Jerantut MP Khairil Nizam Khirudin has insisted that Perikatan Nasional (PN) did not boycott a parliamentary sitting recently to discuss the 2021 Auditor General’s Report but merely decided not to participate in the debate.
Semantic quibble aside, the implication is that the people of Malaysia were deprived of an otherwise robust debate on matters of public importance that required the keen participation of their elected representatives in the House of Representatives.
It is noteworthy that Speaker Johari Abdul was prompted to say that it was unusual for a majority of opposition lawmakers to be absent from the audit debates.
In response to PN chief whip Takiyuddin Hassan’s objection to the government’s motion to debate the auditor general’s report, the minister for law and institutional reform, Azalina Othman Said, argued that the standing order cited did not prevent MPs from debating the audit on federal expenditure.
Despite Khairil’s denial of boycott, the opposition had in a sense committed a dereliction of its basic duty to engage in meaningful discussion. To be sure, the elected representatives are paid to do that and more.
In this context, the people are obviously concerned about the reported defective Covid supplies and equipment waste during the pandemic. This refers to the supply of defective ventilators, the extremely low usage of personal protection equipment and the MySejahtera data breach in 2021. These are clearly important issues that demand debate.
The government reportedly incurred more than RM13m in losses after 108 out of 136 new ventilators it ordered could not be used, some of which were incompatible. According to the National Audit Department of the Ministry of Health, only 28 of the ventilators were considered safe for use on patients.
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Apart from the immense amount of money used, it is disturbing that many ventilators that were meant to help ease the pain of sufferers, if not save lives, during the pandemic were found unsuitable.
These are some of the things that require explanation as well as justification, which the concerned public, particularly taxpayers, would want to seek through their elected representatives. The people would also like to know who were the individuals responsible for such a situation.
The opposition, which was the government at the material time, was expected to respond adequately regarding these matters. It is part and parcel of being transparent and accountable.
Running away from such an important debate gives a bad impression of the MPs concerned, especially if they claimed that they had nothing to hide.
By the same token, we would also expect the MPs to debate as soon as possible the billion-ringgit scandal surrounding the littoral combat ships that have not yet been delivered.
This issue is of public importance because it involves billions of ringgit in taxpayers’ money, and it is only fair that the people be given a thorough explanation for the prolonged delay in delivery. Besides, the delayed delivery was said to have national security implications.
It is thus ironic that the Speaker reportedly insisted that the combat ships scandal was “not a matter of public interest” and “not urgent”, when dismissing the motion proposed by Muar MP Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman to debate the matter concerned.
More money has been pumped into the littoral combat ships project recently to ensure the eventual delivery of the vessels, but this government action should not prevent the people from knowing who was responsible for the mess in the first place.
To reiterate, this is part and parcel of transparency and accountability.
There are, of course, other key issues of public importance, such as the questionable management of forest reserves or deforestation, that need to be debated in the very place meant for such exchanges in the interest of informing the public.
Politicians from both sides of the divide should not lose sight of the importance of civilised debate in the supposedly august House.
MPs who resort to hiding behind the standing orders may not necessarily have a leg to stand on. – The Malaysian Insight