KUALA LUMPUR, April 11 — Opposition lawmakers defended Datuk Seri Najib Razak over his violation of the embargo on the Felda White Paper yesterday, claiming the document was uploaded online without indication of the restriction.
They argued that officials had also made the document available on the official Parliament website prior to the embargo’s expiry and accessible to all, effectively negating the embargo.
Federal Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob pointed that Najib’s personal copy of the White Paper was still at his seat, meaning the Pekan MP could not have known it was embargoed until 11.30am yesterday.
A motion to suspend Najib for three months over the breached embargo is Parliament’s first order of business today and Ismail urged for this to be withdrawn.
“So I really hope that we can have harmony in the Parliament, not to press certain individuals.
“So I propose, because maybe there is a mistake on the part of the government in tabling this motion, as they might not have realised the White Paper was already uploaded onto the (Parliament) website and accessible by the public, and therefore the embargo was automatically lifted,” Ismail said.
The document had been barred from public released until 11.30am yesterday when Economic Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Azmin Ali was due to table it in Parliament, but Najib began sharing excerpts on his Facebook page hours before then.
Among others, Najib had highlighted Felda’s agreement to buy a 37-per cent stake in Indonesian firm Eagle High Plantations Tbk (EHP).
He did so to defend himself over the police report Felda lodged on Tuesday accusing him of misleading the agency into paying over RM2 billion for the stake that had allegedly been worth just RM440 million at the time of the sale.
Kinabatangan MP Datuk Bung Moktar Radin echoed Ismail.
“What is the basis for having someone referred to the Rights and Privileges Committee when the accusation has its doubts?” he asked.
He said the Barisan Nasional (BN) could show proof that “someone had uploaded the same document in the Parliament website, and that person is being accused of spreading that document that has an embargo, in the lower House”.
Bung Moktar’s colleague Tanjung Karang MP Tan Sri Noh Omar claimed the alleged oversight as being carelessness on the part of the minister in charge of parliamentary affairs.
Noh suggested that any referral of Najib to the Rights and Privileges Committee also include the prime minister.
Kubang Kerian MP Datuk Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man said he agreed to have Najib referred to the Rights and Privileges Committee, but only if the the Felda White Paper was not uploaded to the Parliament website, as alleged by the Opposition.
“When it's uploaded to the website, there is no use for us to penalise Pekan, because it is not seen as violating the embargo,” the PAS man said, referring to Najib by the latter’s parliamentary seat.
Tuan Ibrahim suggested the Speaker could just issue a warning to “both sides” not repeat the mistake, including Parliament officials.
Pakatan Harapan (PH) MPs meanwhile defended the government's proposal to suspend Najib.
Sungai Petani MP Datuk Johari Abdul said that Najib will receive due justice if referred to the said Committee, as it is impartial, since it would be chaired by the Speaker himself.
He added that the Opposition must show proof to back its assertion that the Felda White Paper was allegedly made accessible much earlier.
“The issue here now is whether the information uploaded to the Parliament website, is it genuine or not? We have not ascertained that. That's why we have a committee,” he said.
Bung Radin then hit back, calling Johari’s remark the “joke of the day” as he pointed out that the Parliament website belonged to the government and as such the question of disingenuity does not arise.
Beluran MP Datuk Seri Ronald Kiandee rubbished the BN argument, saying what he noticed was the image Najib used was a snapshot of the physical copy of the document and not a screencap from the Parliament website.
“However, what I see that was uploaded by Pekan was based on the hard copy of the book. On April 9, 5.39pm, based on hard copy of book and not uploaded from the soft copy from the website,” he said.
After heightened arguments continued to ensue, Deputy Speaker Nga Kor Ming called for a recess at 1pm.
The debates will continue at 2.30pm.