More bite under current Speaker, govt

PETALING JAYA: Amendments to give parliamentary select committees (PSCs) more bite, including the power to compel ministers to testify, are likely to be passed by the current Speaker and administration.

Dr Kelvin Yii, who had once headed the health, science and innovation PSC, said once passed, these changes would allow Parliament to better perform its role as a check on the executive branch of the government.

One of these powers is to compel ministers and heads of enforcement agencies to testify at PSC hearings on matters of public interest without first requiring the issue to be referred to it by the Dewan Rakyat.

Parliamentary Standing Order 83(4) currently restricts select committees to only deliberate on matters that are referred to it by the House, Yii said.

A raft of amendments including to 83(4) had been pushed for last year by a group of MPs, that included Yii and current Speaker Datuk Johari Abdul, who was then the Sungai Petani MP.

Yii told a dialogue session in Kuala Lumpur yesterday that he was “optimistic” that the current administration and Speaker would pass these amendments.

The Bandar Kuching MP said Minister in Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said had also supported the initiative last year with several PSC chairpersons.

However, the amendments were not passed before Parliament was dissolved in October last year, Yii said at a roundtable on “Deepening Democracy in Malaysia” co-organised by Bersih, Global Bersih, the Kofi Annan Foundation and offices of the Dewan Rakyat Speaker and Deputy Speaker.

“Once the chairpersons of the new select committees are chosen, this is one of those things I will be pushing them to have, which is a meeting between Azalina and the Speaker (to amend the standing orders),” Yii said.

“I am optimistic because Azalina was in that meeting and she was the one who pushed me to fight for the amendments. Now she is in the government.”

When contacted later, Yii said Standing Order 83(4) had in the past been used by individuals such as Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission chief Tan Sri Azam Baki and former education minister Datuk Dr Mohd Radzi Jidin to skip PSC hearings.

Azam decided not to show up for a PSC hearing in January last year on his ownership of several shares while Mohd Radzi and his ministry officials had declined to attend a meeting in June 2022 to discuss the scrapping of the Form Three (PT3) secondary school exam.

Yii added that another important amendment was for PSC hearings to be televised to the public so that its proceedings are transparent.

Currently, the content of PSC hearings are only made public once its final report is published together with minutes of their meeting.

“Televised hearings will also force MPs to act and increase their knowledge in certain matters so that the public can see what they bring to the table,” he said.Another amendment is to enable the PSC to conduct hybrid hearings in the event that participants cannot physically come to Parliament.

During the roundtable session, parliamentary expert and researcher Maha Balakrishnan proposed to increase the number of members of the current 10 PSCs and to form more sub-committees to improve their oversight of the executive.

This could be a temporary solution to improving the work of the current PSCs given the limited financial and manpower resources of Parliament, said Maha, principal facilitator of the National Democratic Institute, a think tank.

“We have MPs whose full potential are not being utilised and its a waste of time and at the end of the day because there is so much that can be achieved through committees and more so in a multi-party coalition that we have,” Maha told the roundtable.

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