political secretary, Dyana Sofya, protested as well as other DAP leaders, including the DAP Malacca Ayer Keroh Assemblyman Kerk Chee Yee and the Selangor Subang Jaya State Assemblywoman Michelle Ng.
But there had been a number of misconceptions. There is firstly the misconception that the Opposition MPs, apart from those who stood up calling for a division, had succumbed to pressure and voted in support of the 2021 Budget.
This is not the case. The Opposition MPs, including those who stood up calling for a division, all voted against the 2021 budget – but it was by a very loud negative voice vote against ‘Yes’ voice vote and not by division, with every MP recording ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in the vote.
In my media statement of 21st November 2020, I said:
“Members of Parliament have two choices when the 2021 Budget comes up for a Second Reading vote next Thursday, 26th November 2020:
“Firstly, to force a showdown on Thursday whether to accept or reject the 2021 Budget; or secondly, to fully explore the avenues available in the parliamentary process by proposing amendments during the Committee Stage of the 2021 Budget to the most objectionable provisions like the RM85.5 million revival of the Special Affairs Department (JASA) to carry out negative propaganda campaign for the government, and then for a definitive vote to be made during the Third Reading of the 2021 Budget on December 15, 2020.”
As the Pakatan Harapan Presidential Council decided on 25th November 2020 unanimously to object to the 2021 Budget by calling for a division and voting against it, and this information had been communicated to Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and Shafie Apdal both of whom assured the support of Warisan and Pejuang MPs, all Opposition MPs from DAP, PKR and AMANAH were prepared to support the call for division and to vote against the 2021 Budget yesterday.
I was completely in the dark about the last-minute decision by Opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, not to call for a division although I could surmise the reasons, among which are firstly, the advice by the Yang di Pertuan Agong to MPs to support the 2021 Budget and secondly, the Finance Minister, Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz’s winding-up speech where he announced extra goodies for the budget which have yet to be tested in the Committee Stage before the Third Reading of the 2021 Budget on December 15.
It was also obvious that there were not enough numbers to defeat the 2021 Budget as UMNO MPs have backtracked to give full support for the 2021 Budget - but this had never been a factor by DAP and PH MPs in deciding on whether to call for division for individual voting in Parliament.
As the Yang di Pertuan Agong has urged MPs to support the 2021 budget in view of the Covid-19 epidemic, it is even more incumbent on Opposition MPs to give the Finance Minister more time until the Third Reading of the Supply Bill on Dec. 15 to make the necessary amendments and adjustments to make the 2021 Budget the “Unity Budget” to unite all Malaysians to tide over the “once-in-a-century” Covid-19 epidemic. Or will he be stubborn and anti-unity and will refuse to do so?
The Finance Minister had engaged with the Opposition MPs before the presentation of the Budget on Nov. 6, but not after. Will he engage with the Opposition MPs before the Third Reading of the Supply Bill on December 15?
After the parliamentary meeting yesterday, I spoke to Anwar about requisitioning a meeting of the Selection Committee of Dewan Rakyat to set up a Parliamentary Select Committee on Corruption and Integrity which should have the overall term of reference to raise public integrity in Malaysia to be among the top 30 countries in the world.
But the Select Committee on Corruption and Integrity should have as its first task to look into the Global Corruption Barometer for Asia 2020, released by Transparency International two days ago and which reported that more Malaysians regard their MPs as corrupt as compared to the people of seven other Asian countries – Bangladesh, Taiwan, Myanmar, Philippines, China, Cambodia and Vietnam – as 36% of Malaysians surveyed think that Members of Parliament are corrupt.
The Select Committee on Corruption and Integrity should also look in other aspects of the Global Corruption Barometer for Asia 2020 – that 72% of Malaysians think government corruption is a big problem and that 39% of Malaysians believe that corruption is on the rise.
As the Transparency International (TI) Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 2020 would be released in two months ago and is likely see a regression in both the TI CPI score and ranking, undoing all the good work of the 22-month Pakatan Harapan government in its fight against corruption and to establish public integrity, the Select Committee on Corruption and Integrity should also examine this problem.
As a result of the Covid-19 epidemic, for 19 days of the November/December meeting, Parliament has been meeting form 10 a.m. to 2 pm, which is a serious reduction of the daily parliamentary sitting from the usual six hours a day to four hours a day.
This has seriously hampered the role of MPs to hold the government to account and scrutiny, and threatened the smooth and successful functioning of the Constitutional doctrine of the separation of powers among the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary.
For the next 12 Parliamentary sittings from November 30 to December 17, 2020 Parliament should revert to six-hour daily sitting - from 10 am to 1 pm, with recess from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. when the Parliament Chamber should be fully sanitised in view of the Covid-19 epidemic, and resumption of the evening meeting of Parliament from 3 pm to 6 pm.