THE phrase tak bagi can (not given a chance) can be aptly used to describe how MPs treated government ministries during the winding up of the Budget 2005 debates last week.
The five ministries the Rural and Regional Development, Agriculture and Agro-based Industry, Primary Industries and Commodities, Foreign and Finance were not spared from criticism as MPs pointed out their shortcomings.
None of those who replied on behalf of the ministries, be it the deputy minister or parliamentary secretary, was let off easy when they addressed the issues raised by MPs during the debates.
The Primary Industries and Commodities Ministry and Rural and Regional Development Ministry were represented by deputy ministers Datuk Anifah Aman and Datuk Dr Awang Adek Hussin respectively. The other three ministries were represented by their parliamentary secretaries.
At one point, one could only guess the deep meaning of a remark made by Datuk Mohamad Aziz (BN Sri Gading) when he congratulated Culture, Arts and Heritage Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim for taking the time to attend the sitting.
Even when the Chair limited debate time to five minutes for each MP, the parliamentarians were not deterred.
Many of the MPs resorted to mencelah (interrupt) during the winding up, so much so that the ministries concerned could only utter a few lines before being interrupted yet again.
The parliamentarians were so adamant to get the right answers from the ministries that many of them got up several times to get clarification, so much so that the Chair asked if the questions were relevant.
At one point, parliamentary secretary to the Finance Ministry Datuk Dr Hilmi Yahya appeared to be overwhelmed with the questions directed at him.
Fong Po Kuan (DAP Batu Gajah) took the opportunity to press for a reply over cigarette taxes, saying no other country imposed tax based on a stick of cigarette as stated in the Budget.
It was then almost 5.30pm and Dr Hilmi was asked by Deputy Speaker Dr Yusof Yacob to conclude his reply.
Dont be in such a hurry to go back; we have been paid our allowances for today, said Fong, to thumps and jeers from her fellow MPs.
Replying, Dr Hilmi said he had answered a similar question during the debate at policy stage.
On Thursday, the attack on the Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry was directed at its parliamentary secretary Datuk Rohani Abdul Karim.
When she refuted an accusation from Datuk Bung Moktar Radin (BN Kinabatangan) that the ministrys answers to the problems faced by farmers were rhetoric, the latter turned cynical.
There is no solution (from the ministry). No matter who is standing here, even in 20 years' time, the same matter will be raised and the same answers will be given! he said.
At another juncture, when Rohani said the ministry was going to set up more pasar tani for farmers to market their produce, especially fruits, Ismail Noh (PAS Pasir Mas) stood up, saying:
Pasal buah-buahan ni, kita dah makan dah. Sampai ke tahap kencing manis. Sampai kaki kena potong (About the fruits, we have eaten them. Until we've become diabetics. Till the leg has to be amputated), drawing laughter.
Ismail suggested instead that the ministry broadened its market by stepping up efforts to export the fruits.
Foreign ministry parliamentary secretary Datuk Zainal Abidin Osman was also drilled over the claims by the Sulu Sultan and the Philippines over Sabah.
The MPs wanted to know if the state was in jeopardy of losing itself to one of the claims but Zainal Abidin stressed that Malaysia would not be intimidated by the demands.
At one point, an exasperated Zainal Abidin said: Sabah will remain part of Malaysia forever. It will remain as long as there is the sun and moon.
The MPs also debated extensively on the welfare of Malaysian diplomats and officials abroad, relating their own experiences and views on the standard of living of the officials, some claiming that certain diplomats reflected poorly on Malaysias status in the eyes of the world.
Dr Wee Ka Siong (BN Ayer Hitam) asked for Zainal Abidins opinion on his suggestion that to better understand the problems faced by diplomats, the posts of minister, deputy minister and parliamentary secretary of the Foreign Ministry should go to those who had served as diplomats or heads of mission.
To this, Zainal Abidin a businessman turned politician replied that it was better for MPs and politicians to become ambassadors instead.
The Dewan sits again tomorrow.