When lawmakers play hooky

Mustafa K. Anuar

Speaker Johari Abdul has proposed to display the names of absent MPs on the Dewan Rakyat’s website for public scrutiny, in a bid to boost attendance. – AFP pic, November 10, 2023.

Commentary by Mustafa K. Anuar

IT is unfortunate and concerning that absenteeism among our lawmakers has reached a point where it could disrupt an otherwise smooth flow of parliamentary proceedings.

Hence, there is a move to call out the lawmakers who are absent from parliamentary sittings without any explanation. The names of the absentees will be displayed on the Dewan Rakyat’s 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.

There had been MPs in the past who 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 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 lawmakers appear to have absented quite frequently. Such misconduct should not be a badge of honour, especially for those who risk being perceived by the general public as serial absentees.

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

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

There is also a suggestion that absent MPs should have their daily allowances for parliamentary sitting be cut. It 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 in a given time is one thing. The quality of discussion and demeanour of the attendees are quite another.

It is not enough to have full attendance if serious debates are derailed by altercations involving certain MPs who, for instance, spew verbal diarrhoea, only later to claim 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 that 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 barbs trading can be very ugly that 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 is very much appreciated. It is hoped that their attendance would help foster robust and enlightened debate. – November 10, 2023.

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