On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Bread-and-butter issues should take priority

Not all our MPs are economists or bankers. No one will
blame them if they cannot fully digest the entire speech. But as politicians,
they should be able to feel the pulse of the ordinary people better.

From reports of the proceedings, though, it was obvious that our MPs were
not very keen to discuss difficult issues. Instead, they were more preoccupied
with the ''Islamic state'' controversy.

The issue probably made better news copy – even better political sense – but
there is a recession looming. Ordinary people are more concerned with the cost
of living or the possibility of losing their jobs.

As politicians, a dose of politicking is expected and may even contribute to
livelier Dewan proceedings. But handling the country's economy is not just the
job of Dr Mahathir and Bank Negara.

Malaysians, of course, expect their representatives to raise their concerns
responsibly and debate the Bills seriously and intelligently. But parliament
debates aren't what they used to be.

The speeches of MPs then were better researched and more humorous. Not only did
the politicians then have more finesse, they were also more colourful in

Perhaps, the politicians of that era were more committed to their cause. If
they did not hold government positions, their only concern was their

MPs now, especially the backbenchers, are better off financially; many hold
positions as chairmen of various government agencies and directors in private

Previously, the lack of quorum was a rarity. Coming from all over the country,
many of these full-time politicians looked forward to debates. Whenever there
was a verbal clash inside, those taking a break at the lounge or lobby would
rush into the Dewan.

We cannot expect MPs, especially the ministers and their deputies, to sit
inside the Dewan for the entire proceedings because they have other equally
important tasks to perform.

Parliamentary secretaries are appointed to ease the workload of ministers but
when it comes to policy matters and more difficult questions, the ministers
should be present with the answers.

The malaise seems to have affected both Barisan Nasional and the Opposition.
There is no shortage of rabble-rousers in the Opposition but, except for
religious matters, PAS MPs have been somewhat lacklustre in their participation
of debates.

Still, for all their complaints of insufficient news coverage, the opposition
MPs (45 out of 193 representatives) have received their fair share of the

The Government should seriously consider TV coverage of parliament proceedings.
For a start, it need not have to be telecast ''live'' but we should be bold
enough to air the recorded version.

The Government is understandably apprehensive of such a proposal for fear that
the Opposition would play to the gallery by creating a ruckus and disrupting
proceedings. They, in fact, tried this previously when the Budget was tabled,
knowing that it would be broadcast.

Many Malaysians are sure that attendance would improve if debates were
broadcast on television. They would treat controversial issues with greater
sensitivity, knowing that they are being watched by all segments of

The voters would also be able to find out whether their MPs are good only for
village ceramahs or whether they can shine in the Dewan by speaking
intelligently and constructively.