A Budget by the skin of the teeth

  • Nation
  • Sunday, 20 Dec 2009

IT was really a near miss. The all-important Supply Bill (aka Budget 2010) containing a proposed allocation of RM191.5bil scraped through the Dewan Rakyat, approved by a majority of a measly three votes – thanks to the Prime Minister and the Transport Minister rushing back from a dinner.

For MPs of both sides of the Dewan, it was a heart-stopping moment and a wake up call for every one of them that their presence at parliamentary sittings is crucial.

In the end, the 2010 Budget – which had been deliberated at length through the policy and committee stages since it was tabled on Oct 23 – was passed 66 votes to 63 on Monday.

The bloc division vote came about after the Opposition pressed to have it instead of the usual voice vote.

Had the Bill been defeated, the government machinery would most likely have come to a standstill as salaries, payments and allocations would not have been able to be made.

Worse, this could also be seen as a vote of no-confidence on the Barisan Nasional government. If this had happened, the position of the Barisan government would have come into question.

The number of votes revealed that only 129 MPs were present to vote at the time, out of a total of 222 parliamentarians.

It was reported that only five ministers, 20 deputy ministers and 39 backbenchers were present.

Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin were in their seats.

The ministers were Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat, who rushed back with Najib, Datuk Seri Nazri Abd Aziz, Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai, Datuk Peter Chin and Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob.

Of the 81 Pakatan Rakyat MPs, 18 were absent – seven each from PKR and DAP, and four from PAS.

Nazri was the one who sent out a “distress call” to Barisan MPs when he noticed that there was an unusual number of opposition MPs including Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim (PKR-Permatang Pauh), Datuk Seri Hadi Awang (PAS-Marang), Lim Kit Siang (DAP-Ipoh Timur), Tan Kok Wai (DAP-Cheras) loitering around the lobby on Monday night.

Following the call, Najib, Ong, Liow and deputy minister Datuk Dr Wee Ka Siong who were attending the 90th anniversary of the Chong Hwa Independent School at Jalan Ipoh, rushed to Parliament House.

Najib had been in his batik when he reached the Parliament parking area but changed into his suit before walking into the Chambers.

Datuk Seri Sulaiman Abdul Rahman Abd Taib, who had recently resigned as Deputy Tourism Minister, also ran into the Dewan, amid shouts from the Opposition who taunted: “Sudah resign, tak boleh undi (You have resigned, you can’t vote)”, although he had every right to do so.

Deputy Ministers M. Saravanan and Datuk Johari Baharum were jeered at as they missed the first round of bloc division vote – called to approve allocations for the Home Ministry following debate at committee stage.

This bit was approved by just one vote – 64 votes to 63.

Opposition MPs groaned in disbelief after hearing the vote results by Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia.

This was the second time whereby a Bill was passed by a mere vote. In June, the DNA Bill was also passed 48-47.

This year alone, the Opposition has called for bloc division vote several times but these had involved amendments to bills and to approve motions.

But such a move had never been made on the Supply Bill which sees to the Government’s expenditure next year.

Pandikar Amin was clearly frustrated with the discipline of MPs, saying: “It’s a lesson for both sides.”

He also described the Opposition’s move to call for such a vote “ungentlemanly”, saying they were merely taking advantage of the situation when most backbenchers were absent.

Anwar said the close call was good as it would force Barisan MPs to respect the House.

He did not reply when asked if this was a pre-planned exercise.

PKR strategic director Tian Chua reminded all that the Opposition now had the numbers to force debate and even “bring down Bills”.

Nazri, who came to the “rescue” of the Bill, said: “We have to think one step ahead. This will make my job easier in getting them to attend sittings. Don’t take things for granted,” he said.

Meanwhile, Nazri’s reply on issues concerning controversial lawyer Datuk V. K. Lingam when deliberating on the Judges Ethics Com-mittee Bill also saw a fiery exchange of words between him and the Opposition including Anwar, Karpal Singh (DAP-Bukit Gelugur) and R. Sivarasa (PKR-Subang).

Nazri had earlier revealed that the setting up of the Judges Ethics Committee came about after questions were raised on judges’ ethics. This concerns the widely-reported episode involving Lingam and former Chief Justice Tun Mohd Eusoff Chin who reportedly went on a holiday to New Zealand together.

He also said that what was deemed as unethical may not be an offence.

“It is not an offence in law for a judge to go on a holiday with a lawyer but it may be unethical to do so,” said Nazri.

Anwar also revealed that he circulated a copy of the high-profile Ayer Molek judgement in a Cabinet meeting in 1995, which began with the now-famous line “something is rotten in the House of Denmark” (referring to Wisma Denmark where civil and commercial High Courts were then located) as he feared that the integrity of the judiciary was at stake.

“The exorbitant fees paid by (Tan Sri) Eric Chia to Lingam in the Perwaja case in the audit report also raised concerns. I had raised the issue in my capacity as Deputy Prime Minister then,” he said.

Nazri had earlier said there were suspicions over the vacation taken by Eusoff and Lingam but noted that investigations showed that the former had paid for the air tickets and accommodation although both were in the same hotel and were on the same flight.

“If you as a Deputy Prime Minister could not solve the case, how can I solve it here?” Nazri asked Anwar.

Nazri then told Anwar to assist the government instead of finding ways to topple it.

The Dewan adjourned sine die.

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