It was a week of cows and rare earth, along with sprinkles of Israel.
Many things discussed in the second week of Parliament’s first sitting this year revolved around these topics.
Early on in the week, there was some confusion as to whether the RM250m National Feedlot Corporation (NFCorp) bovine scandal – now a pending court case – could be debated in the Dewan Rakyat.
Citing sub-judice, House Speaker Pandikar Amin Mulia threw out an emergency motion to debate the subject. He later granted some leeway for MPs to talk about the beefy issue, so long as they didn’t touch on the court case.
Still, the Speaker determined that it was difficult to determine what was sub-judice and what wasn’t.
Parliament’s own investigators – the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) – would hit a snag over the case on Tuesday when NFCorp directors decided not to show for a scheduled interview.
Instead, the company chose to dispatch its human resources manager and two lawyers. The meeting between the two parties would only last for a mere 30 minutes, with the lawyers deflecting most questions with the shield of sub-judice.
The duo added that that the PAC did not directly request for NFCorp to show up, and chose to rely on the Agriculture and Agro-based Industries Ministry to send an invitation.
Undeterred, the PAC said that it would continue to delve into the scandal, but would ultimately stay away from the court case.
Lynas and Bukit Merah
Towards the middle of the week, Gebeng’s Lynas rare earth plant came to dominate much of the debates in the Dewan Rakyat.
A motion was tabled to create a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) that would then study the plant’s safety standards.
The matter was hotly debated in the House, causing Barisan Nasional MPs to attack Pakatan Rakyat for relying on emotions to champion their opposition to the plant.
Both BN and BN-friendly Independent MPs -such as Pasir Mas’s Ibrahim Ali- accused Pakatan for playing up the issue, especially with the general election seemingly just around the corner.
Citing news reports, they said that PSC chairman Khaled Nordin (also Higher Education Minister) had already made up his mind over Lynas before any inspections of the plant had even started.
Kuala Krai MP (PAS) Hatta Ramli said: “Early on, he (Khaled) has said that he wants to change the negative perception to a positive one. It means that he has made up his mind that this will happen.”
A vote would later be called, passing the motion to form the PSC, though not without dissatisfied Pakatan MPs staging a walkout afterwards.
This walkout however, was different from the one they pulled off during 2011′s last Parliamentary sitting, when they left the House before a vote over the Peaceful Assembly Bill was called.
Digging into issues of rare earth however would not be laid to rest, when the House allowed a one-hour debate on allegedly dangerous levels of radiation detected in Bukit Merah.
Pakatan MPs argued that radiation readings there were still high, even 18 years after Mitsubishi’s Asian Rare Earth (ARE) plant had closed down.
Since then, many parties have blamed the factory for alleged radioactive leaks. There were also a high number of leukemia cases in the villages nearby.
BN MPs however disputed these readings, adding that background radiation was not taken into account.
To prove his point, Science Innovation and Technology Minister Maximus Ongkili took a reading near the House that day, showing everyone that Parliament was more of a radiation risk (a negligible one) than Bukit Merah.
Felda, Israel and an angry Speaker
Nevertheless, he announced that he would personally make a visit to Bukit Merah to prove that the place was radiation-safe, after he was done with his business with the PSC on electoral reforms.
At the same time, Ongkili also said that the PSC report on the electoral reforms was expected to be out by the end of next week.
Parliament also saw some strained moments when Bakri MP (DAP) Er Teck Hwa claimed that Felda had been exporting palm oil to Israel.
It became especially heated when Pasir Salak MP (UMNO) Tajuddin Abdul Rahman heard Er implicate Felcra – of which Tajuddin is also chairman of – as part of the Israel-palm oil deal.
“This is not true!” he shouted in English at the DAP MP. “I’m not going to compromise…unless you withdraw (your statement), I will stand here until tomorrow morning!”
Later on, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Ahmad Maslan denied that Malaysia was supplying palm oil to Israel.
Last week also saw Dewan Rakyat Speaker Pandikar Amin Mulia losing his cool with unruly MPs.
Seen in a clearly foul mood on Thursday morning, he threatened to make any noisy MP take his place as House Speaker.
“Maybe there are some of you who are habitual, which means that it is your culture to disturb the sitting,” he scolded MPs present.
It is not known if Pandikar will carry out this threat in the weeks to come, although it has to be noted that MPs behaved themselves (mostly) for the rest of that day, Thursday.
[Additional reporting by Jamilah Kamarudin]