Tuesday, June 24, 2008

24-06-2008: A big aye for government

by Sharon Tan, Kevin Tan & Pauline Puah

KUALA LUMPUR: The much-anticipated drama on Barisan Nasional’s (BN) motion in parliament to endorse its efforts to restructure the fuel subsidy scheme and combat inflation fizzled out as the opposition failed to get any backbenchers from the ruling party to vote against the motion.
After a six-hour debate, the motion to support the steps taken by the government to ease the burden of the people as a result of the hike in fuel, food and commodity prices was passed via block voting. The government garnered support from 128 members of parliament (MPs) as opposed to the opposition’s 78 votes.
The opposition was hoping to garner support from some members of the ruling party to thwart the motion, which effectively would be deemd as a vote of no confidence against Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
The optimism of the opposition was sparked by the decision of a BN component party — Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) — last week to move or support a motion of no-confidence against Abdullah in relation to the subsidies on fuel and food. Surprisingly, SAPP’s two MPs were conspiciously missing from the sitting yesterday.
In a related development, SAPP president Datuk Yong Teck Lee claimed that the duo were intimidated and hence could not attend the session. Earlier in the day, Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Datuk Shahrir Samad moved the motion, setting the stage for the long-drawn debate.
Among those who spoke were Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng (Bagan-DAP), Khairy Jamaluddin (Rembau-BN) , Ibrahim Ali (Pasir Mas-Independent) and Khalid Samad (Shah Alam-PAS), who incidentally is the brother of Shahrir.
After hours of hearing the views from both sides, Deputy Speaker Ronald Kiandee asked the House to vote on the motion via voice.
At this juncture, Azmin Ali (Gombak-PKR) stood up to protest but was told to sit down.
Kiandee got the House to vote and declared the motion passed based on the strength of voice.
However, Azmin protested saying the process was unfair. He subsequently invoked Standing Order 46.6. By then Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin had taken over the chair and allowed the call for bloc voting, which the BN won convincingly.
(Voting by voice is determined by the loudness of MPs’ voices while voting by bloc is determined via ballots with individual MPs casting their vote which is collected by designated leaders. Bloc voting is not a secret as each bloc leader would know how the individual MPs cast their vote.)

Although the bell was rung, there weren’t any MPs who ran into the hall as most were already seated.

The notable absentees were the two SAPP MPs — Datuk Dr Chua Soon Bui (Tawau-BN) and Datuk Eric Enchin Majimbun (Sepanggar-BN) — Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz (Kuala Kangsar-BN), Tengku Azlan Sultan Abu Bakar (Jerantut-BN), Tiong Thai King (Lanang-BN), Datuk James Dawos Mamit (Mambong-BN), Federal Territory Minister Datuk Zulhasnan Rafique (Setiawangsa -BN), Raime Unggi (Tenom-BN), Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Rais Yatim (Jelebu-BN), Datuk Seri Mohd Radzi Sheikh Ahmad (Kangar-BN), Minister in Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (Bagan Datuk-BN), Nurul Izzah Anwar (Pantai-PKR), Chow Kon Yeow (Tanjong-DAP), Gobind Singh Deo (Puchong-DAP) and another unidentified Opposition MP.

Earlier, Shahrir had tabled the motion in accordance to Standing Order 27(3) where he had explained the oil subsidy restructuring purposes and the various measures, such as rebates for cars and motorcycles that the government had taken to ease the people’s burden after the 41% and 63% increase in petrol and diesel prices, respectively.

The Opposition MPs took the government to task for not sharing Petronas’ wealth with the people. Lim reiterated his call for Petronas to give each poor household RM6,000, which would amount to RM30 billion.
“The money given to the people would result in fiscal stimulus effect as they would spend the money locally and help generate local economy,” said Lim who also continued to question the gas subsidy given to the independent power producers (IPP).
Khairy said the country faces the twin crises of restructuring of economic base and allocation of scarce resources.
He and Azmin traded barbs when he (Khairy) claimed that some of Petronas’ decisions were made while PKR’s de-facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was in the Cabinet.
Khairy also defended Petronas’ executives using private jet to travel to its operations overseas. Earlier in the debate, Lim had questioned the need for Petronas to own a private jet when it should instead fly on MAS.
“Petronas will use MAS if it has flights to Sudan and Khazakstan,” said Khairy.
Ibrahim (Pasir Mas-Ind) brought up the issue of the connection between ECM-Libra and Pos Malaysia and whether Pos Malaysia stood to gain RM6 for every RM625 rebate for car disbursed.
Khalid (Shah Alam-PAS) said the motion was merely an academic exercise since the government had gone ahead to raise fuel prices without any consultation with MPs from both sides.
In winding up, Shahrir said the gas subsidy cost was part of the agreement that Tenaga Nasional Bhd would bear the costs instead of the IPPs.
It gave RM56.8 billion to the federal government while the states received RM4.7 billion in royalty. Shahrir also said Petronas’ output in 2007 was 661,000 barrels per day (bpd), of which 305,000 bpd were exported.
He said 36.6% of Petronas’ revenue comes from its overseas operations.
Shahrir also clarified that Petronas does not own any private jet but leases one when needed.
On the issue regarding Pos Malaysia, he said: “I asked the Second Finance Minister and he said Pos Malaysia was paid according to actual costs. It has already explained to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that during the restructuring of Avenue Capital and its connection with ECM-Libra, Pos Malaysia has gone on to become a GLC (government-linked company).”

BERITADARIGUNUNG: It is interesting to see why Khairy answer things in that manner... as if he is a minister.