Rafidah in a tight corner

  • Nation
  • Saturday, 24 Sep 2005

ONE of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s favourite TV shows is the popular 1980s British sitcom, Yes Minister, about a thick-eared Tory politician Jim Hacker, who by the miracles of the democratic process became the Minister for Administrative Affairs. 

In one episode, the politician, played by Paul Eddington, told his wife that he was not worried about what his constituents were complaining about. 

Hacker said he only had to face the people once every five years but he was scared of his fellow MPs, who would query and grill him in Parliament. 

“It’s the question time I am worried. The public can vote you out every five years but the backbenchers can get you out by the end of the week,” said the panicky politician to his wife Annie in one episode. 

UNDER THE SPOTLIGHT: Rafidah fielding questions from reporters recently.Her absence from the Dewan Rakyat sitting has angered fellow Cabinetmembers. — Bernamapic

Like Pak Lah, former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and other Malaysian leaders also watched the long-running political satire. 

International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz had obviously not taken seriously the one-hour allocation for questions and answers when the Dewan Rakyat sat from Monday to Thursday. 

On Thursday, there were resentment and anger from fellow Cabinet members and Barisan Nasional backbenchers when she did not attend the sitting to reply to the MPs on the controversial Approved Permit (AP) issue to import cars. 

It did not help that she decided to reveal the names of MPs who had received APs, with the elected representatives saying it was a move to arm-twist them into not speaking up on the issue. 

As far as the MPs were concerned, she should have been there to face them but rightly or wrongly, she chose to snub them.  

They told the press in no uncertain terms how they felt, and certainly did not care if she was away on a trade mission. 

Her absence could well be a turning point in her political career, with many now saying that her Cabinet position was untenable and that her holding to her position stubbornly would only hurt the Government. 

Just a few months ago, she was heckled and booed by Umno members at the party general assembly over the AP controversy.  

If that was not enough, she also ended up having an exchange of words, to put it mildly, with some of her fellow Cabinet members.  

One news report had it that she sniped at a minister who was smiling when the hot topic was brought up while another colleague was reportedly told to take care of his ministry first. 

Her colleagues described her as “combative”, “confrontational” and “abrasive” and one minister reportedly said the longest serving Miti minister was dismissive of anyone who disagreed with her. 

At the core of the controversy are the unanswered questions on the huge allocation of APs to a few individuals.  

Of the 67,000 APs issued this year, more than 28,000 went to Tan Sri Nasimuddin SM Amin, Datuk Syed Azman Syed Ibrahim, Datuk Mohd Haniff Abdul Aziz and Datuk Azzuddin Ahmad.  

The ministers felt Rafidah had not replied to several crucial issues on which they wanted answers. 

To put it bluntly, her integrity as a minister has been questioned at all levels and now, MPs from both sides of the benches, have spoken up openly against her with Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Nazri Abdul Aziz slamming her for not turning up to field questions on the AP issue. 

On Thursday, the Opposition attempted to refer her to the parliamentary privileges committee but what was astounding was the silence of government backbenchers when the DAP motion was rejected by Speaker Tan Sri Ramli Ngah Talib. 

The usual table thumping to signify approval was missing, a point certainly noted by Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, who attended the morning session on Thursday. 

They were obviously incensed that the names of MPs who received APs were revealed without an explanation.  

MPs and senators are entitled to an AP once in their lifetime as part of their perks. 

An irate Nazri told reporters that the AP issued to each MP and senator was not meant for them to resell for financial gain but for their own individual use.  

He said what probably raised the hackles of the MPs most was that Rafidah’s name was not on the list. 

In fairness to Rafidah, it was a question from Opposition Leader Lim Kit Siang and she was merely providing a written reply.  

The public are actually interested in knowing which MPs have enjoyed such a perk but it would mean a lot to these elected representatives if her ministry took the trouble to explain it was only a one-off thing. 

But there is now a new dimension to the issue – Rafidah has stayed away from two Cabinet meetings chaired by Najib, although the Deputy Prime Minister has downplayed this sportingly. 

In August, she did not turn up for a Cabinet meeting where she was supposed to explain the AP issue, saying she was sick and needed treatment for a knee problem.  

On Wednesday, Rafidah was again absent from the Cabinet meeting chaired by Najib, This time, she is away in the United States on a trade mission. 

She should have turned up at the Dewan Rakyat to face the MPs, who are the people’s representatives, and to clear whatever doubts they might have.  

While the minister could have been on an important mission for Malaysia but the Dewan Rakyat is the most important forum. 

The perception now is that she had run away from the MPs or she had decided to ignore them. Either way, it’s bad for her image and reputation. The Government needs to move away from the AP issue. 

Despite the setting up of a committee, headed by the Prime Minister, to review and decide on all issues related to APs, the issue has not gone away.  

It has taken up too much of government time and attention. 

Rafidah has got herself into a corner because of her own doing. Worse, while she has put the Government in a tight spot she may have put her Cabinet job on the line now.  

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