(Petaling Jaya, Saturday): The Dewan Rakyat Speaker, Tun Mohamed Zahir Ismail, said on Thursday that the Dewan Rakyat Standing Orders Committee will meet next week to discuss a proposal that the Dewan Rakyat hold sittings from morning instead of from 2.30 p.m. every Monday to Thursday.
The proposal is that the Dewan Rakyat sits for six hours daily from 9.30 am. to 12.30 p.m. and from 2.30 p.m. until 5.30 p.m. instread of the present four-hour sitting from 2.30 p.m. to 6.30 p.m.
Mohamed Zahir said that the reasons for the proposed change are:
If there is any amendment to the Standing Orders, it should be to ensure that there would at least be a doubling of parliamentary meeting hours for every year. I would prefer an amendment whereby the number of parliamentary sittings a year are at least maintained, but the daily sitting hours are doubled from four to eight hours. This can easily be achieved if the morning sittings are held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. (4 hours) and the 2.30 p.m. to 6.30 p.m. (4 hours) session is also maintained.
In considering extending time for Parliamentary sittings, the question of "not burdening MPs and Parliamentary staff" cannot be a good argument or reason, for MPs must be prepared to set an example to work hard for the good of the country and people, to discuss, debate and legislate on the burning issues close to the heart of the people.
I am however quite disturbed by the manner of the origination of the proposal, as it has been reported that this proposal had already been taken to the Cabinet and received Cabinet approval.
It is a matter of grave concern that this proposal is not coming from the Standing Orders Committee but from the Cabinet which is a violation of the very important parliamentary principle and convention, that Parliament must decide its own procedures and be judge of its due observance.
It is precisely because Parliament is not allowed to decide its own procedures and be judge of its due observance that the Malaysian Parliament has degenerated into a "rubber stamp" or "department" of the Executive, when it should be the other way round under the principle of Executive accountability to Parliament!
Why should the final decision as to whether and how the Parliamentary Standing Orders should be amended be made by the Cabinet and not by the Standing Orders Committee subject to the decision of Parliament.
So long as parliamentary matters like amendments to the Standing Orders cannot be made by Parliament without reference to Cabinet, then the Parliament in Malaysia has not reached its full stature as a mature, independent and sovereign institution.
I am not saying that Ministers should not be involved in the parliamentary decision-making process, which would be ridiculous as Ministers are also MPs. In fact, as the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister are respectively Leaders and Deputy Leaders of the House, they are inevitably the major players in the parliamentary decision-making process.
However, there must be a clear distinction between the Cabinet decision-making process and the parliamentary decision-making process, and in matters affecting parliamentary procedures and privileges, for instance, these two decision-making processes should be kept separate and should not mix!
Otherwise, we have the ludicrous situation that government motions referring Opposition leaders and MPs to the Committee of Privilege for breach of privilege are automatically passed, while Opposition motions referring Ministers or government MPs to the Committee of Privileges for breach of privilege are never allocated time even for debate and decision!
I hope Ministers and MPs understand and appreciate the need to make a clear distinction between the Cabinet and Parliamentary decision-making processes, and when they should be kept apart, if we are to promote a healthy and vibrant Parliamentary tradition and culture.