commitment that Parliament should not be a “rubber stamp” and to make the
Public Accounts Committee more “active and effective” positive signs of a
serious start to make the Malaysian Parliament a First World Parliament and
a model institution for the 116 NAM countries
- at the first DAP National Consultation on “Agenda for First-World Parliament”
by Lim Kit Siang
(Petaling Jaya, Sunday): The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, made two significant statements in his interview with The Sun Weekend published yesterday, firstly that Parliament should not be a “rubber stamp” and his wish to have “more select committees for bills relating to matters and issues of high public interest” and secondly, his commitment to make the Public Accounts Committee more “active and effective”.
In response to the question “What are your views on calls to make the parliamentary accounts committee more active and effective?”, Abdullah replied:
“I am open to that. In fact, I am even suggesting more parliamentary committees for various policy areas. I want this Parliament to work.
“This means all these committees that we are talking about reinvigorating or setting up must be active and effective. If should also allow a bipartisan approach to some key issues on which both sides of the House can find common ground.”
I take heart and encouragement from the commitment given by the Prime Minister that Parliament should not be a “rubber stamp” and to make the Public Accounts Committee more active and effective, as they are positive signs that there will be a serious start to make the Malaysian Parliament a First World Parliament as well as a model institution for the 116 Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) countries.
Only twenty years ago, the Philippines, Taiwan, South Korea and Indonesia were all dictatorships. Now they are all democracies, and in many respects regarded as more meaningful democracies as far as Taiwan and South Korea are concerned. Malaysia on the other hand has slipped to the status of a half-democracy during this period.
For the past half-century, other Commonwealth and world Parliaments had gone through several generations of parliamentary reforms and modernization while time had stood still for Malaysia.
In fact, the democracy “deficit” in Malaysia had worsened, with Parliamentary Standing Orders amended in the past two decades not to broaden and expand the democratic space but to restrict and curtail the already very-limited democratic freedoms for MPs in Parliament.
Parliament has a lot of catching-up to do if it is to reclaim its rightful place as the highest legislative and deliberative chamber in the land and to play a leading and proactive role to end the Malaysian malaise of “First World Infrastructure, Third World Mentality” which Abdullah had so brilliantly diagnosed as the greatest impediment to the country’s achievement of fully-developed, first-world nation status – involving a radical change of mindset among all sectors of society and the adoption of a “high performance culture” in all fields of national life.
The reform and democratization of Malaysia in general and Parliament in particular has been made very difficult by the results of the March 2004 general election.
For the past few decades, in one general election after another, the realistic battle cry was to deny the ruling coalition its unbroken two-thirds parliamentary majority, to crush its political hegemony to unleash the suppressed democratic energies and forces in the country to lay the basis for a more responsible, responsive and democratic governance.
But suddenly, the country is landed with the unprecedented nine-tenth Barisan Nasional parliamentary majority, as a result of the Abdullah tsunami effect in the last general election - facilitated by the conduct of the most unfair, chaotic and disgraceful general election in the nation’s 46-year history..
In today’s borderless world of split-second media technology, let us take note of latest developments around us, which have a bearing on the r subject-matter before us today: Agenda for First World Parliament.
Firstly, the biggest electoral upset in Indian history. I am not talking about Italian-born Sonia Gandhi set to be India’s next Prime Minister, but the debacle suffered by A.B. Vajpayee’s BJP-led coalition, with the massacre of one-third of his 27-member Cabinet as nine of his Ministers lost their seats. Malaysia has 2.3 per cent of India’s 1 billion population, but we have a jumbo Cabinet which is bigger than that of India, as we have 33 Ministers. Together with 38 Deputy Ministers and 22 Parliamentary Secretaries, we have a grand total of 93 on the government front-benchers, or almost every one of two Barisan MPs! Does this make for a higher performance culture?
Secondly, South Korea President Roh Moo-Hyun took responsibility for two months of instability triggered by his impeachment by the South Korean Parliament and apologized for corruption scandals involving his aides – after a Constitutional Court overturned the impeachment motion against him.
This is food for thought and comparison about the respective strengths of the democratic systems in Malaysia and South Korea. Nobody is suggesting the impeachment of the Prime Minister in the Malaysian Parliament, but the impeachment of the Election Commission Chairman and other members for the most chaotic, disgraceful and unfair general election in the nation’s history? What does it say about the system of democracy and the Malaysian Parliament when there is no clear provision that there would be a debate and vote on such a substantive matter as the impeachment of the Election Commission Chairman and other members on a no-confidence motion, when in South Korea, the impeachment proceedings against the President could be taken to its conclusion?
DAP has organized this National Consultation on “Agenda for First World Parliament” as over the decades, the Malaysian Parliament has become a very sclerotic institution totally devoid of any public consultation system, mechanism and mentality, with non-functioning Standing Committees most of which never even meet once in five years after they were appointed at the beginning of each parliamentary session, with no notion of the importance to connect and engage the public in Parliament’s deliberations to ensure public respect and the relevance of Parliament.
Malaysians concerned about the restoration and healthy development of a vibrant democracy must be excited by Abdullah’s promise to re-make Parliament by supporting a more consultative, co-operative and collaborative era of parliamentary relationships not only among MPs regardless of party differences but also between Parliament and the public.
On Friday, Abdullah announced measures to turn Khazanah Nasional into one of the top investment houses in Asia, declaring that the reforming of government-linked companies (GLCs) is part of the government’s efforts to remake Malaysia Incorporated.
Ironically, his Khazanah announcement has also highlighted the urgency to remake Parliament and democracy in Malaysia.
Stressing on the importance of GLCs, Abdullah pointed out that currently, the 40 public-listed GLCs account for 5% of the total companies in Bursa Malaysia and together they make up 34% of the total capitalization, estimated at RM232 billion or more than half of Malaysia’s gross domestic product!
Although Abdullah announced the government’s “sweeping reform” to place GLCs in the forefront of the country’s economic development and make them more competitive globally while helping the Government to meet its social obligation, such as the implementation of the Key Performance Index (KPI) for all the GLCs, to create a more comprehensive corporate culture in the government to reward employees based on performance, Abdullah had missed out what should be an important element of such a “sweeping reform”.
This is the strengthening of the system of parliamentary accountability for Khazanah Nasional and GLCs. For the entire past decade, there had been no parliamentary accountability for Khazanah and Parliament had been kept completely in the dark about its operations and investments, including the disastrous billion-ringgit bail-outs of UEM-Renong and Time dotcom.
For a start, Abdullah as Finance Minister should present a White Paper in Parliament on Wednesday to give a full accounting of Khazanah’s financial performance in the past decade, listing all the GLCs it had shares and the details and history of its shareholdings.
Let the remake of Parliament and democracy in Malaysia go hand-in-hand with the remake of Malaysia Incoporated to catapult the nation to the ranks of “First World Infrastructure, First World Mentality” nations.
The preparedness of the government to support the appointment of an Opposition MP to head the Public Accounts Committee will be the acid test as to whether the nation is serious about remaking and reforming Parliament and Malaysia, and in particular the relevance of the National Integrity Plan launched by the Prime Minister last month.
Abdullah’s thesis that the government is committed to openness, accountability and transparency as it has “nothing to hide” will come under immediate question if Malaysia is not prepared to accept a parliamentary practice which is so commonplace in other Parliaments designed to ensure that the Public Accounts Committee is a bulldog and not a lapdog of the government of the day in checking financial abuses, breaches of trust, misappropriations and wrongdoings in government.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman & Member of Parliament for Ipoh Timor