Two phases for
parliamentary reform and modernization in Malaysia, firstly restoring what
MPs had lost in freedom of parliamentary action and practices; and secondly,
to catch up with the rest of the world in expanding new spaces and frontiers
for MPs to effectively discharge their duties as elected representatives of
Speech (Part 4)
- in the debate on the Motion of Thanks for the Royal Address
by Lim Kit Siang
(Dewan Rakyat, Thursday): In his speech at the DAP National Consultation on Sunday, Nazri cautioned against going “too fast” in parliamentary reforms for a First World Parliament as the people may not be ready.
This is quite a fallacy. Other Commonwealth and world Parlaiments had undergone several generations of parliamentary reforms in the past few decades, but for Malaysia, time not only stood still in the past half a century, the clock had been turned backwards as the Standing Orders had been amended several times to curtail and restrict the already very-limited rights for free speech by MPs in Parliament.
This means that for the Malaysian Parliament, there are two phases for parliamentary reform and modernization, firstly restoring what MPs had lost in freedom of parliamentary action and practices; and secondly, to catch up with the rest of the world in expanding new spaces and frontiers for MPs to effectively discharge their duties as elected representatives of the people.
Let me just outline some of the “lost” parliamentary freedoms of Malaysian MPs which should be restored immediately:
(1) Private Member Motions
In the seventies, under the premiership of Tun Razak and Tun Hussein Onn, I had moved several motions which were debated by the House although they were all outvoted. In the past decade, such a right for an Opposition leader or backbencher to have his/her motion debated had been lost in parliamentary practice.
I applaud the reformist mood that has been ushered in by the Prime Minister and the Cabinet decision yesterday to debate my impeachment motion of no confidence against the Election Commission and other members of the Commission for the most chaotic, unfair, unprofessional and disgraceful general election in the history of 11 general elections in 46 years. The present parliamentary meeting should be extended by two days to allow for such a substantive motion to be fully debated by both sides of the House.
Nazri said the Cabinet is consulting the Attorney-General, Tan Sri Gani Patail to find out if a debate on my impeachment motion against the Election Commission Chairman and members would be sub judice as election petitions have been filed against the commission, questioning the election results.
Parliament cannot be estopped from carrying out its duty as the highest legislative and deliberative chamber of the land to conduct a post-mortem on burning issues of national importance just because there are cases in court touching on one or two aspect of the matter, especially as an impeachment motion of no confidence against the Election Commission Chairman and members is not so much about the legality of the 2004 general election, but the efficiency, fairness, professionalism and integrity of the conduct of the general elections, in other words, whether the Election Commission has discharged its constitutional mandate to conduct a free, fair and clean general election – grave and fundamental issues which are not really justiciable before the Election Courts or the ordinary courts of law but the highest political court of the land, Parliament!
In any event, the question here is not whether the scandalous and outrageous performance of the Election Commission would be raised and debated in Parliament – as we have already started doing so in the very first day of Parliament yesterday, both during question time and the debate on the Royal Address – but whether Parliament and government is going to take this issue seriously by having a focused debate in an impeachment motion specifically addressing the issue or whether it would merely be the subject of random references and potshots by MPs during the course of the current parliamentary meeting.
(2) Private Member’s Bill
Similarly, in the seventies, I was able to move motions to seek leave of the House to present a private member’s bill, but such a parliamentary practice was effectively discontinued by an amendment to the Standing Orders.
Again, I welcome the new air blowing through the corridors of Parliament with the new government taking a more progressive attitude towards parliamentary reforms and modernization.
DAP MP for Batu Gajah, Fong Po Kuan, is seeking leave of the House to repeal the National Service Training Act because of the troubled-plagued national service training programme for 85,000 18-year-olds this year, with the endless blow after blow to public and parental confidence in the programme about the welfare, safety and lives of their children – with the escalating catalogue of defects, flaws, breakdown of discipline, crimes and even deaths which should never have been allowed to happen in a properly conceived, planned and executed programme.
I am glad that the government has given recognition to the dedication and commitment of Fong Po Kuan, the Chair Person of the DAP parliamentary and state assembly caucus on the national service training programme, and is handpicking her to be a member of the Select Committee on National Unity and Integration, whose first agenda would be to conduct a comprehensive review of the national service training programme, including her proposal for the repeal of the National Service Training Act 2003.
With the establishment of the Select Committee on National Unity and Integration with the first agenda to review the national service training programme, Fong Po Kuan would withdraw her motion to seek leave of the House to repeal the National Service Training Act 2003.
At the beginning, only two hours notice was required for an MP to move a motion of urgent, definite public importance under S.O. 18, but it was subsequently amended to require four hours and later 24 hours’ notice – making nonsense of the provision to deal with issues of “urgent, definite public importance” especially in the era of split-second media technology when information travels at the speed of light.
After the Parliamentary renovation, MPs are now supplied with individual Internet access inside the Chamber, which means that they can access instantaneous developments in any part of the world while taking part in parliamentary proceedings – whether it is the latest about the scandal of US military torture, abuse and humiliation of Iraqi prisoners, the Israeli intransigence to reach a just and peaceful settlement of the Palestinian issue, the farce of the National Constitution Convention of the Myanmar military junta since Monday by defying regional and international opinion to free Burmese Opposition Leader and Nobel Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, or the biggest electoral upset in Indian history followed by Sonia Gandhi’s refusal to become the Indian Prime Minister and the appointment of Manmohan Singh as the new Indian Prime Minister.
In such circumstances, MPs should be able to raise issues of “urgent, definite public importance” in Parliament under S.O. 18 immediately on receipt of split-second information about weighty political, economic and social developments as well as human tragedies or catastrophes – requiring not more than one hour’s notice. Are we prepared to effect such a parliamentary reform and modernization?
Parliamentary rights which were eroded in the past half-a-century should be restored immediately. Parliamentary reforms and modernization, like having an Opposition as PAC Chairman, live telecast of parliamentary proceedings, establishment of Select Committees and providing adequate research support and staff for MPs to have quality debates should be implemented immediately.
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 – which is hest exemplified by a parliamentary website which is the worst of all first-world Parliaments as it is totally user-hostile.
The Parliamentary home page, http://www.parlimen.gov.my, has no 24/7 concept that it in the era of ICT, it must be accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year – and not close down after office hours, during weekends, holidays and when there are no holidays. For the past two weeks, for instance, the Parliamentary home-page was completely inaccessible as far as its only useful feature is concerned – the archieve of parliamentary reports.
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.
A Select Committee on Parliamentary Reform and Modernisation should be set up to make far-reaching recommendations to make the Malaysian Parliament a First World Parliament and a model for the 116-nation NAM.
* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader,
Member of Parliament for Ipoh Timor & DAP National Chairman