Petty politicking takes precedence

Too bad all the people who know how to run the country are busy driving taxicabs and cutting hair.

 – George Burns, American comedian, actor, singer, and writer

So yes, true to his words, Parti Sarawak Bersatu (PSB) president Datuk Seri Wong Soon Koh and his field commanders, Dr Johnichal Rayong (Engkilili), Datuk Ranum Mina (Opar) and Datuk Tiong Thai King (Dudong), gave Monday’s DUN sitting a miss.

His reason: “If the state assemblymen are not permitted to debate other issues during this sitting, then the sitting becomes a meaningless exercise.”

Indeed, there were no debates, so Wong and company saved themselves from being party to a “meaningless exercise”.

So, does that make him a man of his words? You judge that by the end of this article.

Anyway, while the PSB people chose to stay off the sitting, 76 others sat through the session to unanimously pass two Supplementary Supply Bills involving a total of RM681,491,777.

Besides passing the two Supplementary Bills, the House also resolved to refer to the Committee of Supply the First Supplementary Estimates of Development Expenditure, 2020 for 22 sub-activities and 37 sub-sub-activities involving an additional allocation of RM788,900,000.

Such huge sums of money! And merely because you cannot debate them and ngeso pemandei (show off) you think the sitting was a “meaningless exercise”? Whither moral obligations and accountability to the voting rakyat!

In this time of great uncertainty in not knowing exactly when the virus will be defeated, and when governments the world over go the extra mile to protect their peoples, Sarawakians now know who really cares for them and who waves off efforts to lessen their worries and anxiety as mere “formality” and “meaningless exercise”.

The state government has every right to decide what is best for the state and its people amid the Covid-19 pandemic. 

And Sarawak is not the only government that has decided government businesses must take into consideration the threat posed by the virus. In fact, government reactions to the virus threat around the world, though not exactly the same as that taken by Sarawak government, aren’t too dissimilar.

The Austrian Parliament’s plenary and committee meetings have been reduced.

Meetings in the Bhutan parliament have been limited; a parliamentary committee on Covid-19 preparedness gives legislative support to the government, looks at the socio-economic impact of the pandemic and provides the necessary recommendations.

The Bulgarian Parliament has voted to suspend all plenary sessions for the duration of a state of emergency, which has been extended to April 13 for now; the National Assembly will only consider issues directly related to the coronavirus emergency regime.

The National Assembly of Cabo Verde has reduced the number of its meetings and some are held remotely.

Many other countries such as Argentina, Bahrain and Bolivia are changing rules and provisions to allow for virtual sessions and electronic votes.

The whole idea is to limit parliamentary sessions and government meetings to only the most necessary under the present circumstance.

This is exactly what the Sarawak government is doing.

Lest we forget, the Sarawak State Legislative Assembly, established on Sept 8, 1867 as the General Council under the White Rajah, is the oldest legislature in Malaysia and one of the oldest continuously functioning legislatures in the world.

Since the birth of the legislature, debates have always been part and parcel of its inherent features although debates or no debates none of its businesses had ever been proven to be a “meaningless exercise”.

“It will only be a formality to pass the supplementary budgets without any debate,” Wong said to justify his Monday absence.

Last Monday, the legislature not only approved the spending of huge sums of money so that Sarawak can weather the Covid-19 threat and continue with developing the state, but in a minute of silence called to observation by the Speaker, the august House also honoured those who fell victims to the virus and put on record its appreciation for the frontliners who continue to make sacrifices for the wellbeing of the people.

Wong, however, chose not to be part of all this “formality” which he called “meaningless exercise”.

We have a state constitution to fulfil and we have over three million people to safeguard. What transpired in the legislature on Monday did not look like anything that one can just wave off as mere “formality” and “meaningless exercise”.