Here’s why Rafizi and PH can’t sue Wan Fayhsal over his PTPTN remarks in Parliament

Matters regarding the National Education Fund Corporation (PTPTN) have always been a hotly contested subject in our country. An agency under the Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) that is responsible for giving study loans to students pursuing tertiary education, it is not an understatement to say that PTPTN is the reason many Malaysians can afford to further their studies in colleges and universities.

However, given its ubiquity and how PTPTN loan defaulters are listed in the Central Credit Reference Information System (CCRIS) since 2015, many movements have called for PTPTN’s abolishment. This is due to many Malaysians not being able to get a loan from financial institutions and were blacklisted from leaving the country due to their defaulted PTPTN loans.

Naturally, the issue has also been long politicised in our country, which brings us nicely to the subject at hand. As reported by Malay Mail,  during the recent sitting of the Dewan Rakyat, Economic Affairs Minister Rafizi Ramli accused the Member of Parliament (MP) for Machang, Wan Fayhsal of misleading the House regarding Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) alleged promise to abolish PTPTN in its 15th General Election (GE15) manifesto.

Rafizi called for action to be taken against Wan Fayhsal under Rule 36(12) of the Standing Orders for his alleged misleading statement. The Economic Affairs Minister, who is also the MP for Pandan said that Wan Fayhsal lied because there is no such promise of abolishing PTPTN in the recent PH manifesto.

Following the disagreement, many have questioned why Rafizi and PH didn’t take any legal action against the Machang MP beyond referring him to the Rights and Privileges Committee of the Dewan Rakyat if his statement was in fact misleading.

So, why didn’t PH or Rafizi sue Wan Fayhsal for defamation regarding the statement? Well, there are various reasons why this is not possible and we’ll be elaborating in depth on them below.

MPs have “legal immunity” for anything said in Parliament

The most relevant reason why the Machang MP, or any MP for that matter, can’t be hauled up to court for anything said in the Dewan Rakyat is because of the Privileges of Parliament as prescribed by the Federal Constitution. Specifically, Article 63 of the Federal Constitution states:

From the above, it is clearly prescribed in Articles 63(2) and 63(3) that a statement made in either the House of Parliament or any Parliamentary committee is not liable to any proceedings in any court in Malaysia. As the Federal Constitution is the highest law of the land, this provision means that the Judiciary has no jurisdiction over the matters said in Parliament. Hence, should Rafizi initiate a defamation suit against Wan Fayhsal, the latter can use the absolute privilege of Parliament as a defence.

Simply put, the Legislature is exempted from legal action except if it touches on the matters prescribed under Articles 63(4) and 64(5). Of course, the Machang MP clearly didn’t do so, as he only talked about PTPTN and PH’s manifesto.

Nevertheless, action can be taken under the Rights and Privileges Committee of the Dewan Rakyat, which he had already referred to via Raifizi’s motion.

Political parties can’t sue for defamation

Another reason why Rafizi and PH can’t sue Wan Fayhsal is that his statement was made regarding a political party or coalition. Last year, in the case of Lim Lip Eng v Ong Ka Chuan (as a public officer of a society registered as Malaysian Chinese Association) [2022] 5 CLJ 847, the Federal Court ruled that political parties can’t sue individuals for defamation as they “do not have a reputation for which it may maintain an action for damages for defamation”.

In other words, political parties can’t sue or be sued for defamation as they have no locus standi or legal standing to do so. We went in-depth on this matter in a previous article that you can view here.

Wan Fayhsal did not mislead the Dewan Rakyat

Circling back to the statement made by Wan Fayhsal,  it is apparent that the Economics Affairs Minister erred and misunderstood the Machang MP’s remarks. According to the Hansard record of the 14 February 2023 sitting, Wan Fayhsal never asserted that PH promised to abolish PTPTN in its GE15 manifesto as claimed by Rafizi.

Instead, the Machang MP posed a question to the Minister of Higher Education Datuk Seri Haji Mohamed Khaled bin Bordin when the Unity Government will implement targeted PTPTN loan abolishment for the poor and B40 households. Moreover, Wan Fayhsal also questioned whether the government has the political will to do so as promised by PH in its GE15 manifesto.

Targeted PTPTN loan abolishments and abolishing PTPTN are obviously 2 different matters and from the remarks made by Rafizi when interrupting the Machang MP’s speech in the Dewan Rakyat, the Economic Affairs Minister most probably misheard or misunderstood Wan Fayhsal’s statement for the latter.

Indeed, the Machang MP asserted in a press conference after the Dewan Rakyat sitting that he was referring to the promise for targeted PTPTN loan abolishment and not abolishing PTPTN as a whole. He also referenced PH’s GE15 manifesto which does include the promise for the targeted PTPTN loan abolishment.

Given the context and wording of the Machang MP’s remarks, it is apparent that he did not mislead the House as claimed by Rafizi. Of course, given that he has been referred to the Rights and Privileges Committee under Rule 36(12) of the Standing Order, the matter is now up to the Committee to decide.

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