Abdullah should start with
Parliament as the first institution to restore public confidence and to
uphold the doctrine of separation of powers with far-reaching parliamentary
reforms to make it a meaningful and effective national legislature
by Lim Kit Siang
(Penang, Monday): The new Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi should start with Parliament as the first institution to restore public confidence and to uphold the doctrine of separation of powers with far-reaching parliamentary reforms to make it a meaningful and effective national legislature and the highest political forum in the land.
After 22 years of premiership of Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, Parliament’s stocks have never been lower as it has been reduced to be a mere rubber-stamp of the Executive, with Members of Parliament, whether government or opposition, denied of any meaningful role in the various stages of legislation and policy-making – undermining and damaging the delicate checks and balances vital to the healthy growth of a mature democracy and a vibrant civil society.
Members of Parliament, particularly from the opposition, are deprived of the opportunity to effectively hold the government to financial, policy or administrative account whether because of undemocratic laws or unfair parliamentary practices, such as the violation of the universal parliamentary convention that the Public Accounts Committee should be headed by an Opposition MP and the failure of Parliamentary Committee of Privileges to meet a single time in the past 19 years, resulting in the scandal of the Anti-Corruption Agency investigations into excessive claims by MPs exceeding RM10,000 a month.
Mahathir’s 22-year premiership was marked by both achievements and failings, and in the latter, parliamentary democracy must count as one of the casualties.
In the early years of his administration, Mahathir followed the example of his predecessors to allow Opposition motions to be debated in Parliament, but he became increasingly intolerant of Opposition views over the years, resulting in not a single Opposition motion being allowed to be debated in Parliament in the past 16 years after the mass arrest of DAP MPs under the Internal Security Act in the Operation Lalang crackdown in October 1987.
Even worse, the parliamentary standing orders were repeatedly amended to further curtail and emasculate the already very-limited spaces available to Members of Parliament, particularly from the Opposition, to discharge their sworn elected duties to be the voice of the people.
In theory, the Executive is answerable to Parliament, but the Executive’s usurpation of the powers and role of Parliament had advanced so far that Parliament has become a mere appendage of the Government.
MPs have become so accustomed to the diminished role of Parliament, somewhat equivalent to a minor department of the Prime Minister’s Department, that no MP finds it amiss that parliamentary staff regards themselves as servants of the government of the day rather than servants of Parliament, whose first duty should be to jealously guard the independence of Parliament from Executive or administrative interference or direction. This is one reason why the parliamentary website is such a national and international disgrace despite repeated complaints in the past seven years.
As compared to other Commonwealth Parliaments, the Malaysian Parliament missed over two decades of parliamentary reforms to make Parliament a meaningful and effective national legislature such as with innovations like the establishment of specialist standing committees to allow MPs to specialise as well as having a greater say in the nation’s decision-making process. In Malaysia, the principle of Cabinet responsibility to Parliament has been completely subverted into Parliamentary responsibility to the Cabinet!
Abdullah’s first official function as the fifth Prime Minister – his parliamentary appearance today to table a motion of thanks to former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad – will be incomplete and not fully meaningful without a commitment by him to restore the 46-year Merdeka idea of Parliament as the highest legislative and deliberative chamber of the land, representing the supreme will of the people and to end its present status as a rubber stamp of the Executive and a minor appendage of the government.
Abdullah can either ask Parliament through a motion to establish an all-party parliamentary committee to make recommendations for far-reaching parliamentary reforms in the next three months or alternatively, by Cabinet decision, set up an independent, representative and credible Parliamentary Reform Commission to make recommendations which could be considered and adopted by the 11th Parliament after the next general election.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman