KUALA LUMPUR, June 22 (Bernama) -- Datuk S. Sothinathan has been suspended for three months as Natural Resources and Environment Deputy Minister with immediate effect, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi announced Wednesday.
He cited Sothinathan's outburst in the Dewan Rakyat Tuesday over the de-recognition of the Crimea State Medical University (CSMU) medical degree as the reason for the suspension.
The Prime Minister said he had advised the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin Syed Putra Jamalullail who had consented to Sothinathan's suspension.
He said Sothinathan would resume his post at the end of the three-month suspension.
"As a member of the government he should not have taken the stand to criticise the government. It is a breach of party discipline," Abdullah told reporters after delivering a keynote address at the Investors Conference held in conjunction with the Annual Meeting of the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) here.
The Prime Minister said Sothinathan, 45, will remain as the Barisan Nasional Member of Parliament for Teluk Kemang, the seat he defended in the 2004 General Election.
It is learnt that the decision to suspend him was reached during the Cabinet meeting in Putrajaya, Wednesday.
Abdullah said Sothinathan, who is MIC Secretary-General, could be the first member of the Malaysian administration to be suspended.
Sothinathan had apparently irked BN Backbenchers Tuesday when he interrupted Deputy Health Minister Dr Abdul Latiff Ahmad over a point raised in explaining the decision to de-recognise the CSMU medical degree.
Dr Abdul Latiff had said that those who studied medicine at unrecognised universities were given a chance to practice by sitting for qualifying examinations conducted by the Malaysian Medical Council (MMC).
His remark that some 200 such doctors were Indians and that all BN component party chiefs, except MIC President Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu, accepted the MMC decision, angered Sothinathan, who stood up and said: "We (MIC) are the party in government representing the Indian community...it is our duty to right a wrong when it happened."
He went on to say that he disagreed with Dr Abdul Latiff's statement that the majority of those who graduated from unrecognised universities were Indians.
He said CSMU was given a year to explain several issues raised by the MMC, including the university's acceptance of arts stream students who had failed their Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination to follow the pre-medical course there.
The university failed to respond to the questions, he added.
Sothinathan who also spoke in the debate, questioned the action of the Ministry of Higher Education which issued "tidak membantah" (no objection) letters to Malaysian students who were not eligible to enter the pre-medical course at CSMU.
Sothinathan said he raised the issue because he was concerned about the fate of the Indian students studying at the university.
As of today, 1,157 Malaysian students are studying at CSMU, comprising 581 Indians, 231 Malays, 220 Chinese and the rest of other races.
Meanwhile in Parliament, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Aziz said he had informed the Prime Minister and the Dewan Rakyat Chief Whip, the Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak of what had transpired in the House, Tuesday.
"I have also given them the hansard and recordings on the proceedings to Najib so that he can inform the Prime Minister.
"What happened is unprecedented and he (Sothinathan) had broke rank from the front bench and he was at fault and that is why I think action was taken against him...that is the prerogative of the Prime Minister.
"He broke rank and we have the party discipline...he just broke rank on the front bench," he said.
He however said, Sothinathan would not be referred to the Privileges Committee as he had not committed any offence as a Member of Parliament (MP) and remained as the MP representing the constituency.
"His privileges as MP remains...(but) he cannot answer representing the Ministry in the house. In the three months, his chair would also be moved to the backbench...he would come back after three months," he added.
Mohamed Nazri said Sothinathan's suspension was a cabinet decision after the incident was brought up in the cabinet meeting Wednesday.
Asked whether the suspension served as a warning for others not to speak up, Mohamed Nazri said: "It is not a warning but action taken against frontbench members not to break rank. If you are a member of the Administration, it is your duty to defend the stand, decision and policy of the Government.
"You cannot have your cake and eat it. If you don't agree then you resign and always speak as a backbencher".
Meanwhile, Chairman of Barisan Nasional's Backbenchers Club (BBC) Datuk Shahrir Samad said all BN parliamentarians supported the move to suspend Sothinathan as his behaviour was unbecoming of a member of the government and against BN principles.
"At our special meeting at noon today, we agreed that a member of the administration cannot challenge and question another member, who is giving his reply in Parliament," Shahrir told reporters when met at the Parliament lobby.
He also said MIC representatives at the meeting, while agreeing with the decision to suspend Sothinathan, asked for the government's compassion in dealing with the situation.
Asked whether the move was a warning to BN representatives, he said BN representatives, especially those in the administration, should support the government's policies, and not oppose them.
He said Sothinathan as a deputy minister, should realise that he not only represented MIC but also the government and the BN.
"As a member of the administration, one should not challenge another member of the administration. The party's wish lists must be discussed at a more suitable place," he said.
Shahrir said during the debate, BN representatives were not barred from asking questions or could not be critical of government policies but criticisms must be constructive and not meant to embarrass the government.
Meanwhile, Opposition chief Lim Kit Siang urged the Prime Minister to withdraw the decision which he described as "unfair".
"We ask the Prime Minister to withdraw (the suspension)," said Lim who interjected when Datuk Moh Said Yusof (BN-Jasin) was debating the Private Employment Agency Laws (Amendment) 2005 in the Dewan Rakyat.
During the debate, Mohd Said reminded Lim that he should not intervene, or else he would face a similar fate as Sothinathan.
Mohd Said later said that the move to suspend Sothinathan was a BN decision and Lim should not interfere.
At the same time, Datuk Mohamed Aziz (BN-Gading) also remarked, "An offence comes with a punishment. The guilty party will not say that he is guilty, but to the general public, a person who is against ethics, must be punished."
Meanwhile, when met at the Parliament lobby, Lim said the move to suspend Sothinathan for three months was unfair as the deputy minister was only carrying out his responsibilities as a representative of the people.
"After all he was only speaking up, and it should not be used against him. It should not be a question of just or not just," he said.
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