Civil society engagement with lawmakers is an important part of the democratic process that must be recognised and respected by parliamentarians and senators alike.
At a time when the nation is facing its greatest challenge with the National Security Council Bill 2015 that would change Malaysia’s system of democracy forever, we should not be engaged in pointless exchanges about whether we should or should not brief senators. In fact, it would have been far more beneficial to have had an extensive briefing with senators who would soon be considering the Bill.
As a matter of record, however, we wish to respond to the allegation that not all the senators were invited to the briefing. We wish to state that invitation letters were emailed to each and every senator on 10th December 2015. Letters were also sent to the Dewan Negara President on the same day. The relevant contact addresses were obtained from the parliamentary website.
The briefing was eventually held on 15th December 2015. Only opposition senators attended the briefing. Thus coalition members returned to Parliament the next day to seek out BN senators in order to put forward the concerns of the public regarding the Bill to both sides of the political divide.
Such briefings between parliamentarians and civil society organisations have been done countless times before and are an accepted form of engaging lawmakers. Further, the same form of engagement also took place with the members of Parliament of the lower house. We were therefore surprised and disappointed at being taken to task in relation to what is a norm in a vibrant democracy.
We are further shocked that one of the officers was issued a show cause letter for doing nothing more than allowing Senator Siti Aishah, upon advise, to fill in a form in order to organise a room for the briefing.
We have always assumed that senators are free to use facilities in Parliament and we are deeply concerned that the President’s stand is that it requires his permission. We hope that the show cause letter sent to the said officer will be withdrawn immediately.
As to the question of independence, listening to different points of view, should never be seen as compromising independence. If senators received briefings from the government, as we understand they have, they must equally receive briefings from those with opposing views. That is what ensures independence.
Nevertheless we are pleased to note that the President has assured us that the senators will remain independent and in this regard we look forward to their putting forward tough questions on behalf of the rakyat in relation to the various concerns raised about the Bill. Let them indeed show their independence in this way.
We must not be distracted from the core issue of addressing serious concerns about the NSC Bill. We remain willing to hold any briefings and we wish to thank the senators who engaged with us.
Dato Ambiga Sreenevasan (HAKAM)
On behalf of the #TakNakDiktator campaign coalition,
1. Amnesty International Malaysia
3. Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4)
4. National Human Rights Society (HAKAM)
5. Pertubuhan Ikram Malaysia (IKRAM)
6. Institut Rakyat
7. Lawyers for Liberty
8. Persatuan Promosi Hak Asasi Malaysia (PROHAM)
9. Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)
17 December 2015