Yesterday, the Speaker of Parliament, Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia announced three of his four proposals for parliamentary reforms, viz. Minister’s Question Time on Tuesday and Thursdays, reduction of the period for submission of questions from MPs to 10 days from the existing 14 days and a second Chamber to deal with emergency motions tabled by lawmakers.
The Speaker’s announcement was followed by a statement by the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said pledging that the government is committed to the successful implementation of Parliament’s transformation, and disclosing that the Cabinet had agreed to three of the four proposals at its meeting on Jan. 20.
She thanked the Speaker for clarifying to the media on any misunderstanding that the executive was interfering into the affairs of the legislature.
What an irony! Azalina did not realise that she had just publicly confessed to the sin of executive interference in parliamentary affairs when the Cabinet had to give the final approval on Jan. 20 to three of the four parliamentary reforms.
This is March 10. Why have the proposed parliamentary reforms not be tabled in the House? This does not bespeak of efficiency of Parliament or the Speaker’s Office.
Parliamentary reforms should be the sole prerogative of Parliament and not contingent on Executive or Cabinet approval.
This has highlighted the pertinence and relevance of the Citizens’ Declaration of 4th March 2016 which in Paragraph 37 enunciated the “much-needed democratic and institutional reforms to restore the important principle of the separation of powers among the executive, legislature and judiciary to ensure the independence, credibility, professionalism and integrity of our national institutions”.
Just as it would be unthinkable that court rules and practices should first be vetted and approved by the Cabinet, parliamentary reforms should not be dependant on Cabinet approval if Malaysia accepts and practises the principle of the doctrine of separation of powers among the executive, legislature and judiciary!
Parliamentary Reform in Malaysia seems to be a most peculiar animal in the world of Parliaments. In other countries, parliamentary reform take development of parliamentary democracy to a higher stage but in Malaysia we are trying but failing to achieve what had been parliamentary practices in the early decades of nation-building.
For instance, other countries evolved Question Time to a higher and more specific initiative of Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQ) to require the Prime Minister to personally account for his government’s actions in accordance with the principle that he is “primus inter pares” – first among equals.
In fact, the parliamentary practice of PMQ in the House of Commons in the United Kingdom, where the Prime Minister appears in person in Parliament to answer questions on fixed days, say Tuesdays and Thursdays, for fixed time, some 30 minutes, has a history of more than half a century.
In Malaysia, we are creating world parliamentary history with parliamentary reform where the “Prime Minister’s Question Time” ends up as “Minister’s Question time” and we have the Parliament Speaker justifying it by claiming that it was the same, viz:
“This is the same. Just the question of name because during the minister’s question time, the prime minister will be around to answer, the ministers will be around to answer too.”
What poppycock. Even school children will know that Prime Minister’s Question Time is very different from Minister’s Question Time!
Najib has got 10 Ministers in the Prime Minister’s Department. Unless Najib gives an undertaking that he would personally take all questions directed at the Prime Minister during Prime Minister’s Question Time, Najib’s appearance in Parliament at PMQT will be as rare as his appearance during the Question Time in Parliament in the past six years.
Where is the parliamentary reform?
It is noteworthy that in the first Cabinet when the country achieved Merdeka in 1957, the first Cabinet under founding Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, had only 12 members, including Tunku and the Deputy Prime Minister, Tun Razak.
In the early decades of nationhood, the Ministers would diligently answer questions posed by MPs in Parliament, which later degenerated into Ministers playing truant from their duties of answering questions in Parliament, delegating them to Deputy Ministers.
This is why I say that parliamentary reform in Malaysia is a most peculiar animal when other countries see the development of parliamentary democracy taken to a higher stage but in Malaysia we are trying but failing to achieve what had been parliamentary practices in the early decades of nation-building.