Speaker Rejects Child Poverty Debate, Gives Lawmakers Dressing-Down

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Barisan Nasional (BN) MPs will discuss the findings of the United Nations Children’s Fund’s (Unicef) latest report on marginalised children among the urban poor during the debate on the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Muhammad V’s royal address.

  • Speaker’s ruling questioned, challenged to resign
  • Speaker boasts of having a “big licence” to reject motions
  • BN MPs to address child poverty during debate on royal address

“BN representatives will give the chance to debate on it during the debate on the Royal address,” said BN Backbenchers Club (BNBBC) chairman Tan Sri Shahrir Samad.

He said he sympathised with Klang MP Charles Santiago who had his emergency motion to debate urban poverty affecting children rejected by Parliament Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia who said the issue was not of immediate public interest.

At the end of Question Time, Santiago urged Pandikar to reconsider by insisting the matter was serious and affected many at-risk children in Kuala Lumpur, Petaling Jaya and Putrajaya.

However, Pandikar was resolute and he also gave lawmakers a dressing-down.

“When I make a favourable ruling, all are happy but if it is not in their favour, they will rush outside and hold a press conference to question my ruling and challenge me to resign,” he said in the House on Thursday.

He cited the recent example where three DAP MPs – V Sivakumar (Batu Gajah), Ngeh Koo Ham (Beruas) and Nga Kor Ming (Taiping) – demanded that Pandikar resign for disallowing an emergency motion to debate the seizure of the Equanimity luxury yacht linked to Jho Low and questions related to 1MDB.

In a joint statement, the trio had said the Dewan Rakyat should not become an “accomplice to cover up corruption scandals”.

“As speaker Pandikar had failed to uphold the truth, then the most honourable thing for him to do is to resign,” their statement said.

An irate Pandikar reminded MPs that he had absolute discretion in allowing or rejecting a motion calling for an urgent debate.

He said he has a “big licence” conferred on him by the ‘Blue Book’, a reference to the blue cover of the parliamentary Standing Orders booklet, which he held up at the dewan’s sitting to emphasise his point.

“Sometimes, I think there are MPs who believe they possess a big licence.

“Actually, the one who has the big licence (in managing Dewan Rakyat meetings) is the Speaker. Only the Speaker has this big licence to use the ‘Blue Book’.

“If an MP receives a written ruling from me and continues to stand up to protest, I will not hesitate to take action,” he said.

His stern warning came after Santiago stood up to seek clarification on why his motion to debate on the Unicef report was rejected.

Pandikar said that if MPs were unhappy with his ruling, they could challenge it on substantive grounds by way of a motion with two days’ written notice.

Several MPs rose to seek further clarification, including Hanipa Maidin (Amanah-Sepang), who asked what would happen if it was Pandikar who was in contempt of Parliament.

Pandikar warned Hanipa that he would be booted out of the Dewan if he refused to sit down and be quiet.

Later at a press conference, Santiago said, “It is unacceptable to object (to a motion on the matter).

“He does not see the urgency to debate the Unicef report. The Speaker should consider a one-day debate on child poverty.”

Shahrir said BN lawmakers will also act on the recommendations of the Unicef report.

He said although the report had highlighted the poverty and malnourishment of children living in low-cost housing Program Perumahan Rakyat (PPR), a multi-pronged approach was needed to tackle poverty, and not from an income perspective only.

“What I found encouraging from the report is that even though the children are poor, the study found that their academic achievement was on par with the national average level.

“This goes to show despite being in such conditions, from an academic perspective, they are not left too far back,” he said.

Shahrir added that it was important to remember that the poor do not always have a voice.

He said the government had to encourage social groups and NGOs to involve the poor in more social activities.

“We have to seek them out. They are not only poor in terms of income, but also information as they are not involved in social activities,” he said.

Shahrir said the study should not be viewed negatively so that the report’s findings are addressed.

“We are not in denial…we know while the government has executed a noble idea in approaching the issues of the people, which we will refine.

“We would like the issue and the measures to overcome this problem to be incorporated in the BN election manifesto,” he said.

Shahrir revealed that he had recommended to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak that universal childcare should be part of BN’s manifesto.

“I told him we had successfully fulfilled most of our pledges made five years ago, so why don’t we look into pledging universal care for children for the next elections… He is considering it,” he said.

Last month, a Unicef report found higher levels of poverty and malnutrition among children living in low-cost housing in Kuala Lumpur compared to the national average.

The study said the issue was most severe in low-cost flats, where 99.7 percent of children were at risk of malnutrition.