Parliament should work without haste, but without rest

THE Dewan Rakyat is back in session. It's arguably been a long time since we've had a sitting like this, focused just on legislation.

The other recent Parliament meetings, at least since the 2020 change of government and the Covid-19 pandemic, have mostly been dominated by the need to pass the annual Royal Addresses and budgets, or the 12th Malaysia Plan.

Also, we must acknowledge that this may very well be the penultimate, if not final session of the current Dewan Rakyat.

For the record, I have no idea when the next General Election, popularly dubbed "GE15" will be, whether it will be this year or next. But an election must be held, sooner or later.

This means that Parliament ought to really get cracking on passing Bills. It is, after all, their main duty; what they're elected and paid for - to debate and pass legislation.

This current meeting sits for 12 days - at the time of writing, it is already half over.

Assuming Parliament is not dissolved, and the government goes ahead to table the 2023 Budget in October, all but six of the 31 days for that session will be devoted to passing the former.

Parliament meetings could be extended to add sitting days (or shortened) - but this is impossible to predict whether this will happen with any certainty.

Many nevertheless assume that if elections are not held by year-end, they almost certainly will be by the first quarter of 2023.

This means there is precious time for key Bills to get passed. This is something that the government and MPs will have to take cognisance of. Again, it is their job, something they must get done.

But which Bills should be prioritised? We have seen, especially in light of the uproar by certain Opposition MPs over the so-called "Sulu claim" to Sabah on the first day of the current meeting, that there are passionate (to say the least) opinions on what Parliament should focus on.

To be sure, the government will have its agenda and own calculations. Indeed, the success or failure in passing certain Bills may have ramifications for GE15, both for the government and opposition.

The Opposition doesn't necessarily "lose" just because the government gets its way. Indeed, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Pakatan Harapan has done a lot to cool political tensions post-2020 and ensure crucial aid gets to the rakyat most in need.

By that same gesture, however, not every Bill passed is a "victory" for the government. The 2018 - 2020 Pakatan experience has shown that "reforms'' - if not carefully thought out and sequenced - can prove politically costly no matter how popular or ideologically sound they are.

Looking at the Order Paper, one cannot help but feel there are infinite things that our parliamentarians should be expanding their energies on.

Some of the legislation passed so far are certainly welcome, such as the Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill 2021 and the Housewives’ Social Security Bill 202.

The Dewan Rakyat will also focus on the amendment to the Federal Constitution that may act as an "anti-hopping law", to prevent legislators from changing their party allegiances.

This is a reform that has been long called for and long delayed, to remedy an ill that has impacted virtually all political parties, which has dismayed and arguably eroded the public’s faith in electoral democracy.

As I have written before, "party hopping" is a highly complex issue. Not all legislators change parties for personal aggrandisement or to save their skins.

Shifts in the allegiances between coalitions - which have and may continue to occur (like it or not) - must also be considered.

Certainly, we hope that our MPs will - and be allowed - to debate things thoroughly and with vigour, as the anti-party hopping legislation will have implications for Malaysia for decades to come if not longer.

The government also plans to table and pass a "Tobacco and Smoking Control Bill".

Although details are scarce, it is apparent that the biggest thing to come out of this Bill will be a ban on people born after a certain year from buying tobacco products. In effect, a "Generation End Game" (GEG) for smoking - in all forms.

The intent is a noble one, but, unfortunately, because of the limited detail, the Bill is reduced to just a debate surrounding GEG, when in fact, it should be a debate that takes into consideration all views and scientific evidence especially surrounding alternatives to cigarettes.

Ending smoking is a worthy objective but the current proposal raises many questions. Again, how will it be enforced? Is it practical? Can a 23-year-old buy these readily available products and pass it to the banned generation?

What impact will it have, not only on smokers, vapers and their families, but also businesses and their workers, all the way down to sundry shops and kopitiams? What are the legal implications on the government, if any? Why have cigarettes been lumped in the same category as vapes and e-cigarettes, since they are emphatically NOT the same thing?

I really do hope that the MPs will ask the right questions and think about this whole issue holistically. All this is before considering the political implications GEG may pose to the 18 year-old voters who will be voting for the first time in the next general election, and the business which will be impacted by this new Bill.

Regardless, the administration - and Parliament - must think through all the Bills before it carefully. Naturally, there may be a rush to pass legislation especially since GE15 is on the horizon, to show that our politicians are working.

Certainly, the Malaysian public - who have been so disappointed and exhausted - are hoping for positive developments.

However, it is possible for the legislative branch to be neither irresponsibly obstructionist nor a passive rubber stamp. We want our parliamentarians to work, but also be wise.

Goethe’s saying seems very apt when it comes to how legislation should be approached: "Without haste, but without rest".

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Ivanpal Singh Grewal

Ivanpal Singh Grewal

Ivanpal Singh Grewal is an Advocate & Solicitor. He was formerly Political Secretary to the Minister of Plantation Industries & Commodities.


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