Wee wins respect as Opposition MP


WHEN parliamentary debates were taking place in the courtly but sometimes rowdy Dewan Rakyat after a new government came into power last May, the proceedings were followed faithfully not only by the media, but also the assistants of MCA MP Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong.

These assistants, who are former journalists, also took note of the statements made by Dr Wee in Parliament and crafted them into instant press releases for the perusal of the Opposition MP before issuing them to the media.

This seamless workflow has made it possible for the 50-year old MCA president, a former Cabinet Minister, to be a prolific newsmaker and effective parliamentary Opposition voice – particularly on issues linked to the Chinese community.

After being a government politician of 25 years, speaking on the opposing side with a different lingo is no mean feat. But Dr Wee has succeeded in biting the right policy issues, with the help of his researchers, MCA and private think tanks.

The well-argued statements he has put up against the unreasonable removal of RM30mil matching grant for MCA-linked Tunku Abdul Rahman University College (TAR UC) has won support from the Chinese community, who have benefited from the low tuition fees and quality education of TAR UC for 50 years.

“Dr Wee has worked very hard. He has adjusted himself very well in his new role as Opposition MP. He came to Parliament daily without fail when the Dewan Rakyat was in session – sometimes even when he was sick,” an aide of Dr Wee tells Sunday Star.

Outstanding achievement: Dr Wee has received many accolades from political observers, the public and fellow MPs on his performance as an opposition MP.
Outstanding achievement: Dr Wee has received many accolades from political observers, the public and fellow MPs on his performance as an opposition MP.

While many of his fellow MPs in the Barisan Nasional are still licking their wounds or in denial state after the Barisan government was toppled by Pakatan Harapan coalition led by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in the national polls on May 9, 2018, Dr Wee has long accepted defeat and started his political life afresh.

The former Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department is honest about the reasons leading to the ouster of the Barisan, who had ruled the country for 61 years. This is reflected in his first policy speech as new MCA president on Dec 2 when he said:

“MCA has many shortcomings. Barisan leaders lacked integrity and those in power were arrogant. There was also a power imbalance within Barisan… For this, voters had spoken loudly through the ballot. We must accept their decision.”

In fact, Chinese politics specialist Tang Ah Chai gave the MP for Ayer Hitam the thumbs up for his “outstanding performance” as Opposition MP at a political forum last year soon after the first Parliament session.

“I am still adapting to the new role. But as a former minister, my experience enables me to debate on national policies. And as the only MP from a Chinese political party Malaysian Chinese Association, I am naturally duty-bound to raise issues affecting the Chinese,” Dr Wee tells Sunday Star.

In a two-and-a-half-hour interview at Wisma MCA, the astute politician with engineering background shares his thoughts on national issues, 1MDB, political developments, MCA’s future and Star Media Group.

Q: How has life been like as an Opposition MP for the past eight months?

A: I am still adapting to the role as an Opposition MP. However, I believe there is life in Opposition and it can benefit the nation.

The Opposition represents an alternative government and it is responsible for challenging the government policies and to produce different solutions, where appropriate.

My experience as a Minister helps as it enables me to raise policy questions more easily and quickly. We know the system.

I spend significant amount of time thinking about policy issues especially on education, trade and economic policies, and drafting of parliamentary questions. So, in a way I am enjoying my role as an Opposition MP.

> Do you feel lonely as you are the only Opposition MP voicing out against policies that are unjust to the Chinese community?

I am the only Chinese Opposition MP at the moment. It is quite natural that I have to voice out for the Chinese community. More so, I am the president of the MCA.

In the past, the then Opposition MPs (DAP MPs) were very vocal on communal issues. Now, they are no longer vocal.

I still have fresh memories with all the videos on how DAP “whacked” the then Barisan government. Now, they stay “diam-diam” (quiet). Somebody says they are the “Diam Aje Parti” (DAP).

Surprisingly, they dare not say anything on many issues.

When they were in Opposition, DAP MPs used to say they would “keep Mahathir in check”, but now they are silent.

Going forward, the better approach for me is to argue and voice out policy issues from a larger picture and perspective. I will look at issues affecting Malaysians as a whole, instead of through racial lens.

For example, on the recognition of the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC), it is not true that it is simply a Chinese issue just because the majority of students are Chinese. We can view this as an education policy issue – whether the government should give freedom to parents to choose or we should dictate a single national school system. In East Malaysia, there are many non-Chinese studying at Chinese independent schools.

> As Chinese voters had chosen to support Harapan, do you feel you should give up hope on the community and close shop?

This is democracy. We must admit our past shortfalls and hopefully, we can perform better next time.

There are ups and downs in politics. You cannot just abandon the supporters, your members and close shop.

Throwing in the towel is not an option in politics. (Prime Minister) Dr Mahathir said MCA should close shop. But in a true democracy, we should allow a two-party system.

Dr Mahathir recently said he doesn’t want two-thirds majority in Parliament. He wants a strong Opposition. But by telling MCA to close shop, he is not walking his talk. A vote for MCA means you will have better checks and balances, to make sure the government is in check.

> Do you think you have done a good job so far as an Opposition MP?

First of all, this question should be directed to the public for them to make assessment. Nevertheless, I have done my best. It is not easy to adapt but I managed to adjust.

It is not easy for one person to fight so many people, with all kinds of insults, screaming and shoutings in Parliament.

I will continue to speak out in Parliament. We need to ensure the government deliver on its promises. A promise is a promise. If you have promised but you cannot deliver now, don’t blame us (the former government).

