MPs ‘sing’ in rare harmony Sothinathan remains calm under fire

  • Nation
  • Sunday, 13 Jun 2004


IT is rare for Barisan Nasional and Opposition MPs to share a similar stand in the heat of a debate but when it comes to issues close to their hearts, they showed that it is possible. 

Usually at each other’s throats, the MPs were on the “same side” last week as they shot quick questions at Deputy Natural Resources and Environment Minister S. Sothinathan on the latest developments of reports concerning toxic waste allegedly being imported from Taiwan by a Johor Baru firm. 

Fong Poh Kuan (DAP – Batu Gajah) led the barrage of questions when Sothinathan replied to points raised on his ministry during the debate on the Supply (Reallocation of Appropriate Expenditure) Bill 2004. 

“Why was there a six-month delay for the Government to take action?” asked the second-term opposition MP. 

Sothinathan offered fiery Fong a smile, a gesture that she was clearly not pleased with. 

“Why is the Deputy Minister smiling? The fact that he is smiling shows the lack of seriousness on the part of the ministry in solving the case,” she noted. 

At this juncture, newcomer Dr Wee Ka Siong (BN – Ayer Hitam) cited the Environment Quality Act 1974 which states that if these toxic materials were under a scheduled list, the company should pay to contain the waste to avoid leakage and contamination. 

Fong then remarked, to the amusement of the other MPs: “Ayer Hitam ada kelayakan untuk menjadi Menteri (Ayer Hitam has the qualifications to be a Minister).” 

Sothinathan, clearly looking exhausted with all the questioning, explained that the Government had begun investigations on the matter. 

He also said that all evidence had to be collected before the authorities could take legal action. 

At this point, the familiar Datuk Mohamed Aziz (BN – Seri Gading), popular with his quips and remarks, stood to ask Sothinathan to charge in court those responsible for open burning in his constituency as Mohamed claimed he had all the evidence. 

Despite being the target for the “attacks”, the deputy minister could offer the House a smile and said: “I am amazed with all your concern on environmental issues. Thank you.” 

From serious issues to lighter ones, the MPs shared in their confusion over the names and functions of the new ministries set up after the recent general election. 

Mohamed explained in his slow and calm manner that MPs did not understand the functions of the new ministries and the ones that have been merged. 

The House broke into laughter when Teresa Kok (DAP – Seputeh) complained that with the additional seats formed under the new government, there was insufficient parking lots in the Parliament grounds, a remark Mohamed quickly agreed to. 

“I support you as I share the same problem,” he said. 

Dr James Dawas Mamit (BN – Mambong) suggested that the administration supply MPs with details and functions of the new ministries so that MPs could relay the information to their constituents when they “balik kawasan” (go back to their constituencies). 

At this point, Mohamed said: “Ia seperti kahwin, macam perkataan Indonesia cocok, supaya fungsi and kementeriannya secocok (It’s like getting married, like the Indonesian word cocok, for the functions and the ministries to be compatible).” 

But it was back to opposing sides when Chong Eng (DAP - Bukit Mertajam) tested Chew Mei Fun’s (BN – PJ Utara) sharpness during the debate on the Women and Family Development Ministry’s reallocation. 

The DAP Wanita Chief suggested that the Government form a select committee on “gender mainstream” issues to voice out gender issues to all ministries. 

As the ministry’s parliamentary secretary, Chew explained that they had formed a technical committee to address various gender issues, including domestic violence and legal advice for women. 

To this, Chong said: “I don’t think the ministry officials understand the meaning of gender mainstream, maybe they should be going for courses.” 

Chew, taken aback with her remark, said: “How can you say that? We have had nine courses for our officers to create awareness on policy-making, enforcement and other aspects of this issue. I don’t think Bukit Mertajam is the smartest person in the world.” 

Chew’s retort created an uproar, encouraging the rest of the Barisan MPs to cheer the two women on with shouts of “Lawan, lawan. (Fight, fight).” 

Chong’s response was: “I didn’t say that I was the smartest person in the world but I believe there are people who don’t know anything at all.” 

The male MPs also had their chance to cross swords.  

A fresh-faced Chong Chieng Jen (DAP - Kuching) brought up a Latin maxim during the debate on the proposed amendments to the Malaysian Palm Oil Board Act 1998. 

The 33-year-old quoted “Omnis nova constituio futuris forman imponere debet non praeteritis,” meaning that “unless expressly written, an Act shall not operate retrospectively”. 

Deputy Plantation and Commodities Minister Datuk Anifah Aman did not want to be caught tongue-tied with Chian Jen's citation instead asked the DAP MP if he was a qualified lawyer to be quoting the maxim. 

To which Chieng Jen replied that he was, and Opposition Leader Lim Kit Siang came to his defence by asking Anifah in return if he himself was a lawyer. 

The 51-year-old simply replied: “I am the Deputy Minister tasked to make the amendments.” 

During the week, several sittings had to be extended to until 7.30pm to allow the completion of debates on several ministries. 

But this time round, most MPs kept to their allocated time during debates following the previous week’s advice from the Chair. 

The Dewan sits again tomorrow.  

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