G25 would like to propose that the parliamentary select committees that are being put in place should play an active role in initiating legislative action so that we can see progress to reform various policy matters that have long been put aside due to political inertia.
In advanced democratic systems, their parliaments have a dual function. They not only carry out oversight on the operations of the government by holding to account its ministries and departments as well as the political appointees and civil servants, they also initiate an inquiry into a matter which has become a public controversy. The parliamentary inquiry is often done through the select committee relevant to the subject matter or parliament may appoint a special commission of inquiry to carry out an investigation on its behalf and report back on the findings and recommendations. The report will then be tabled for debate and thus, the public will be able to gain insight into the findings of the investigation.
Malaysia should adopt the same approach. Every royal commission of inquiry report should be designated to an appropriate parliamentary committee for systematic follow up with accountability, transparency, and public engagement. In some cases, parliament itself may initiate its own commission of inquiry as commonly seen in developed countries. Whether the inquiry is initiated by the government or parliament, the important point is that it should be made public and that the report be debated in parliament with civil society and professional groups being invited to give their comments and expert views.
G25 and the public are concerned that the reports of the two royal commissions of inquiry, one into the Sultanah Aminah Hospital fire in Johor Bahru and the other, on the inflow of foreign workers, have not been released to the public. This obsession with secrecy goes against the reform agenda of the new government to be transparent and open with the people on matters of public policy. To avoid such secrecy being repeated in the future, we propose that all commissions of inquiry must submit their reports to parliament and that the reports will then be tabled for scrutiny and debate in the relevant select committee. Like in other parliamentary systems, the committee members should not just talk but also initiate the legislative action which they can submit for the government to consider as a solution to the problem. In this way, our parliament will become a working institution that plays a constructive role in the governance of the country.
In recent years, Muslim reformists in Malaysia have called for legislative changes to give recognition to gender equality and women’s rights and to ban child marriage and female genital mutilation under the Syariah laws but no progress has been made. There have also been suggestions that religious administration at state level should comply with federal law to avoid state governments transgressing into federal powers by issuing laws and fatwas that go against the principles of the fundamental liberties enshrined in the constitution.
These are policy matters that need open discussion. The best forum to bring the Issues up for debate is in the parliamentary select committee so that the religious and secular points of view can be highlighted. There will be differences of view between secularism and religion, to be sure, but the task of our elected representatives is to learn to narrow down on the differences and build a consensus for mutual acceptance of the policies.
The government has formulated the Shared Prosperity Vision (SPV) as the guiding policy for developing the country to become a high-income country with fairness and justice for all citizens, irrespective of race and religion. The overwhelming majority of Malaysians agree that this new policy is important for bringing the races closer towards national unity. A parliamentary committee hearing should be convened for our legislators to hear whether there are also other policies that can be introduced to strengthen national unity.
Many Malaysians feel that education is most important for bringing the various races together. The parliamentary committee should hear open testimonies from interested groups on educational changes and submit its report for the ministry to act on. This is far better than the traditional government practice of appointing study after study and no one knows what is happening to the reports from the experts. Let the experts speak openly and directly to the parliamentary committee for all to hear.
We in G25 believe that by making the select parliamentary committees the channel for open dialogue on national policy matters, the country is being honest to itself that there are difficult issues confronting our future. Even though the reality in front of us is daunting, especially when the issues involve race and religion, we should be willing to deal with these issues by opening up the space for public discussion through the mechanism of the parliamentary committees. If our vision is to be an advanced high-income country in every sense of the word, we should be willing to make our parliament function like those in the developed countries.