NO ONE keeps track of MPs going out of the Dewan for short breaks during parliament sittings.
The Yang Berhormat are allowed to go out anytime they want to the canteen, surau or even leave Parliament House to attend to some other official duties.
But when Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad tabled the Supply Bill two Fridays ago, PAS MPs were apparently monitoring to see if the Prime Minister and other Muslim Barisan MPs went out of the Dewan to perform their Asar prayers.
This topic was chosen by Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang as the main item in his debate on the Budget on Monday.
Hadi, who had called Budget 2004 an “Election Budget,” had also labelled it Budget Asar after pointing out that its tabling had gone on until the Asar prayer was over.
For at least 30 minutes, he nitpicked Dr Mahathir for not performing the prayer that day.
Hadi was backed by several PAS MPs, with some suggesting that maybe the Prime Minister had performed solat jamak (combining or shortening two prayers – Zohor/Asar or Maghrib/ Isyak, which was permissible under certain circumstances at one time).
Later, a Barisan MP questioned why none of the PAS MPs sent a note to the Speaker to remind Muslim MPs in the House that it was time for Asar prayers.
If they were sincere, he said, they would have reminded their fellow Muslims that it was time to pray.
“All of us in the Dewan were guilty of not reminding one another to pray that day,” said Tan Sri Amar Dr Sulaiman Daud (BN – Petra Jaya).
Datuk Abdul Hamid Abdul Rahman (BN – Sungai Benut) said that had the opposition party been sincere, they would have rectified the situation then, instead of bringing up the issue three days later “and exploiting it.”
On the other hand, Datuk Mohamad Aziz (BN – Sri Gading) said the Budget was probably cantik (perfect) and that was why Hadi could not find fault with it.
“He has no points to pick on,” he said.
The debate on the Budget also gave the MPs the opportunity to raise a host of issues.
Unlike Hadi, who merely talked about the Asar prayers and touched a bit on the issuing of land strata titles in Terengganu, Parti Keadilan Nasional president Datuk Seri Wan Azizah Wan Ismail drew comparison between the national Budget and the opposition’s proposed Budget.
She criticised Barisan, which was still using the poverty line of RM510 for those in peninsular Malaysia, RM685 in Sabah and RM584 in Sarawak, which was introduced in the 1970s.
She pointed out that the opposition's proposed Budget came up with its own definition of “affordable family” – a household with five members and a monthly income of RM3,050 in urban areas and RM2,250 in rural areas.
On the listing of Felda, Wan Azizah said each of the 150,000 Felda settlers' families should be entitled to a share equity of at least RM29,000 in value.
She also sought answers to allegations that the Government had gone on a “spending spree” to buy military equipment, including a Polish tank that was too heavy for the country's soil.
Another interesting point was raised by Husam Musa (PAS – Kubang Kerian), who alleged that the Government had “wasted” a lot of money in the KL Monorail construction.
He said KL Monorail used the same technology and material as the one built in Jakarta, but that the Malaysian Government paid much higher.
“For instance, for 8.5km of the KL construction Monorail, the cost is RM1.12bil as opposed to RM1.6bil for 20km of the one in Jakarta.”
Husam also criticised the Government for setting aside RM1.9bil on the KL International Airport compared to only RM558mil for low-cost public housing projects.
The debate continues tomorrow.