Umno MPs briefly abandon Parliament after Speaker won’t haul up Guan Eng over ‘robbery’ remark

Members of the Opposition stage a walkout at the Dewan Rakyat in Kuala Lumpur July 17, 2019. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Members of the Opposition stage a walkout at the Dewan Rakyat in Kuala Lumpur July 17, 2019. — Picture by Hari Anggara

KUALA LUMPUR, July 17 — Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob (BN-Bera) led a group of Umno lawmakers in a walkout from Parliament to protest the Speaker’s refusal to cite Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng for allegedly misleading the House.

Ismail previously submitted a motion to refer Lim to the Rights and Privileges Committee after the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) found no evidence to support his claim last year that the Najib administration “robbed” the public of RM19.4 billion in consumption tax refunds.

Speaker Datuk Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof rejected this and said Lim had used the words “robbery” and “robber” figuratively to describe how Goods and Services Tax (GST) revenue was unlawfully diverted, which the PAC investigation found to have occurred.

However, Ismail Sabri insisted that the terms “robbery” and “robber” have specific legal meanings as contained in the Penal Code and was adamant that Lim must be cited for misleading federal lawmakers.

“So the accusation of robbery is wrong because the money was still in an account but not the GST trust account but in a Consolidated Account. That means this was an accounting and procedural mistake. Robbery means the money was used,” said Ismail Sabri.

Mohamad Ariff then told Ismail Sabri to submit a motion to further debate the PAC findings if he wanted to go into more detail.

However, Ismail Sabri demanded for the Speaker to state whether he agreed that there was a “robbery” as Lim alleged, which prompted angry responses from government backbenchers such as RSN Rayer (PH-Jelutong) and Khoo Poay Tiong (PH-Kota Melaka)

Both began referring to the House's Standing Orders to state that the Speaker’s decisions are final, triggering a row with the Umno bloc.

Rembau MP Khairy Jamaluddin speaks during the Parliament sitting at Dewan Rakyat, July 17, 2019. ― Picture by Hari Anggara
Rembau MP Khairy Jamaluddin speaks during the Parliament sitting at Dewan Rakyat, July 17, 2019. ― Picture by Hari Anggara

Khairy Jamaluddin (BN-Rembau) said that based on the auditor-general's statement to the PAC, Lim had made an incorrect statement when he said the RM19.4 billion amount he cited was verified by the relevant authorities.

“I refer to the PAC report. In the report by the National Audit Department, up till April 10, 2019 the status of approved but unpaid refund is RM6 billion, not RM19.4 billion. That's why the GST money was used for other developments.

“If there was an admission from the National Audit Department that the amount has already been cleared and the verified input tax credit was at RM6 billion, why should the money be in the GST (refund) account instead of being used to help with other cash flows?” he said.

He said such an error was enough to justify referring the finance minister to the Rights and Privileges Committee.

Members of the Opposition stage a walkout at the Dewan Rakyat in Kuala Lumpur July 17, 2019. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Members of the Opposition stage a walkout at the Dewan Rakyat in Kuala Lumpur July 17, 2019. — Picture by Hari Anggara

Mohamad Ariff maintained that a new motion must be submitted to debate the PAC report in further detail but this caused further arguments among the federal lawmakers, with some saying Lim should at least retract his “robbery” remark.

All Umno lawmakers present then began exiting the House in protest save for Datuk Seri Ismail Mohamed Said (BN-Kuala Krau) and Tan Sri Noh Omar (BN-Tanjong Karang) who stayed to continue debating the matter with the Speaker.

Ismail Mohamed referred to Standing Orders 36 (4) and 36 (6) and demanded the Speaker rule on whether “robber” and “robbery” were acceptable terms in Parliament and whether the minister would withdraw his remarks.

However, Willie Mongin (PH-Puncak Borneo) interrupted Ismail Mohamed's time on the floor, leading to a fresh exchange that ended with Ismail Mohamed calling Willie a “pondan (effeminate)”.

Ultimately, Mohamad Ariff ruled that words such as “robber”, “robbery”, “pondan”, “communists” were unparliamentary terms.

As he was making his ruling, Umno MPs could be seen trickling back into the Lower House after organising a press conference where they called Mohamad Ariff out for alleged bias.

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