On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Comedy takes court

Why seek rib-tickling fun only in predictable spots when they can also be found in unexpected places – like Dewan Rakyat.

IF Bintulu Member of Parliament Datuk Seri Tiong Kin Seng intended to grab the headlines, then the Gabungan Parti Sarawak politician got what he wanted.

DAP lawmakers also predictably dived into the brouhaha in the Dewan Rakyat, and naturally, Jelutong DAP RSN Rayer got himself kicked out for refusing to heed Deputy Speaker Datuk Seri Azalina Othman’s call to sit down.

All this over a silly remark – yes, I repeat, a silly remark – made by Tiong, who asked if Health director general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah feared for his life because of the coronavirus.

The Dewan Rakyat descended into a shouting match after Tiong claimed Dr Noor Hisham didn’t go down to the ground in Sabah when Covid-19 cases were at an all-time high in the state.

He asked if Dr Noor was “afraid to die” and went on to say that “the DG just does news every day.”

“If it’s just the news, even the office boy can read. Why didn’t he go down to the ground?” Tiong said during his debate on Budget 2021 in the Dewan Rakyat on Thursday.

It is strange that Tiong had picked on Dr Noor Hisham for having the daily press conference but did not say the same about Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who also does the same. If Tiong had done some homework, he would realise both were acting on instructions from the top.

Civil servants and to some extent, the media, are always easy targets for politicians. Civil servants can’t engage in verbal spats while reporters consign attacks from politicians to occupational hazard.

This writer also wears the badge of honour for criticisms by MPs from both benches. Police reports have also been made and in one case, a low-ranking PAS member continuously sent me death threats.

I had to lodge a police report, and the Special Branch did a superb job in tracing the sender of those threats to a small town in Perak, but I let the matter slide.

Despite his defiance, I chose to forgive the man in his 70s, who was angry that I disagreed to the setting up of an Islamic State in Malaysia. Credit to him, he eventually stopped.

The police had to visit my home to advise my family on the nature of these threats. There were other threats along the way, and in different forms, too.

So, last week, Tiong chose to pick on Dr Noor Hisham. He could have phrased his grouses better, but he preferred to sound like a bully and made dubious accusations.

Basically, he got carried away, like with many politicians who think they are God-sent the moment a microphone is handed to them.

But tipping the scale, it was a captive audience in the Dewan Rakyat. And reporters were there, too, though they were dozing off listening to the mostly mundane speeches while in search of an interesting story.

Well, the media can always count on the likes of Datuk Tajuddin Abdul Rahman (Pasir Salak), Datuk Seri Bung Mokhtar Radin (Kinabatangan) and of course, Rayer and some DAP MPs to provide comic relief to the otherwise august house.

Without any disrespect or insinuation to anyone, past or present, I have known of many former MPs who banged on pots and pans to get themselves suspended because they had business matters to attend to, including court cases.

I’ve had the privilege of covering the Dewan Rakyat for a long time, even when some of the present batch of MPs were still in primary school or kindergarten.

As an afterthought, or perhaps he was instructed to, Tiong then issued a statement to clarify that he “did not intend to maliciously target” Dr Noor Hisham, adding that DAP MPs such as Jelutong MP RSN Rayer shouldn’t twist his words for seemingly cheap publicity in the alleged guise of defending civil servants.

“Rather, my words reflect the frustrations of the frontliners and the people for the past several months, ” Tiong claimed in a statement posted on his Facebook page on Thursday night.

Tiong further criticised the federal government for drafting “ambiguous” Covid-19 SOPs that have led to the police issuing RM1,000 fines for perceived infractions, such as over-crowding in the front, even when the vehicle only carries two people, the driver and a passenger.

He’s right, but he should take those questions to Inspector General of Police as well as Ismail Sabri.

I don’t recall Tiong speaking about Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Dr Mohd Khairuddin Aman Razali for allegedly violating a 14-day mandatory home quarantine order.

Where was the displayed bravado then, or was it not politically correct to take on a fellow friendly MP, particularly a minister in Parliament?

Tiong also missed an important point – the politicians who campaigned in the recent Sabah state elections broke all the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), and it was their indifference that has fed the pandemic.

Dr Noor Hisham responded saying he’s “not afraid to die” and clarified that he and his team had gone to the ground in Sabah to check on the Covid-19 situation.

He defended allegations that he hadn’t visited the state, adding that he had been there at the end of August to check on the management and preparations prior to the Sabah state elections.

He also noted that Deputy Director-General for Public Health Datuk Dr Chong Chee Keong, too, had gone to check on the situation in Sabah just last week, while the Prime Minister’s special adviser on public health Tan Sri Dr Jemilah Mahmood was also in Sabah two weeks ago.

“The issue that we are afraid to die does not arise. As a Muslim, we accept that death can happen anywhere, not just whether we go to the ground or not.

“What is important is for us to do our duty. Our purpose is to break the chain of infection in the country. We can have our differences, but what is important is to break the chain of infection so that we can save the country from an increase of cases and the death rates, ” he said during his daily press briefing on Wednesday.

If Malaysians expect to see quality debates in the Dewan Rakyat, they can forget about it.

Dr Noor Hisham, like many of his counterparts, have not taken a single day off since March, when the pandemic broke.

Those who know him well can tell you that his daily press conference is a directive. If he had his way, he’d rather post a press release on the ministry website.

Echoing the sentiments of an apt social media message that went viral recently, the cinemas may have been shut down following the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO), but the Dewan Rakyat is still open for entertainment, especially of the comedic variety.

Hopefully, some of our MPs will see the light. I take this occasion to wish all readers, and especially our frontliners who celebrate Deepavali, a happy, blessed and safe one. May the festival of lights fill our lives. Happy Deepavali!