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Can the select committees please start working?

How should MPs behave in Parliament?

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Select committees should be able to do their part even if a parliamentary session is over, says WH Cheng

Last year, the Dewan Rakyat Speaker, Mohamad Arif Md Yusof, announced the establishment of six new parliamentary select committees to provide oversight on the federal government’s budget, appointments and other activities.

The six subject areas were consideration of bills, budget, home affairs and defence, rights and gender equality, federal-state relations and major public appointments.

At the beginning of this year, the speaker also informed the public that more select committees would also be established in the next sitting, which has already begun.

But we have not seen any of these select committees commencing their responsibilities right after their establishments were announced last year. We wonder if the MPs who are sitting in these select committees know exactly what they should kickstart, when and where or are they really aware of what oversight activities they should undertake.

The Public Service Department and the Ministry of Finance have been tasked with providing whatever support possible for these select committees to commence working on their respective portfolios. These include financial allocations and the provision of research assistants for these committees.

The question here is, are these select committees allowed to meet when the parliamentary session is not in place? The answer in general under a Westminster system is yes.

These select committees should be able to do their part even if a parliamentary session is over. They serve as oversight bodies, calling ministers or any senior civil servants for questioning over their activities, appointments, budgets or any other projects which require scrutiny.

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Apart from this, select committees are also tasked with organising public hearings or inquiries on policies or their implementation that is of public interest.

The reports and recommendations of these select committees are then to be tabled in the next parliamentary session for debate or any other action possible in order to rework-realign, amend or abolish the policies or their implementation in the best interests of our nation and the people.

We hope these select committees can commence their work immediately instead of being asked to do so. All ministries and government agencies should give their utmost support to them to ensure accountability, transparency and competency under the new leadership to stem out corruption, abuse of power and mismanagement within the administration.

The speaker, together with the Parliamentary Caucus on Reform and Governance currently chaired by Anwar Ibrahim, should work towards reviving the Parliamentary Services Act – which was abolished by the previous ruling Barisan Nasional – in order to take the parliamentary system out from the control of the executive. The administration of Parliament is currently under the jurisdiction of the Prime Minister’s Department.

It is important to transform Parliament into a neutral entity in order to strengthen its role in providing checks and balances on the government.

Parliamentary reforms at the federal level will also set a precedent for state legislative assemblies in all states to begin with their reforms as well.

Such reforms should be enhanced and expedited to ensure other reforms within the government can go through smoothly.

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Source: Inter-Research and Studies (Iras)

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