Lack of time the main grouse


  • Nation
  • Sunday, 06 Apr 2003

BY ESTHER NG

Last week at the Dewan RakyatIT’S the same issue session in, session out – parliamentarians complaining about not having enough time to have their say. 

Invariably, it involves “long haul” bills, like the Budget and the subsequent Supplementary Supply Bills. 

This time round, it was the latter, seeking some RM16bil from the Consolidated Fund. 

Tempers flared and loud protests were heard on Monday when Deputy Speaker Datuk Lim Si Cheng, after citing the Standing Orders, limited the time for each MP to speak to 10 minutes. 

Datuk Husni Hanazlah (BN – Tambun) had been debating the Supplementary Supply Bill at policy stage when Lim made the decision, and having heard that he (Husni) too was subjected to the ruling, he immediately sat down, seemingly in protest. 

The wave of protest against the 10-minute rule from the Barisan and opposition MPs, many of whom were heard uttering: “What can we say in 10 minutes?”  

Others were urging Lim not to use Standing Order 67(5) that calls for the debate on the Bill at policy stage to be limited to one day. The next two days were set for debate on the Bill at committee stage. 

Lim had the unenviable task of pacifying the MPs, explaining that “had there been fewer of you who wished to speak, I would not have had to set the time limit.” 

He then ruled that Opposition Leader Datuk Hadi Awang (PAS – Marang) be allowed to debate for 30 minutes while the others must abide by the 10-minute limit. 

The “storm” did not end there. By this time, MPs were nudging each other out of the way, trying to get to speak first. 

At one point, proceedings were briefly halted when a fuming Kerk Kim Hock (DAP – Kota Melaka) protested, angered that Datuk Mohd Zin Mohamed (BN – Shah Alam) had apparently been chosen over him. 

Later, when his turn came, Kerk argued that Standing Orders 67 (5) should be amended as it was “no longer practical” and urged the Chair to initiate a meeting to discuss it. 

Outside the Dewan, Kerk complained that if the MPs’ talk time was limited, many would not bother to do much research as they would only be touching on the issues briefly and in the end, debates would turn out to be shallow and elementary. 

“This is Parliament. There should be in-depth discussions. What’s the use of having monologues? 

“If parliamentarians are given more time to debate, we can exchange views and spark a lively discussion. We are MPs, to debate is part of our job,” he said. 

Lim, when met, agreed that the Standing Orders on the time limit needed a re-look. 

What’s stopping the review? 

Lim pointed out: “All we need is an MP to write in and call for a meeting over the matter.” 

There are other procedures to follow, like going about the business via the relevant committee. But yes, it can be done. 

“So far, no one did. They just talk about it in the House,” Lim added. 

He also said he was aware that when the Standing Orders were first constituted, there were fewer MPs. 

What with the number of MPs set to swell to more than 200 (currently 193) after the next general election, time will be an even greater asset. 

Maintaining that he had acted fairly under the circumstances, as per the Standing Orders, Lim said: “Had I not limited the time, each MP would take longer to speak. And we have a deadline. We have to work within that framework. 

“If a Barisan MP takes two hours to talk and an opposition MP another two, that is one day’s sitting already,” he said. “At least, if a time limit is set, more MPs will get a chance to speak.” 

This issue, according to Lim, is raised every year during the debate on the motion of thanks on the Royal Address, the Budget and the Supplementary Supply Bill. 

Another point that Lim and his fellow chairmen past and present have stated several times is that if no time limit was set, some MPs tended to stray from the subject at hand, thus wasting even more time. 

It is likely the issue – of the Chair setting a time limit and MPs complaining about not having enough talk time – will surface again. 

As one MP noted: “This same issue has cropped up many times before and is still going on.” 

Perhaps it’s time for parliamentarians, who play a major part in setting the laws in the country, do something about their own Standing Orders.  

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