Ground Zero: What’s Next for Parliamentary Reform?

Reform of the Parliament alongside many other key institutions in Malaysia is long overdue. More than the lawmaking body, Parliament is the electoral college that hires and fires the Prime Minister and can shape government policies through legislative oversight.

The Malaysian parliament has seen changes and improvement over the years such as the introduction of the Special Chamber and live telecast of the parliamentary sitting, making deliberations more transparent.

However, more reform is needed, especially the role of parliament in maintaining political stability, enhancing integrity, and strengthening its role as an effective check and balance mechanism to the government of the day.

This should be the National Day present by Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri’s Government for all Malaysians as we will soon celebrate Malaysia’s 58th birthday on September 16.

The current political situation in the country wherein the ruling party is supported only by a very slim majority, is an opportune time to undertake a comprehensive reform such that the ruling party receives the much needed confidence and at the same time, ensuring effective check and balance are in place and the integrity of future lawmakers.

Firstly, to free Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri’s new government from questions of legitimacy that haunted Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s Government, the CSA to be signed by the Government and Opposition should include some key changes to the Standing Orders.

This includes prioritising motions of no-confidence over Government’s business upon demand of 20% of MPs and transfer the vast agenda-setting power from the hand of PM and the Speaker to the House Committee. Ideally, Speaker and Deputy Speakers should all be elected MPs whose party membership is suspended while in office.

Secondly, while fundamental changes may take more time to negotiate, parliamentary reform can also begin with the low hanging fruits such as amending the Standing Orders to introduce online and hybrid meetings.

This will allow the House to meet without interruption even in the event of MPs and parliamentary staff test positive, and also the parliamentary committees to meet online frequently.

Thirdly, a maximum number of Parliamentary Special Select Committees (PSSCs) have to be set up such that each and every ministerial portfolio will have a PSSC to match and provide the much needed oversight.

Based on the existing current number of PSSCs and the number of ministerial portfolios in place, we believe there is a need to establish at least 13 more PSSCs as follows:

NoMinisterial PortfolioCorresponding PSSCs Needed
1PMD – Sabah and Sarawak AffairsFederalism and Decentralisation*
2PMD – Religious AffairsReligious Affairs*
3Foreign AffairsForeign Affairs
4Environment and WaterEnvironment, Water, Energy and Natural Resources
5Energy and Natural Resources
6TransportTransport**
7Housing and Local GovernmentHousing and Local Government**
8Federal TerritoriesFederal Territories
9Human ResourcesHuman Resources
10Communication and MultimediaCommunication and Multimedia
11Youth and SportsYouth and Sports
12Tourism, Art and CultureTourism, Art and Culture
13National UnityNational Unity
14Entrepreneurship Development and CooperativesEntrepreneurship Development and Cooperatives

* To be separated from the PSSC on Agencies under the Prime Minister’s Office.

** To be separated from the PSSC on Infrastructure Development.

With the inclusion of the seven current PSSCs (including the Chair of PSSC on Securities Dato’ Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu) into the Government frontbench and the dropping of four ministers, three minister-level special envoys and three deputy ministers, the current PSSC line-up must be changed, raising the total of MPs without committee from 88 to 91.

Datuk Seri Ismail must take this opportunity to expand both the number of PSSCs and the number of MPs per PSSC (from the current size of seven) to ensure all non-Minister MPs who want to serve all year long get to do so.

Of the 13 proposed PSSCs, PSCC for Federalism and Decentralisation must be given top priority as it would address the top-heavy, one-size-fits-all, over-centralised structure of our governmental system that makes our federalism hollow and obstructs the realisation of the federation promised by the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63).

The PSSC – and the ministerial portfolio in the Prime Minister’s Department – should not be confined to Sabah and Sarawak Affairs because decentralisation should be a national and not regional agenda. While Sabah and Sarawak must always have more power than the Malayan states, decentralisation must cover all 13 states.

There might also be a need of an issue-based PSSC on “multiparty democracy” to scrutinize the impartiality and professionalism of the Election Commission (EC), the Registrar of Societies, the Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM), the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) the Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission (MACC) and Inland Revenue Board (IRB) to ensure such agencies would not be abused to favour or sabotage parties.

Fourthly, the long ready Parliamentary Services Bill should be tabled and passed without further delay to both make the Parliament operationally independent and enable it to meet the demands of the 21st Century.

Through this Act, Parliament will have its own technocrats and annual budget to undertake critical roles such as drafting of Bills and policy research serving all MPs. 

Fifthly, as constituents especially those in rural and inland constituencies need MPs to provide constituency development fund (CDF) for small-scale public infrastructure project and welfare, a Constituency Development Fund Act should be enacted to provide equitable and regular funding to all MPs, instead of counting on the generousity of the PM.

Finally, a recall election law as proposed by former deputy speaker Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said should be enacted to restore the public’s confidence on elected representatives.

We do not support the standard Anti-Hopping Law (AHL) which only strengthens party leaders – instead of voters – vis-à-vis MPs.

As an unintended consequence, MPs may become parrots of their party leaders who can threaten MPs with expulsion from party – one definition of party hopping under AHLs – and the subsequent vacating of their seats.

When the government has a majority, government backbenchers may become apple polishers of the Cabinet and Parliament would be a rubber stamp.

Wilfred Madius Tangau

Executive Chairperson

WISDOM Foundation

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