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Friday, 6 March 2015

Make Parliament independent again, says reform group

The Malaysian Parliament is not robust nor is it functioning effectively, said civil society groups today in putting forth several steps for reform to make the country's highest legislative body more democratic, ahead of the legislative body's first sitting of the year starting Monday.

The group, Gabungan Cadangan Penambahbaikan Parlimen (GCPP), said it was concerned about the effectiveness of the Dewan Rakyat, and have four recommendations that they will present to Putrajaya soon.

The four proposed reforms for a more "robust democracy" are reinstating Parliament's independence from the civil service, introducing the committee system, practicing agenda-setting in the Dewan Rakyat, and more allocations for research by MPs and constituency development.

Reinstating Parliament's independence from the civil service could be done by bringing back the Parliamentary Services Act, which allowed the legislative branch of government to hire its own staff and conduct its own administration and financing.

The GCPP comprises electoral reform group Bersih 2.0, the Association for the Promotion of Human Rights (Proham), Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas), Projek Beres and Tindak Malaysia. Supporting groups are the Global Movement of Moderates (GMM) and the Bar Council.

Maria Chin Abdullah, who is Bersih chair, said that discussions about reforming parliament had begun in July last year following the promise by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak on Malaysia Day in 2011 to have a "functional and inclusive democracy".

The Parliamentary ‎services Act 1963, which was repealed in 1992, must be restored in a first step towards making Parliament administratively and financially independent of the executive," Maria said in a press conference today.

"Our proposal calls for, among others, an increase in Standing Committees."
Proham secretariat member Rama Ramanathan said the standing committees can match the ministry posts to oversee each one and reflect the composition of the House.

"Parliament now is just not efficient. We have bills that have been aborted. Besides that, MPs have little time to vet bills with constituents.

"We have five standing committees but only one (Public Accounts Committee)‎ deals with issues outside of Parliament," he said, adding that in contrast, Indonesia has 11 committees and Cambodia has 10 commissions.

The third recommendation, Rama said, refers to the process of determining the order of business of the House and time allocations for questions and debates.

"A reasonable number of days per sitting should be assigned for opposition or non-governmental business," he said.

"Also, to make all parliamentary proceedings more accessible and accountable, RTM should create a 24-hour parliament channel, which is unedited and without commentary."
Rama also said that one of the proposals under the last recommendation is for an allocation to be provided to every MP and senator, separate from his or her personal allowance salary, to hire a high-quality research assistant.

"Constituency development funds should be scrapped in favour of federal funding for MPs' offices and administration funds."

Drawing experience from his single term as an Umno MP, GMM chief executive officer Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah said that there wa
s a dire need for MPs to become lawmakers "in every sense of the word".

"Now, MP‎s have to negotiate and try to balance their role as a lawmaker and a grassroots leader," he added.

He also said that there should be participatory law-making, which included all lawmakers to ensure that quality legislations are made in Parliament.

"‎Sometimes there are briefings by ministers on certain laws but whether all MPs are invited for them or only Barisan Nasional MPs is another question," the former Umno deputy minister said.

Barisan Nasional is the ruling coalition that has formed the federal government since independence.
Maria revealed that the group had taken eight months to come up with the recommendations, after consultations with lawmakers from both sides of the divide.

"We will present this to Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim (minister in the Prime Minister's department) in his capacity as the minister in charge of parliamentary affairs in a meeting we hope to have with him in the next sitting of the Dewan Rakyat," she said. – March 6, 2015

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