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Parliament Select Committees Dinner

11 December 2019

I just came back from Parliament. We had a special dinner for the heads of the Parliament Select Committees. I was asked by the Speaker to deliver a speech on Parliamentary reforms. So I sat down at 5 pm and wrote the following speech out in an hour. Then finished my home DIY project (fixed a new door arm for my front door), jumped into the shower and droved to Parliament at 7 pm.

YB Wong Chen, MP for Subang Title: Parliamentary Reforms and Ministerial Committees Date: 11th December 2019 Time: 9.30 pm Venue: Parlimen Malaysia, Bilik Jamuan

Tan Sri Speaker, Deputy Speaker Nga, Deputy Speaker Rashid, Heads of Committees, Members of Parliament, Dato’ Roosme, members of the media, ladies and gentlemen.

This is a simple 10 minute speech on Parliamentary reforms, what we ought to do in the New Malaysia with a focus on the topic of Parliamentary committees. Specifically, ministerial committees.

After decades of being a guided democracy with an authoritarian streak, Parliament, its purpose and role, its rules and standing orders, its budget, its administration, have collectively been eroded over time.

Up till May 2018, Parliament was in a sense, a ceremonial rubber stamp body, with its over simplified legislative process, the severe lack of committees, where policies are debated at a cursory level, and ministers are semi-accountable. Many of us, who are here tonight, experienced that wonderfully simplistic period. How simple and sweet it was to criticize back then, now that we have the burden to rule. I am being sarcastic lah.

Today, in December 2019, some will say that Parliament under the Pakatan Harapan government, looks pretty much the same as pre May 2018. That is an unkind view, to be fair, we have seen many reforms administrative and in the rules, but the creation of 10 new select committees, is definitely a major achievement.

The really big reform, that is the revival of the Parliamentary Services Act, to make Parliament independent of the executive, hence enforcing the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers, I believe and hope, will be tabled next year. And when that happens, Parlimen Malaysia will finally be on its way to true and comprehensive reforms.

As some of you may know, my office plans policies for PKR and we are currently assisting Port Dickson on policy updates and proposals. We spend a lot of time tracking the economy but I have a special interest in Parliamentary reforms. There are about 18 such reforms that we are exploring.

I do have chats with Tan Sri Speaker from time to time, and our ideas are mostly aligned, subject to variations and you know, he is the boss and the boss is always right.

I don’t intend to go through all 18 items, so let me use the remaining minutes, to explore some of these ideas, and from the perspective of a Member of Parliament.

Let’s start with the duties of an MP. What really is the job scope of an MP? Shouting, calling names, speaking out of turns, are not, if they are, we will be world champions.

MPs have three basic duties plus one optional fun duty. The three core duties are to (a) legislate (b) make and consider policies, and (c) approve or reject the federal budget.

The additional fun optional duty is to represent Parlimen Malaysia, via friendship groups or on official international trips, basically becoming an envoy or diplomat for Parliament and Malaysia.

By focusing on these four duties, I can quickly describe some of the reforms that I feel, we must consider doing.

We start with legislative duty. Legislation in Malaysia is currently done in a simplified, top down, government diktat process. An important reform is to enable private members bills to be tabled. The more fundamental reform is to revamp the law making process.

The policy consultation process with stakeholders, as far as MPs are concerned, should start at ministerial committees. To do that, you need to first form, ministerial committees. After such consultations, the drafting work is carried out by the AG office, when ready, the bill is then tabled. On second reading for the committee stage, the bill must be referred back to the relevant ministerial committee.

We currently have a bill consideration committee, which I believe is a stop gap measure. What I am making a case for is to have about 13 ministerial committees, so that every legislation promoted by a minister is answerable at consultation and at committee stage, to a ministerial committee.

Now to the duty of policy making. Every MP must be encouraged to learn the ropes of policy making, and the best venue for that learning and sharing is in, ministerial committees. These committees must take precedent over the creation of thematic cross committees. So while we have 10 new committees, respectfully I think, we need to reconsider the entire structure to focus first on ministerial committees.

Once the PH leadership finds the political will to approve the Parliamentary Services Act, we need to move quickly and revamp the committee system, and leave no minister unaccountable to a ministerial committee.

These committees should also then be given adequate budget and resources. These committees will not only support government policies, they can help ministries as a sounding board as well as check the excesses of executive powers. For instance, I envision my new committee, the International Relations and Trade Committee, to spend about 50% of our time supporting government policies, 20% constructively help to improve policies, and 30% making sure the ministries are accountable and transparent in their activities.

On the last duty of an MP to approve the federal budget, again I turn back to the ministerial committees. So you see, this speech is really about ministerial committees!

If we have full ministerial committees, these committees could allocate the months of June and July to be briefed by the respective ministries on their intended next year budget. The committee can then provide budget feedback to the ministries. With that the budget committee can retire lah and become an actual ministerial committee, and be renamed the Finance committee. So, Tok Pa should be happy lah with this idea. We Kelantanese, always look after our own first!

The key point, I stress again is we must have a full complete set of ministerial committees and that we must compel every single MP, like in Norway, to belong to at least one such ministerial committee. Thematic or cross committees should be encouraged only after ministerial committees are fully formed and filled.

Now on the very last duty, the fun bit, diplomatic duty. We should have a rule that every MP must belong to a friendship group and do the diplomatic rounds. That should be the bare minimum. With full participation, MPs can learn and expand their experiences and gain knowledge from foreign diplomats and visiting dignitaries. And from experiencing and learning about diplomacy, our MPs in turn, can represent Malaysia to improve our nations’ image.

I must close by reminding all, that Malaysia is a very heavy export dependent nation. Our prosperity depends on international trade. We also sit in the world’s busiest shipping lanes, the straits of melaka and the South China sea.

We are multi-racial, multi religious and multi lingual. Some politicians may use this fact, this diversity to divide us, to win votes. Tak apa, you can run your own style of campaign strategy. But after you are elected, I beg you as a Parliamentarian, to see our diversity, as a core advantage for our nation. We all have an overriding duty to engage the world, to make Malaysia more prosperous, so that we can contribute to global concerns, as a respected nation.

As Parliamentarians, our foremost duty is to defend the Constitution, thus we must continue to reform to defend the original spirit of the Constitution. To undo the 60 years of erosion, will take time, but that time is fast running out. We probably have two and a half years left before GE15.

So we must move faster. What we do in terms of Parliamentary reforms in the coming year, will hopefully secure a lasting legacy of democracy with proper checks and balances. PH, BN, PAS, GPS and all independents must come together for this noble cause.

With that last note, I thank you for your kind indulgence and attention.


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