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When MPs play hooky

Missing MPs in Parliament - FILE PHOTO: THE STAR

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It is unfortunate and concerning that absenteeism among our MPs has reached a point where it could disrupt the otherwise smooth flow of parliamentary proceedings.

Hence, there is a move to call out the MPs who are absent from parliamentary sittings without any explanation. The names of the absentees will be displayed on the House of Representatives’ website for public scrutiny.

How did we come to this? Certain parliamentarians from both sides of the political divide have not been doing what they were voted for and paid to do – that is, to attend and actively participate in parliamentary proceedings.

Voters expect them to discuss matters concerning their constituents, make laws and deliberate on issues of national and international significance.

Some MPs in the past deliberately did not attend the proceedings. In the present session, meetings had to be halted four times because of a lack of quorum. Four times, not one.

Pas deputy president Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man reminded the Speaker to also ensure that ministers and deputies are available for the oral question-and-answer session. Indeed, it is crucial that ministerial accountability is upheld.

It is equally disturbing that certain opposition MPs appear to have absented themselves quite frequently. Such misconduct should not be a badge of honour, especially for those who risk being perceived by the public as serial absentees.

To be sure, this move, which was proposed by Speaker Johari Abdul, is aimed at boosting attendance. The penalty is obviously not meant for MPs who have valid reasons for being absent, such as attending to pressing matters in their constituencies.

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Detractors, however, feel that naming the absentees publicly as proposed is too undignified for these MPs. But then, being away from Parliament without good reason should be enough to smudge one’s reputation.

One suggestion is that absent MPs should have their daily allowances for parliamentary sittings cut. This move should be considered as it is only fair that they only get allowances for the days they attend proceedings.

This brings us to another point: having a respectable spread of attendance in the august chamber at a given time is one thing. The quality of discussion and demeanour of the attendees is quite another.

It is not enough to have full attendance if serious debates are derailed by altercations involving certain MPs who spew verbal diarrhoea, only to claim later that their heated exchanges were taken out of context by their counterparts or the press.

Parliament also gets disrupted when MPs trade barbs or indulge in sexist or racist remarks, which could eventually earn them a suspension of one day or more.

Then, there are parliamentarians who pander to slander, which often gives rise to a situation in which the slandered would understandably become livid.

Sometimes the barb-trading can get so ugly you would wish you had a ‘kill switch’ mechanism to instantly stop all the sound and fury.

The term kill switch refers to a censoring device that would allow concert organisers to cut off electric power should any indecent act occur on stage.

MPs not playing hooky would be much appreciated. Hopefully, their attendance will help foster robust and enlightened debate. – The Malaysian Insight

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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Dr Mustafa K Anuar, a longtime executive committee member and former honorary secretary of Aliran, is, co-editor of our newsletter. He obtained his PhD from City, University of London and is particularly interested in press freedom and freedom of expression issues. These days, he is a a senior journalist with an online media portal
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