‘OK for debates, questions’

Chairing the special sitting: Azhar waving as he walks to the media centre outside Dewan Rakyat.

PETALING JAYA: It is a misconception that debates and questions will not be allowed during the Parliament’s special sitting that starts today, says Dewan Rakyat Speaker Datuk Azhar Azizan Harun.

“I have from day one allowed debates. In fact, in my notices to all MPs, I stated clearly and expressly that I will allow all questions, proposals, discussions.

“I don’t know where this perception not to allow debates (comes from). It’s false, not true,” he told a virtual press conference on Friday.

Azhar said several items on the agenda for the special sitting had already been determined by the Prime Minister, which was not unusual and well within the rules of the House.

The special sitting, he said, had been called under Standing Order 11 (3) by Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.

“Only the Prime Minister will appoint the business to be transacted during a special sitting,” said Azhar.

Standing Order 11 (3) states that if the Prime Minister presents the Speaker with a crucial matter or one that is of public interest while the House is adjourned, it should meet at an earlier date.

The Dewan Rakyat will sit for five days beginning today until Thursday and on Aug 2, during which time MPs will hear government statements on the Emergency and measures to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. Ministers will also address issues raised by the MPs.

Azhar said such a sitting was not unique to Malaysia, adding that this was even practised in the House of Commons in the United Kingdom.

He also explained that it was normal to have ministers issue statements to explain matters in the Dewan Rakyat, which comes under Standing Order 14(1)(i).

“There are several ways matters can be brought to Parliament. It can be done through a motion or a Bill and apart from those, there are also statements by ministers.

“In this case, it is an explanation on the government’s measures on the country’s recovery, assistance packages, vaccination, health and more,” he said.

Azhar also dismissed criticisms that the special sitting was held merely as a “cover-up” intended as a response to the King’s advice for Parliament to reconvene before Aug 1.

MPs, he said, would be allowed to ask questions on the items on the agenda, with each of them allotted an equal amount of time.

They would be given their chance according to the list presented to him by the Chief Whip, added Azhar.

“I will follow that list so there will be no questions about me giving more space to one side and less to the other.

“My only hope is that everyone will make good use of the time given,” he said.

Before today, Parliament had not convened this year due to the Emergency imposed on Jan 12, which shall be in force until Aug 1 in a bid to check the fast-spreading Covid-19.

However, in June, Yang di- Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Riayatuddin Mustafa Billah Shah decreed that Parliament should convene as soon as possible to enable the MPs to discuss and debate the National Recovery Plan as well as the Emergency ordinances.

As the special sitting is being held at a time when daily Covid-19 infections are high, extra precaution has been taken to prevent an outbreak in Parliament.

MPs, Parliament staff, liaison officers as well as contract workers such as drivers and bodyguards need to undergo RT-PCR tests before they are allowed in.

Azhar said so far, 90% of Parliament staff and more than 95% of MPs had been vaccinated but added that he would not stop the Yang Berhormat who had yet to be jabbed from entering and cautioned them to be careful.

“The most recent information is that 205 MPs have been fully vaccinated with two doses and 12 others have a single dose. Three MPs have yet to receive their jabs.

“Other individuals entering Parliament must be vaccinated. Otherwise, they will not be allowed in,” he said, warning that there would be a “heavy presence” of police and security personnel to verify everyone’s vaccination status.

As an added precaution, he said ministers and MPs would be allowed a limited number of liaison officers to accompany them to Parliament.

“Ministers as well as the Opposition leader are allowed three liaison officers, deputy ministers are allowed two and MPs are allowed one,” he said, adding that only 80% of Parliament staff members would be physically on site that day.

He said those attending the special sitting must wear masks, adding that double masking was encouraged.

However, he said he would seek the advice of the Health Ministry on how to move forward should an outbreak occur in Parliament despite the prevention measures.

The Dewan Negara will sit for three days from Aug 3 to 5.

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