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The long and winding road to Parliament

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Never in the life of this country since independence has it been so excruciatingly difficult to convene a parliamentary sitting.

Parliamentary sessions have become few and far between since the Sheraton Move rocked the nation last year. To successfully fix a date for a meeting is perhaps already a feat in itself.

It is almost surreal that the resolve of the opposition to go to Parliament for the purpose of work and discussions of matters of national import, such as the pandemic, people’s lives and livelihoods, was matched by the determination of the government to stop them from doing.

One hundred and seven MPs were stopped when they tried to go to Parliament. It was not the building security personnel who refused them entry.

It was the Federal Reserve Unit, which is usually deployed to control street riots, that was assigned to prevent the MPs from even reaching Parliament grounds.

There was a face-off between this unit of the police force and our elected representatives, who were reportedly threatened with arrest if they attempted to cross the line. It seems ironic that Parliament was barricaded against the parliamentarians.

The police later explained that the MPs were stopped from entering Parliament because an “illegal rally” in support of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was said to have been planned on Parliament grounds.

This, however, left detractors wondering whether stringent police checks could have been mounted instead at the gate of Parliament to ensure that only bona fide MPs were allowed in. That, according to this argument, would effectively filter out any troublesome elements on Parliament grounds.

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The result was that the MPs could not go to work, with the exception of Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chair Wong Kah Woh who, after going through much hassle with the authorities, managed to enter Parliament.

Wong and his team held a scheduled PAC hearing on the procurement of Covid vaccines, where Health Minister Dr Adham Baba, Ministry of Health secretary general Mohd Shafiq Abdullah, MoH director general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah and National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency director Dr Roshayati Rusli gave their testimonies.

So, despite the brouhaha and lurking virus, it looks as if work can still be carried out in the august House.

As intimated above, the MPs’ planned trip to the Parliament was in defiance of the temporary closure of Parliament by the government from 29 July, as endorsed by Noor Hisham.

Noor Hisham also issued a directive to close Parliament for two weeks after he claimed there were several officers associated with Parliament who were infected with Covid.

His assertion was, however, disputed by MPs. For instance, Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii, who is also the chair of the parliamentary select committee on health, argued that the “CT level”(cycle threshold value) cited by the health director general to justify shutting Parliament for two weeks was not a metric for public health decision-making.

Besides, Yii added, there wasn’t a need to shut the entire Parliament just to deal with 0.9% of positive cases in Parliament. In contrast, the Parliament was allowed to reconvene on 26 July, when the percentage of positive cases in Parliament was 2.8%.

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If the health safety of our lawmakers is of utmost priority for Noor Hisham, then the question posed by critics is, why didn’t he show equal concern for the health security of ministers who converged at the prime minister’s residence recently? Shouldn’t such an enclosed and large gathering be objected to in the interest of possibly preventing a ministerial cluster?

In the meantime, the Parliament building stands still for two weeks while national politics still rumbles.

Parliament sadly appears distant not only to the MPs but also ordinary Malaysians who are still grappling with the coronavirus and the fledgling economy. – The Malaysian Insight

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