On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

The public expect their MPs to speak up

They are the ones who spend the first 20 minutes of their
opening address at functions and party meetings raving about the ministers and
leaders in attendance.

Last week, to our surprise, some of the Barisan Nasional
backbenchers stood up and criticised Works Minister Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu in
the Dewan Rakyat when they were not satisfied with the manner in which he
answered questions on the Middle Ring Road 2 flyover.

The stretch of road had to be closed because of cracks in
the pillars while reports from independent consultants showed that the cracks
were the result of a design fault.

The MPs were also unhappy that the minister had
blacklisted the contractor who built the Sultan
Ismail Specialist
Hospital in Johor Baru. The
hospital had to be closed for a few months because of the malfunctioning
air-conditioning system.

On Friday, newspapers reported that the Anti-Corruption
Agency had begun its probe on the newly opened East Coast Expressway following
complaints of irregularities in its construction.

The investigating team, including two engineering
forensic experts, was at the expressway to gather soil samples and carry out
measurements on the four-lane expressway.

Backbenchers Club chairman Datuk Shahrir Samad is right
in saying that MPs cannot remain silent when there are discrepancies and they
are only doing their duty when questioning problems in the ministry.

The people did not elect Yang Berhormats to warm the
Dewan Rakyat seats or to get close to powerful personalities.

We expect them to speak up on national and state issues
affecting the people. They should not waste their time bringing up petty
matters that should be addressed at municipal council level.

We do not want MPs to be embroiled in controversies to
the extent that they get kicked out of Parliament. Neither should we tolerate
quirky MPs who make racial or sexist remarks to get their names quoted in the

Ministers should not take it personally when criticised.
These criticisms are made relating to their ministerial work. As public
figures, they cannot expect praises all the time from the media. Some ministers
cannot even tolerate a little criticism because, as leaders, they have become
so used to being showered with praises.

Well, they had better get used to taking some knocks
because Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has given the green light to the
people to make constructive criticism, which he describes as a blessing.

The Prime Minister said it was a blessing when leaders
were criticised because it meant they had people telling them they had diverted
from the right path or had become boastful without realising it.

It is the duty of ministers, who have access to
information, to explain satisfactorily to MPs and the media to help them
understand the problems affecting a certain project.

Recently, a certain minister telephoned me to explain why
some projects had been badly managed. He explained that his staff were trying
their best to rectify the problems but due to the shortage of money, there was
nothing much he could do.

I suggested that he explain to the media his financial
constraints because he would also want to upgrade the facilities in his
ministry if he had the money. If it is not properly explained, the public may
assume that he is incompetent – when he isn't.

In all fairness to Samy, who has become the target of
many MPs, he has a reputation of personally taking on tough questions from
opposition MPs. Samy may not be the most popular government leader but he has
never run away from a fight.

Some ministers delegate the task of answering questions
to their deputy or parliamentary secretary but not Samy. Despite the ferocity
of the attacks against him last week, I can bet he will be at Dewan Rakyat when
sitting resumes after the fasting month to face the angry MPs.

The vociferous MPs, on the other hand, should not indulge
in "selective persecution" when taking on ministers. Their targets should not
be just ministers from smaller Barisan component parties.

Samy must also learn not to be unnecessarily defensive
and emotional when someone points a finger at bad work. He should not be too
quick to blame it on God when something goes wrong.