I REFER to your reports on the proposals raised by the Dewan Rakyat speaker to make parliament a stronger and more effective institution in our democracy.
The Speaker is entirely justified in expressing his desire to see that the Parliamentary institution be strengthened in line with the concept of the separation of powers, as enshrined under the Federal Constitution, between the legislature, the judiciary and the executive (the government). This constitutional arrangement is aimed at ensuring that while the country needs a strong government to rule effectively, there must also be a stronger Parliament to provide the checks and balances to prevent abuse of power, especially on matters such as human rights, national security, management of public finances and ethical behaviour of those in power.
We should emulate the practice of developed countries, where their Parliamentary institution is strong because it is independently managed with its own professional and administrative staff, while each member of parliament has his own support staff funded by Parliament but recruited by the member, and directly working for him to assist in running his office and doing the research work for him before he speaks in a parliamentary debate.
Also, their Parliaments or congress have powerful standing or select committees where the committee chairman is as influential as the prime minister or the president in making the legislation or policy.
In Malaysia, the parliament’s Public Accounts Committee is the only permanent select committee. There should be other select committees as well, to have oversight on the performance of the various ministries, and to hold their political appointees and civil servants accountable for any deviations, especially in the management of their budget or the delivery of public services.
The select committees will also provide a forum for legislative bills to be thoroughly examined by holding open hearings where experts and civil society groups can also participate to give their opinions and advice to members of parliament.
This practice of open hearings will provide transparency on the objectives behind the bill proposed by the relevant ministry and provide a second chance to make the necessary changes before the bill is finally presented to the full house for debate and approval.
Most importantly, the process of select committee deliberations will give comfort to the public that their views have been heard by the legislators.
In a system of parliamentary democracy such as ours, every member of parliament, irrespective of which side of the house he sits on, has a duty to work with the government to make the right laws for the country. However, the honourable members can only do so if the parliamentary institution provides them the avenue to play a useful role in the legislative process.
I believe the proposals that the speaker is asking for will make our Parliament a better legislative body for Malaysians.