THE State Legislative Assembly session, which concluded last week, saw the passing of the 2018 state budget and three other Bills – one to set up the Sarawak Multimedia Authority, another to establish the Sarawak Research and Development Council and the third to amend the Regional Corridors Development Authorities Ordinance.
It also saw the unanimous approval of a resolution mandating the state government to form a high-level special task force to conclude negotiations with the Federal Government and resolve outstanding issues on Sarawak’s rights under the Malaysia Agreement, particularly those relating to oil mining rights and territorial waters.
This resolution stemmed from a government motion tabled by Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas on the second day of the session – the only motion to be passed by the House.
Eight other motions tabled by opposition assemblymen on that same day were rejected.
Seven were dismissed by the Speaker for infringing various Standing Orders or being unnecessary, while a motion by PKR’s Ba’Kelalan assemblyman Baru Bian to introduce a Private Member’s Bill to amend the state Land Code was voted down by 58 votes to 10.
Incidentally, the sitting on that second day ended at 7.11pm, the latest in the eight-day session, as the House dealt with two Bills, the election of a Senator and nine motions in addition to question time.
Two emergency motions in the second week, one by DAP’s Padungan assemblyman Wong King Wei on the termination of interim teachers and another by PKR’s Batu Lintang assemblyman See Chee How on the issue of seepage at the Bengoh dam, were also disallowed by the Speaker on the grounds that they lacked urgency.
There were some interesting, shall we say, choice of words in several exchanges in the House, notably during the debate on the Sarawak Research and Development Council Bill.
An opposition member charged an assistant minister with having a “thick skull”, although that was quickly withdrawn.
The minister, when winding up the Bill, said of the opposition assemblyman, “He likes to establish himself as a political orator, so can we call him the demagogue of this House.
“He always assumes that we are stupid and we do not know anything, so can we describe him as the omniscient of this House.”
Repartee aside, the standard of debate in the House can still be improved.
It is a pity that our polarised political culture is reflected in members’ habits of trading accusations and generally refusing to hear out the other side, rather than debating on the grounds of factual arguments and reasoning.
Assemblymen need to remember that they are in the House as elected representatives of the people to make good laws and address issues of concern to their constituents.
Shouting down opponents and resorting to political point-scoring is not serving the interest of the people they are representing.
When someone gives way for a question or clarification to be asked, a civil exchange sometimes ensues, as during the Chief Minister’s winding-up speech.
It goes to show that members can behave courteously if they choose and this is usually on the basis of mutual respect.
The lack of bipartisan cooperation on matters of importance to the people, such as amending the Land Code, is also disappointing.
After all, the House has shown that it can unanimously agree to uphold the state’s rights.
Can it not also agree to work across party lines on issues of public interest?
Wouldn’t this be more constructive than wholesale dismissal of proposals and recommendations from the opposite side?
We like to tout the fact that our state assembly is the oldest in the country; in fact it is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.
Can we not also set an example in having a high standard of excellence in debate, lawmaking and cross-party cooperation?