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Opposition’s art of noise

Its ploy of ‘circling the wagons’ shows total disregard for the term ‘wakil rakyat’

IF you’re a  fan of old Westerns,  the concept of circling the wagons should be familiar.

Going by the dicta laid down in blood by frontiersmen and settlers making their way out west, the minute anyone catches a whiff of Native American scent in the air, it’s all hands on deck, six-shooters and Winchesters drawn, eyes zeroing in on any sign of Tecumseh, Chief Crazy Horse and their ilk.

So, going by the opposition’s fondness of circling the wagon every time one of their own gets hauled up by the authorities for any impropriety, one would get the impression that they’re big on Westerns.

In 2009, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) cracked down on Selangor state assemblymen suspected of abusing allocations meant for the rakyat. Opposition members, especially those allegedly involved in the misappropriation of funds, like in the Westerns of old, went on the offensive.

Crying selective prosecution, these reps claimed that the charges were politically motivated. MACC was accused of being the government’s lapdog. Some politicians even resorted to playing the racial card, which was the easiest way to put MACC and the government on the defensive. One opposition demand that bordered on the ridiculous was for MACC to stop investigating after office hours. Soon, the dust cloud stirred up by these wild and oft-times bizarre accusations succeeded in diverting the attention from the real issue at hand.

That same year, executive councillor Teresa Kok, who raised the issue on July 13, asked why only Chinese lawmakers from the Petaling district were being targeted. The lawmakers were Kok, Hannah Yeoh (Subang), Ean Yong Hian Wah (Seri Kembangan), Dr Cheah Wing Yin (Damansara Utama), Edward Lee (Bukit Gasing), Lau Weng San (Kampung Tunku) and Elizabeth Wong (Bukit Lanjan).

The ensuing firestorm and media frenzy that followed succeeded in muddling up the issue enough to make MACC look like it was on a witch hunt at the behest of the government. Soon, it wasn’t a question of whether or not there was a case against the reps; it was about whether or not MACC was above board. The agency’s integrity was once again being questioned.

In stark contrast is Barisan Nasional’s stance when one of their own is hauled up for questioning.

Whenever BN leaders are being probed, the coalition takes pains to distance itself, lest it be accused of trying to influence the outcome of the investigations.

One example is the case involving Sabak Bernam member of parliament Datuk Abdul Rahman Bakri who was found guilty of eight counts of making false claims when he was Air Tawar assemblyman four years ago.

BN assemblyman Yap Soo Sun (Gerakan-Teratai) and Rahman were charged with falsifying their claims in 2008 when BN was still ruling the state. Rahman was charged in November 2009. BN’s reaction to having their serving elected representatives hauled up? Hardly a peep.

An MACC insider told the New Straits Times that a system to prevent abuse had already been in place for a long time. For any project to be held for his constituents, the representative must include quotations from at least three to five contractors and official receipts. The function is put through a stringent verification process — before and after — to ensure that no “additional” claims are made, that no receipts were doctored and that the event did actually take place.

Theoretically.

Almost invariably, should any abuse take place, these reps would plead ignorance and lay the blame squarely on their aides — despite having their names and official stamp with the words ‘Wakil Rakyat’ on the official documentation. Ignorance, Yang Berhormat, is not a defence.

In an age where a grouse or a complaint moves at the speed of thought, and can, at the click of a mouse button, be “out there” for all to see, it’s prudent to remember who these reps are really working for. It’s time we bring the significance of the honorific ‘Wakil Rakyat’ back.

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