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He quit after arriving late at the House of Lords: Would our frequently absent MPs do likewise?

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Perhaps Malaysian MPs and ministers’ uninterrupted hold on power has made them take their peers in Parliament and voters for granted, writes Anil Netto.

A member of the UK House of Lords sparked disbelief when he resigned after being a couple of minutes late and for not being at his place to answer a question from a peer.

International Development Minister Michael Bates began calmly enough when he said:

I want to offer my sincere apologies to Baroness Lister for my discourtesy in not being in my place to answer her question on a very important matter at the beginning of questions.

During the five years in which it’s been my privilege to answer questions from this dispatch box on behalf of the government, I’ve always believed that we should rise to the highest possible standards of courtesy and respect in responding on behalf of the government to the legitimate questions of the legislature.

Then came the shocker:

I am thoroughly ashamed at not being in my place and therefore I shall be offering my resignation to the prime minister . . . with immediate effect.

He then left the house, leaving behind stunned peers, some of whom exclaimed in disbelief, “No! No!”

A friend of mine wrote to me: “Can this (a resignation for arriving late in Parliament) happen here?”

“In your dreams,” I replied, as long as there is no change.

Here, we have members of Parliament, even ministers, absenting themselves even during crucial votes or when they should be in the house to provide an answer or explanation.

Of course, for Bates to resign over being slightly late on this occasion was a bit drastic. “But it shows his character, his sense on duty and accountability; his humility; and sense of shame even at such a minor infraction,” said a KL-based political observer. “It is an example of the real meaning of leadership, which is to serve and not lord (pun intended) it over others.”

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Never mind slight tardiness, not a few of our members of Parliament and ministers are frequently absent altogether or missing from the house, inexplicably unavailable to personally answer questions related to their portfolios. “With their sense of entitlement, arrogance lack of accountability, they are the polar opposites of Bates,” he said.

Perhaps these Malaysian ministers and MPs’ uninterrupted hold on power has made them take their peers in Parliament and voters for granted.

Postscript: Bates was later persuaded to remain in his post.

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