Time Malaysian Parliament keep abreast of international parliamentary developments and hold regular public hearings to keep the government in check

In Parliament last year, the Speaker Azhar Azizan Harun proposed the setting up of nine select committees, namely those on liberty and constitutional rights; finance and economy; security; agencies under the Prime Minister’s Department; agriculture and domestic trade; infrastructure development; education; women and children affairs and social development; and health, science and innovation.

There is now to be an additional select committee on international affairs.

But none of these have been able to function effectively – not only because of the eight-month unconstitutional suspension of Parliament but because of outmoded, obsolete and antiquarian Dewan Rakyat Standing Orders which does not allow the parliamentary select committees to play a more meaningful and significant role to keep the government in check.

The Australian Parliament has a Parliamentary Select Committee on Covid-19 pandemic since April 2020 which had held over fifty public hearings in the last 18 months on the Australian government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and this is a parliamentary best practice which should be adopted by the Malaysian Parliament.

May be, if there is such a parliamentary best practice to provide a more effective parliamentary check on the Executive, the government would have been kept on its toes, and Malaysia would have been spared the disastrous last 10 months of the Covid-19 pandemic since the proclamation of an emergency on January 11, 2021 to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

I am quite at a loss to understand why Malaysia is an even worse-performer than Indonesia, as illustrated by yesterday’s figures where the daily new Covid-19 cases and daily Covid-19 deaths in Indonesia were 1,053 cases and 37 Covid-19 deaths but in Malaysia, it was 8,083 Covid-19 cases and 88 Covid-19 deaths - a situation which had been going on for more than week.

If the Ministry of Health have to appear before a parliamentary select committee, say on health, science and innovation, in a public hearing to explain this anomaly, it will go a long way to ensure a better and more efficient public service.

This is why I suggested yesterday that the first item of business of Dewan Rakyat when it reconvenes on Oct. 25 for the 2022 Budget session is to amend the Dewan Rakyat Standing Orders to allow the parliamentary special select committee on health, science and innovation to hold weekly public hearings on the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

This will go a long way to ensure that the Malaysian Parliament can play a meaningful and significant role to ensure an efficient and effective public service, and not allow the Malaysian Parliament to be a mere talk-shop.

In the United Kingdom, all parliamentary select committees take evidence in public with very few exceptions.

Typically committees meet privately for a short period before starting to take evidence, which are accessible to the public.

Why is the Malaysian Parliament unable to keep abreast with international parliamentary developments especially in best parliamentary practices?

I agree with Bersih which has called for a new Parliamentary Standing Committee on Election Matters as an oversight body to the Election Commission (EC), especially as the electoral system is integral to our political system and a lot of reforms need to be explored and implemented.

Bersih had suggested in 2019 for a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Election Matters to be chaired by an elected representative from the opposition and comprised of elected representatives who are committed to clean and fair elections with expertise on election matters.

An effective parliamentary select committee system is also pertinent to the Pandora Papers which should have been debated in the Malaysian Parliament as proposed by the Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Anwar Ibrahim, and not denied by the Speaker who appeared to operate as the defence counsel for the Pandora Papers.

As Azhar had suggested that the Pandora Papers should be looked into by a parliamentary select committee, will this be done?

But it will be a futile exercise if the Dewan Rakyat Standing Orders are not amended to allow for public hearings.

I suggest that the Dewan Rakyat Standing Orders be amended as the first item of business on Oct. 25, and that a parliamentary select committee be entrusted with the task of instituting public hearings on the Pandora Papers.#

Let the Malaysian Parliament be the first Parliament in the world to probe into the Pandora Papers.

Lim Kit Siang MP for Iskandar Puteri