Amend rules in Parliament to punish misbehaving MPs


  • Letters
  • Monday, 25 Jul 2022

Photo: FAIHAN GHANI/The Star

THE Seed Community for a Professional Parliament (SCPP) calls for an amendment of Dewan Rakyat Standing Order 36 to automatically refer any Member of Parliament who utters sexist, racist, treacherous, subversive and offensive expressions to the House's Privileges Committee, and impose severe penalties if found guilty.

The accusation that Opposition women MPs are “indecent” (tidak senonoh) and the use of a vulgarity twice by the Pasir Salak MP, Datuk Seri Tajuddin Abdul Rahman (Umno), in the Dewan Rakyat on July 20, 2022, exposed not only a parliamentarian's rudeness but also the failure of Deputy Speaker Datuk Rashid Hasnon to act fairly, as well as the two-year failure of the Standing Orders Committee – chaired by Speaker Tan Sri Azhar Harun – to tighten the rules.

Rashid gave a slap-on-the-wrist verbal warning to Tajuddin for the vulgarity just two days after he suspended Kota Belud MP Isnaraissah Munirah Majilis (Warisan) for demanding a debate on the seizure of Petronas assets by those claiming to be descendants of the Sulu Sultan. The inconsistency and disproportionality of the penalties – completely unjustifiable in the case of the Kota Belud MP, in our opinion – expose poor judgement in matters like parliamentary decorum, gender inclusion and public interest. It also reveals a structural flaw in the line-up of deputy speakers, which shows no diversity in gender (no women) and region (no Sabahan or Sarawakian) and which shows partisanship (no Opposition).

The SCPP notes that the Dewan Rakyat Standing Orders are ill-equipped to punish MPs who use vulgarities and demeaning expressions. While sexist, racist, treacherous, subversive and offensive expressions are all "out of order" (menjadi kesalahan) under Order 36(4) and (10), no penalty is provided. Hence, an offender can get out of trouble by simply withdrawing and apologising – which, by the way, Tajuddin did not even bother doing.

To effectively deter vulgarities and bad behaviour, the SCPP calls upon the Speaker as the chair of the Standing Order Committee to convene the committee and get the amendment of Standing Order 36 passed before the Parliamentary meeting ends in August.

Standing Order 36 should be amended so that:

> Offenders are automatically referred to the House's Privileges Committee (which is the House’s disciplinary board).

> If found guilty, offenders would be fined at least RM500.

> The severity of penalties is higher for repeat offenders, with mandatory suspension being an option to force the party or party whip to enforce discipline among party MPs.

The first two suggestions were first submitted by Batu Kawan MP Kasthuri Patto (DAP) on July 22 two years ago after she was the object of a racist slur uttered by Baling MP Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim (Umno) ("JAG condemns racist remarks against Batu Kawan MP Kasthuri Patto", The Star, July 14, 2020; online at bit.ly/star_remark). Regrettably, two years after her submission was ignored by the Standing Orders Committee, this incident has taken place.

Symbolically, as MPs are paid a RM500 allowance for every day’s attendance in Parliament, a fine of at least that amount indicates that their attendance would be invalidated by offensive expressions.

As for the third suggestion, the mandatory suspension of MPs who breach the rules will make political parties sit up, take notice and take preventive action because it could mean a loss of voting members in the House.

With the threat of possible fine and suspension, MPs and parties would exercise greater discipline to adhere to parliamentary decorum. The current failures to penalise repeat offenders has given a signal that such behaviours are tolerated, or even condoned, by the Dewan.

The Standing Orders Committee has seven members. Other than the Speaker as chair, four come from the government bench – Ahmad Amzad Mohamed (Kuala Terengganu-PAS), Ahmad Nazlan Idris (Jerantut-Umno), Azizah Mohd Dun (Beaufort-Bersatu) and Nancy Shukri (Batang Sadong-PBB) – and two from the Opposition bench – Hannah Yeoh (Segambut-DAP) and Sivarasa Rasiah (Sungai Buloh-PKR). (Source: bit.ly/parliament_orders.)

This letter is endorsed by:

Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih)

Persatuan Pengundi Muda (Undi18)

Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas)

Bait Al Amanah

Engage Network

Wisdom (Workable Initiatives for Secularism, Decentralisation, Openness and Moderation) Foundation

Institute for Political Reform and Democracy (Reform)

The Seed Community for a Professional Parliament is a network of individuals active in civil society organisations, think tanks and academia who are working towards a professional Parliament that facilitates healthy policy competition between parties.

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Parliament , amendments , misbehavious

   

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