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One-day meet only: Don’t mock Parliament!

How should MPs behave in Parliament?

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Aliran is shocked and angered by the government’s decision to convene only a one-day parliamentary sitting on 18 May – the first sitting of the house since the infamous “Sheraton Move” led to a backdoor government.

The official reason for this lightning meeting – that the ongoing movement control order is in force to combat the spread of the coronavirus – is simply not good enough. It makes an utter mockery of the parliamentary process and the checks and balances it offers as part of the separation of powers.

According to Dewan Rakyat secretary in a notice sent to MPs, there will be no questions or motions accepted and only matters related to Covid-19 may be discussed on 18 May. MPs are to listen to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s opening speech for the new parliamentary session. But the debate on the motion of thanks to the King for the royal address reportedly has been postponed to the July meeting of Parliament.

Given the challenges that the nation faces in the wake of the raging coronavirus pandemic, surely the MPs require a lot more time to discuss critical issues.

For instance, the government’s allocations to stimulate the flagging economy and provide financial assistance to vulnerable communities require parliamentary scrutiny.

MPs also need to discuss the harsh penalties meted out against offenders of the movement control order.

Budgetary allocations to the Ministry of Health would need to be revised to accommodate the rising costs of treating Covid-19 cases.

Similarly, the education and higher education ministries will need to lay out their plans before Parliament and explain their policies on online education. They will also have to look into students’ problem and cater to their welfare.

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Leaders must outline long-term strategies to tackle the severe economic challenges that a global recession presents and propose ways to move forward.

All of these need to be debated thoroughly. But how can these issues be debated if Parliament does not sit long enough to have a discussion?

To defer these critical debates to July – three months in the future – is simply unacceptable. This delay reveals the Muhyiddin administration’s insecurity and fear of being challenged by the opposition and any vote that could test its real support.

To many, Perikatan Nasional is an unelected government with its legitimacy in serious question. It is unclear what PN actually stands for or the reforms it intends to make. The newly chosen ministers have clearly shown their ‘calibre’ through various gaffes.

Worse are the changes being made which bode ill for good governance and accountability – for example, the spate of MPs being appointed to government-linked companies even where they may lack the experience required.

The farcical 18 May parliamentary sitting appears to be just to fulfil the constitutional requirement that the lower house of Parliament should convene no later than six months from the last parliamentary sitting. The lower house last met on 5 December 2019.

To defer the actual proceedings to July – more than eight months from the last proper sitting – makes a mockery of this constitutional requirement, which was aimed at ensuring that the executive does not hold a monopoly of power without any parliamentary oversight for too long.

Aliran calls for a proper parliamentary sitting – perhaps through teleconferencing or with proper social distancing – to be held as soon as possible so that critical issues can be tabled and debated immediately.

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Aliran executive committee
19 April 2020
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