‘Reforms are my focus’

Looking forward: Azhar says ministries have been working together for meaningful engagements. — RAJA FAISAL HISHAN/The Star

 KUALA LUMPUR: Parliamentary reforms remains the focus of Tan Sri Azhar Azizan Harun, who was unperturbed by talk of dissolution of Parliament.

“Let’s assume Parliament will continue until it expires naturally on July 16. If we have that as an assumption, we have about another 10 months or so,” said the Dewan Rakyat speaker in a special interview with The Star recently.

Azhar said he would like to strengthen the usage or utilisation of the Special Select Committees which are operating at “full steam now”.

“We have a mini secretariat for every Special Select Committees and all of them have been sitting quite regularly,” he said.

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He said these committees had been well received by civil servants as well as ministries and each had given their full cooperation.

“I would love to strengthen it further in the next 10 months so it will be operating at a meaningful level, not just at a political level.

“Meaning, there are analyses of policies, of what the government is going to do, there are constructive criticisms, inputs. So those are meaningful engagements. I would like to be able to do that,” he said.

He also would like to see the tabling and passing of the Parliamentary Services Act, which is aimed at giving autonomous power for Parliament to determine its own policies and administration.

“So we are working out the details on what needs to be done. If we have 10 months, I would love to see that tabled and passed because it will give Parliament control as to the budget as well as its own staffing,” he said.

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On June 3, the Cabinet had agreed in principle to the proposed parliamentary reforms, including the reintroduction of the Parliamentary Services Act.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar had said Parliament was set to enjoy greater autonomy following efforts to revive the Parliamentary Services Act, which was abolished in 1993.

Meanwhile, he said amendments to the House of Parliament (Privileges and Powers) Act 1952 and draft of the Code of Ethics for Members of Parliament were also needed.

Asked about the rowdy behaviour of certain MPs in the House, he said in general the majority of the MPs know how to conduct themselves.

“I think all the MPs know their duties and they know how to behave. But sometimes, of course, the political narrative or interest overwhelmed the issues at hand,” he said.

“If you talk about uncouth behaviour, we sit for about eight to 10 hours a day. If you look at Youtube, of course there are about three to five minutes of skirmishes.

“Sometimes people only look at the three to five minutes and they say there is uncouth behaviour, ignoring the rest of the nine hours of good behaviour.

“So let’s not paint it with a broad brush; it is not good,” he said.

“But my message is this: Look, we are all in the Dewan Rakyat, we are supposed to deal with national interest and policies, so let’s do that, let’s have less politics in our debates,” he said.

On the renovation works on Parliament grounds, the Speaker said that renovations were still ongoing.

“These renovations were actually planned and approved even before the 14th General Election.

“One of the major renovations is the car park, where the idea behind it is of course to have a covered car park, to cater for the public, civil servants, journalists and the relevant ministries,” he said, adding that renovations would be carried out at the main tower building, temporary halls and parliament gallery.

Azhar, who was wearing a batik shirt, noted that there has been a good response from all parties to wear batik on Thursdays.

“In fact, I think more than 70% of MPs will wear batik. So there was a tremendous response and it should be continued as it is one of our national attire,” he said.

On Oct 11 last year, Wan Junaidi tabled a motion on the matter in the House that was accepted and MPs now have the option of wearing batik every Thursday as a sign of support for the local industry.

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