It is clear our nation’s parliamentary and governance systems have been fractured so much that we can’t even see a single Westminster quality in it, laments W H Cheng.
Until today, we are still hearing many allegations made by politicians especially from the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition saying that Malaysia has been practising the Westminster system in our nation’s parliamentary and governance structures.
On many occasions, these BN leaders had also accused the opposition bloc in Parliament over the latter’s failure to establish a shadow cabinet, labelling them as non-compliant with the so-called Westminster system when opposition leaders spoke of the same against the BN government.
Well, we have some questions here for the BN leaders who loudly claim the Westminster system has been long established herein Malaysia. However, we are uncertain if they are brave enough to face the facts that the Westminster system has never been in existence in our nation’s parliamentary and governance framework.
Let us look at the parliamentary system of electoral, structural and its organisational framework.
Elected but not recognised
First, when an opposition member was elected to parliament, the opposition member of parliament should be provided with all the necessary allocations and funds annually for his constituency work and programmes similar to what his counterparts from the BN have been enjoying.
But in Malaysia, all opposition members of parliament are systematically being denied such allocations and funds as well as research facilities. The opposition MPs here have to resort to solicit public donations and contributions from their supporters to fund their work and programmes. Such a move has been seen as undemocratic and clearly against the Westminster system.
Secondly, in our parliamentary framework, there are no oversight committees to oversee government ministries and portfolios at all, other than the weak and ineffective Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which only has limited powers to summon any ministers and other public officials for hearings to answer any reports of irregularities. Until today, we have seen many ministers and senior officials who dare to ignore summons from the PAC to testify on certain issues on mismanagement and abuse of power in the use of public funds.
The facts is, the PAC could not even cope with tons of reports under its care nor to complete all their investigations within a year. Again, not having parliamentary oversight committees to provide checks and balances on the government is also not being part of the Westminster system.
Furthermore, in the Westminster system, the shadow cabinet or official opposition front bench is fully recognised as an institution equal to the government’s cabinet ministers under the constitutions of most Commonwealth nations such as the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, to name a few.
In the case of Malaysia, the shadow cabinet has not been recognised, and nothing has been written in our nation’s Federal Constitution pertaining to the needs and importance of such an institution to oversee the government’s performance and policies. So, is the BN government aware of this?
If any of the BN leaders were to question the opposition bloc again on why a shadow cabinet has not been realised until today, let us all question those BN leaders with the same: where is their official recognition of the said institution, annual allocations and other facilities in order to see a fully functioning shadow cabinet? Have they ever treat their opposition counterparts as equal partners to ensure our nation is being well administered?
Is our nation’s parliament being run as it was supposed to be? How effective and fair is our parliament speaker to members of parliaments especially those from the opposition bloc?
During the parliamentary sitting sessions, we see no fruitful debates, discussion and exchange of ideas and facts. Instead, we see MPs from the governing bench very often being given more opportunities to attack the opposition bench from every corner, and in return opposition MPs are only allowed limited time to respond and debate on issues of importance.
On many occasions, we also see the speaker deliberately rejecting motions forwarded by opposition MPs, citing those as unimportant, top secret or pending investigation from the authorities.
The worst part of our parliamentary system today, is even our nation’s prime minister can be exempted by the Speaker from answering any critical questions brought up by MPs. On many occasions too, many questions are forwarded, and the majority are left unattended, and at times unsatisfactory or unclear responses are given.
The irresponsible nature of the prime minister and his cabinet ministers in responding to the MPs has rendered the entire parliamentary system ineffective. Because of the frequent absence of cabinet ministers in parliamentary sittings, MPs too have decided to skip these sessions as they think that these sittings are ineffective due to the continual absence of these ministers.
So, if the prime minister and his cabinet ministers can be excused and allowed not to present themselves in parliamentary sittings, how effective will all these sessions be?
Has the speaker been fair and equal to all MPs, to ensure full attendance of each session and to make certain that all parliamentary business is attended to by both sides of the political divide?
It is clear that our nation’s parliamentary and governance system are so fractured to such an extent we cannot even see a single Westminster quality in it. A reminder to the BN leaders: we are not fools to be fooled by you. The Westminster system has never existed in our nation at all.