The Malaysian Bar is deeply disappointed by the recent news that the sitting of the Dewan Rakyat (House of Representatives) on Monday, 2 August 2021, has been postponed indefinitely due to a number of Covid cases detected recently in Parliament on 29 July 2021.
While the Malaysian Bar is cognisant of the perils of Covid, a question that has to be asked is why hybrid parliamentary sittings were not agreed to and voted on in the first place. The Speaker of the Dewan Rakyat had stated on 25 July 2021 – just one day before Parliament was scheduled to sit – that the proposal to conduct a hybrid session had been deferred and that this matter would not be discussed during the special sitting of the Dewan Rakyat. Pursuant to this decision, there was no limit placed on the number of MPs allowed and all elected representatives, even those who had not been vaccinated, were permitted to attend.
In light of the Covid infections identified, the failure of Parliament to introduce a motion on hybrid measures, as well as to adopt them, means that Parliament sittings would continue to be postponed and as a result, this is a hindrance towards democracy.
Parliament could have employed hybrid mechanisms and appropriate standard operating procedures early on to ensure the health of all those present during the sittings, as well as the Parliament support staff. Such alternative arrangements are important during a time when the number of Covid cases in our country has been rising exponentially. Our current Parliament is well equipped with the requisite technological tools to innovate and adapt to the current circumstances.
The Malaysian Bar considers the deferment of the discussion on hybrid sittings of Parliament as a missed opportunity. This should have been addressed right at the beginning. The necessity for such an implementation is beyond peradventure and evident and should have been a priority during a global pandemic.
We take the view that the postponement of the Dewan Rakyat sitting on Monday reflects negatively on those in positions of power. This is especially so when there are matters of significant national importance that need to be deliberated upon without further delay. The rakyat are bearing the brunt of the social dislocation and economic disruption caused by the pandemic.
The Malaysian Bar therefore calls on Parliament to convene without any further disruption or delay with strict standard operating procedures in place. It should amend its standing orders to authorise hybrid parliamentary sittings and thereafter immediately proceed with such a session.
Good governance must prevail during these unprecedented times to avert a constitutional crisis, where the only ones who will suffer are the people of Malaysia.
AG Kalidas is president of the Malaysian Bar
This piece has been edited for style only.