THE focus is on the wrong individual. It is not the actions of Datuk Shahrir Samad which should come under scrutiny but the good MP for Jasin, Datuk Mohd Said Yusof, whose manner of intervention on behalf of a timber importer with the Customs and Excise Department is nuanced with doubt.
See, it is not difficult to understand why Shahrir decided to relinquish his position as the chairman of the Barisan Nasional Backbenchers Club. What he did happens in every sphere of life every minute of the day. It is the natural consequence of losing the ground. It is the natural consequence of going up against convention and coming up empty.
When support evaporates, politicians should step aside for someone else.
When a football coach loses the trust of his dressing room, there is only one way to go. When a CEO loses the confidence of his shareholders, only one decision to make: His date of departure.
When a general loses the respect of the men he commands, only one way to go.
So what Shahrir did last week was normal. In his mind, he had lost the support of the men and women he was supposed to lead. To recap, these were the events which led to the meltdown in Parliament:
The New Straits Times published a front-page report that an MP had interfered in the seizure of illegal sawn timber from Indonesia at Sungai Linggi recently.
He had asked the Customs and Excise Department to "close one eye".
Opposition leader Lim Kit Siang sought to refer the NST report to the Committee of Rights and Privileges. He argued that the matter had to be investigated because the integrity of all MPs had been punctured by this damning report.
Shahrir went against the Government Whip and supported the motion. Keenly aware that they are forbidden to support any Opposition-sponsored motion, the Barisan Nasional MPs left the maverick politician in no-man's land.
He knew what he was doing and the risks involved but figured that he needed to follow his conscience.
He told the NST: "I felt I needed to face the issue. All this while the Opposition had been criticising the BN MPs, saying that we are not serious about corruption and integrity. That we are of third-class mentality and don't walk the talk.
"I felt that if we reject the motion, we are giving another issue to the Opposition to pick on. It was also to bring to the committee the issue of proper conduct of MPs when dealing with government departments.
"At present, there is no such thing. That is why we see cases of the police and district officers being approached for 'help' and hospitals asked not to conduct post-mortems. Unless there is a dos and don'ts for MPs on this matter, there will be more problems.
"That's why this is an important issue to discuss... I was willing to face the consequences as we need to show that there are BN members who are for integrity. So if they want to discipline me, it's not a problem as I can discipline myself first."
He disciplined himself by resigning as chairman of the BBC. Hard to argue with the way things turned out for the man who has livened up Parliament's proceedings with acerbic gems and who has carved a name for himself by being unconventional.
He knew he was taking a gamble by going against a direct order not to support an Opposition motion. He knew he was taking a big chance by believing that his colleagues in the House were on the same page.
Is he guilty of poor judgment? Maybe. Does he deserve to be punished further? Definitely not. Should we continue debating his actions? No.
So, what should Malaysians focus on? How about starting by putting the action of the MP for Jasin under the microscope? He has already been cleared by Datuk Seri Mohd Nazri Abdul Aziz, the de facto Law Minister.
"I believe the Jasin MP is not wrong in what he did. We are called upon every day for help by our constituents. I also do that as an MP," said Nazri.
"For example, someone gets arrested by the police in my constituency, he comes to my office for help. I go and mitigate on his behalf with the OCPD. Is that obstructing the authorities from doing their job? If the Jasin MP is guilty, then all MPs are guilty of this ...trying to help constituents."
He is right, of course. Elected representatives appeal and mitigate on behalf of their constituents. They ask for less stiff sentences. They ask licensing boards to re-look applications.
But what they should not do is ask the authorities to look the other way and then maul government agencies in the House on patchy enforcement.
This is what Said said about his intervention:
He said that he asked the Malacca Customs and Excise office to "close one eye" in a case involving the import of sawn timber which had breached the regulations.
"I went there to appeal on behalf of an agent who had approached me. I appealed to Customs officials not to seize the timber, just compound the matter. The allowed size is 60 inches but if it was slightly more than that, just close one eye-lah, that's common."
The Malaysian Timber Industrial Board only allows the import of sawn timber with a cross-section of less than 60 inches, but the Jasin MP argued that if there are holes in the timber, leniency should be allowed if the cross-section is slightly more than the stipulated size. He claimed that it was "not a big matter", adding, "It is normal matter.
"It is like you're driving on the highway where the speed limit is 110kph. But you drive at 150kph, and you're stopped by the police. What would you do? You will say 'please, sir'."
When asked whether he went to the Customs office in his capacity as an MP, he replied: "That's up to their interpretation."
You know what is the most troubling aspect of this episode? The fact that Said did not believe that he crossed the line when he asked the Customs officials not to uphold the law.
There is a world of difference between asking someone to close one eye and offering mitigating circumstances for why a course of action should not be taken. When lawyers mitigate on behalf of their clients in a courtroom, they don't tell the judge to "close one eye".