A vital component of parliamentary reform

THE Parliament of the Federated Malay States first met on Sept 11, 1959. Since then, there have been few major changes to the Standing Orders of the House, or how it is run.

Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia told Sunday Star last week about his three-phase reform plan for the Dewan Rakyat. Phase One, which did not require any constitutional amendments, has already been implemented this year.

In Phase Two, the Speaker hopes to get a two-thirds majority in Parliament to revive the Parlia­­men­­tary Service Act, which was re­­­­­pealed in 1992 when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was Prime Minister.

This should not be a problem; MPs had already supported the move in 2005, although no further action was taken.

Bringing the Act back would go a long way towards strengthening the separation of powers between the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary.

Until now, although Parliament is supposed to be independent, its budget has to be approved by the Finance Ministry.

The Parliament building is owned by the Public Works Department. According to some reports, the ongoing massive renovations were started without any consultation with the Speaker.

And as Pan­­dikar Amin pointed out, some of Parliament’s officers are from the civil service and can be transferred at any time.

For Phase Three, Pandikar Amin is proposing a Law Commission, which he hopes could be set up within five to 10 years.

But the reform for which no timeline has been set could be the most urgent of all.

MPs on both sides of the divide have been calling for Parliamentary Select Committees.

Earlier this year, when the slate of reforms was proposed to the Cabinet, the proposed Select Com­mittees were deferred “to enable further studies to be done on the workings of the committee system in other countries such as Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom”, the special functions officer to Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, wrote in a letter to the editor at The Star.

Last week, Pandikar Amin said the Executive had agreed “in principle”, and that Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Da­­tuk Nancy Shukri and the Deputy Speaker had gone to Australia to observe how Select Committees work there.

He is proposing that there be eight Select Committees “on issues that concern people”.

The Executive’s concerns ap­­pear to centre on how these committees would operate and whether they would have the power to call in and question ministers and secretaries-general.

The ideal scenario would be to have one Select Committee for each ministry, with every MP a member of one committee.

That would allow both Barisan Nasional and Opposition MPs to play a role as the watchdogs of the various ministries and departments.

The Select Committees could also serve as a testing ground for the MPs themselves.

In Britain, for example, the chair of each Select Committee is elected by the MPs and that position is often a step on the career path towards becoming a minister.

Malaysia has had Select Com­­mit­tees in the past. And over the decades, studies on the committee systems had been conducted.

Hopefully, the period of study on Select Committees will soon be over.

Bringing in this vital component would be a big step in the transformation of Parliament.

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