Parliamentary Reforms should be top agenda of 13th Parliament
Parliamentary reforms should be top agenda of the 13th Parliament.
Firstly, the Parliamentary Opposition Leader should be given Ministerial status as a major commitment to promote and advance parliamentary democracy in Malaysia.
The allowance of the Parliamentary Opposition Leader should be comparable to that of a Cabinet Minister together with all the perks and privileges, including being provided with an official car.
Even more important, the Parliamentary Opposition Leader should be provided with adequate staff to carry out his duties - at least two political secretaries, one private secretary and three research assistants.
The Parliamentary Opposition Leader should be accorded full respect in Parliament, whether in debates or question time, and should be fully consulted in the arrangement of parliamentary business.
Such elevation of the position and status of the Parliamentary Opposition Leader would be in keeping with democratic developments in the country, although we have still to mark the country’s first peaceful and democratic transition of power with the Opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition replacing the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition in Putrajaya – because of the lack of a level playing field with clean, free and fair general elections.
The elevation of the position and status of the Parliamentary Opposition Leader in keeping with those of a normal democratic country, where alternation of power in every general election is taken as a routine exercise of the democratic rights of voters and not as a national catastrophe, is all the more pertinent as Malaysia has reached the stage where the Prime Minister of-the-day could well be the Parliamentary Opposition Leader tomorrow.
Secondly, all MPs, whether Barisan Nasional or Pakatan Rakyat, should be provided with proper research back-up of having research assistants as well as constituency officers so that MPs can become professional parliamentarians and effectively discharge their parliamentary duties.
There should be an immediate end to the politics of discrimination against Opposition MPs, who are denied the annual RM500,000 later raised to RM1 million development funds allocated to Barisan Nasional MPs for their constituencies.
Instead of such a RM500,000 to RM1 million allocation annually for Barisan Nasional MPs, every MP should be allocated RM500,000 a year which must be used solely for the hiring of research assistants, constituency officers and operation of constituency offices. There must be the strictest audit to ensure that there is no abuse of these parliamentary allocations either for personal or other purposes. MPs who abuse or misuse these allocations should be disqualified and removed from Parliament.
Thirdly, it was often that the Ministerial benches were totally empty, with Ministers’ presence in Parliament the exception rather than the rule. This is most irresponsible and disgraceful.
Ministers should as a rule as in other Commonwealth Parliaments be required to attend Parliament to personally answer questions and to reply to speeches, unless they have to be out of the country.
Fourthly, there should be parliamentary reforms to give more time, opportunity and space for MPs to speak up and convey the aspirations, needs, fears and grievances of the people in the highest political forum in the land to make Parliament relevant to Malaysians.
In the past 30 years, Parliamentary Standing Orders had been amended many times, not to expand space for MPs, but to further curtail and emasculate parliamentary opportunities and space for MPs particularly from the Opposition to represent the voice of the people.
Parliamentary reforms should include the establishment specialist standing committees to allow MPs to specialise as well as having a greater say in the nation’s decision-making process.
Fifthly, there should be live telecast of parliamentary proceedings, which would throw a spotlight on MPs and allow the voters the opportunity to see for themselves whether their MPs are playing truant or conscientiously discharging their parliamentary duties to speak up in Parliament.
At present, there is surreptitious live telecast of parliamentary proceedings particularly by PAS online.
This is most disgraceful to Parliament, which should be telecasting live parliamentary proceedings in full.
Sixthly, appoint a Opposition MP to head the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
In the House of Commons in the United Kingdom, it has been the tradition to choose the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee from the Opposition since the creation of this committee 138 years ago in 1861.
However, in the Malaysian Parliament, we have the opposite tradition of choosing a government MP to head the Public Accounts Committee since the first general election 40 years ago in 1959!
This is the primary reason why the PAC in Malaysia had never been able to make the impact made by other PACs in the United Kingdom or other Parliaments which continued with the proper tradition of appointing an Opposition MP to head the PAC.
The PAC does not concern itself with policy but only in whether policy is carried out efficiently, effectively and economically. Its main functions are to see that public moneys are applied for the purposes prescribed by Parliament, that extravagance, waste and even corruption are minimised and that sound financial practices are encouraged in estimating and contracting, and in administration generally.
The PAC plays a very important role as a check-and-balance on government financial abuses, excesses and malpractices and its annual report should be an important event which all Malaysians look forward to - not only for Parliament but for the nation which is serious about good governance.
But in Malaysia, nobody has been bothered about the PAC reports - because without an Opposition to head it, the PAC cannot play its full and real role as the highest custodian of government public accountability.
One of the greatest challenges of the 13th Parliament is how the PAC can be restored to its full role as the highest custodian of government public accountability, and not continue to be toothless, obsolete and ineffective, producing outdated reports which interest nobody!