> What type of issues will continue to haunt the nation?

Ultimately, it is the economic issues.

At the moment, weak commodity prices such as that of palm oil, rubber and crude oil, is already hurting the nation, as they reduce the disposable income of consumers, especially in the rural areas. Our purchasing power is low.

The Barisan government had taken steps to diversify revenues to counter the persistent decline in crude oil and commodity prices. However, in Budget 2019, the Pakatan government relied on special dividend of RM30bil from Petroliam Nasional Bhd (Petronas) to cover the budget shortfall. This is not sustainable and may drain Petronas’s ability to invest into the future.

The Pakatan coalition has made many promises during the GE, including ratifying the International Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Icerd), recognising Unified Examination Certificate (UEC), abolishment of highway toll. I hope they can make good all their promises.

We have already seen quite a few “U-turns” in their electoral promises. This is not healthy and may cause the public to lose faith in our electoral system.

> What is your assessment on the performance of the present government, and the Opposition bench as a whole?

It is quite obvious that the current government is still learning how to govern. Ministers are giving conflicting remarks and they continue to criticise each other. This is worrying.

And one minister can ask the other colleague to step down, knowing that the prerogative is with the Prime Minister. This is strange.

For the Opposition, many MPs are adapting to the new job function. Their performances are mixed. There is still room for improvement.

On the Opposition bench, it has been quite fluid during the past eight months. Seats are still reducing. What I can say is: those remaining in the Opposition are doing our best to keep the government accountable.

Respected MPs include Umno’s Khairy Jamaluddin, who knows when to speak, and Independent MP Datuk Seri Dr Ronald Kiandee.

Datuk Seri Ahmad Maslan is the most hardworking. Tan Sri Annuar Musa is a good speaker and he knows how to ask provocative question in a diplomatic way. Pendang MP Awang Hashim and Kota Baru MP Datuk Takiyuddin Hassan from PAS are also good.

Notwithstanding his alleged involvement in 1MDB, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has raised relevant issues due to his experience as prime minister. He did a lot of homework and research for his statements in Parliament.

> As the new president of MCA, what are your plans to win back voters’ support?

We are now reorganising the party. We have to determine the number of genuine members. On record, we have over one million members. But we need active, genuine members.

When you are the ruling government, people join you. When you are not in the government, like after GE14, people dump you. But still, we will serve as a constructive Opposition party and do what is necessary for the country.

We must provide leadership in championing the good cause for the people, especially the bread and butter issues. The abolishment of death penalty, tolls, commodity prices, third national car are in focus.

> The MCA has been criticised for not leaving Barisan. Why are you pushing for the dissolution of Barisan instead?

The MCA general assembly has passed a resolution for the dissolution of Barisan and for a more effective coalition to be forged. The Central Committee has started the process of dissolving Barisan via a letter to Barisan.

MCA cannot unilaterally dissolve Barisan. Decisions must be done by consensus.

As the Opposition, we must strive hard to be self reliant and work independently to make ourselves relevant to all races. At the same time, we have to be realistic that we need strategic partners. We have to keep our options open in forging inter-ethnic and inter-party collaboration on common goals and ideologies.

But most importantly, we have to rebuild ourselves and become a force to be reckoned with.

Yes, Barisan’s survival is a big challenge, and the political situation is uncertain. Dr Mahathir is a master architect in politics. In the next few months, we expect to see more interesting political developments in the country.

> So far after GE14, MCA has not stated any stand on 1MDB. What is your stand?

On Aug 16, 2018, I was one of the few MPs hanging around the chamber in Parliament. At that time, they passed a motion for us to allow Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and Auditor General to investigate 1MDB case and make all reports open. I was there and supported it.

My stand is clear: the country needs to recover whatever assets belonging to Malaysia. By all means, do it.

If anyone has committed any wrongdoing, go to court and charge them. I will respect the entire process of the court. Those convicted of wrongdoing should be punished, regardless of their position.

Also, didn’t DAP call for a RCI on the 1MDB? I fully support an RCI on the issue. Will Pakatan initiate an RCI now?

> Did MCA receive any 1MDB money?

As far as I’m concerned, since the day I became deputy president of MCA on Dec 21, 2013, there is not a single sen received. Before that, I was not privy to such information.

Only the then MCA president can give the answer. (Tan Sri Chua Soi Lek recently said Najib had given RM16.5mil to MCA for the 2013 general election but Chua did not know the origin).

> If the government can prove 1MDB money was given to MCA, will MCA return the money to the Government?

If there is legal basis and proof, there is no issue of MCA returning the money, if any.

> During GE14, did Najib give any money to MCA for election purpose?

Former president Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai was the one who raised funds for GE14. For MCA, it has been the practice that the president has to raise money for elections.

> Will MCA give up its 43% control of the Star Media Group amid pressure on political parties to let go media assets?

No. The Star newspaper (the group’s main asset) is not a party newspaper.

There should be balanced views. It is okay to invite Ministers to have interviews by Star’s radio station 988 and the paper. You need to report the government’s news too.

The Star Media is an investment. We want it to be a profitable group. The MCA expects to receive dividends. No point just publishing news only about MCA, people won’t read.

We want The Star to be professionally managed. Issues covered must be timely and relevant. Currently, there are columnists of various backgrounds giving wide spectrum of views. It can be very objective.

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Politics , Face to face , Wee Ka Siong