• Office of YB Wong Chen

We Need to Talk About Parliamentarian Absenteeism

18 October 2019

Good morning. No Parliament today. My office will be stuck in a very long policy meeting for most of the morning and afternoon. Every officer has to buddy up with an intern, and each buddy team has been assigned to cover the budget details of three ministries. We will also be shooting Monday Night Chat today. And later tonight, I will be attending the 30th Hakka World Summit at Sunway, where Kak Wan is due to deliver a keynote speech.

Now, let me deal with two issues. One on the lack of Parliament quorum, and the second on heavy rains and flooding in my constituency of Subang.

First the lack of quorum in Parliament. Standing Order 13 states that a minimum quorum of 26 is required to enable the house to sit. In percentage terms, you need 12% of the total MPs to be in the Parliament Dewan to enable it to operate.

Based on my personal observations over the last 6.5 years in Parliament, the Dewan only ever fills up close to 99% on the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong’s annual speech day and budget day. Even on very important Parliament legislative votes, you may get around 70% to 90% attendance rate. A typical daily attendance rate for an ordinary day is around 20% to 30%. At 10 am, when Parliament starts, the attendance rate is around 15% to 20%.

The lowest attendance rate at below 15%, will be around 3 pm onwards on a Thursday, where MPs from faraway constituencies leave Parliament building to go to KLIA to catch their evening flights back to their home base, since there is no Parliament sitting on Fridays. Yesterday’s embarrassing vote count was made at 4 pm Thursday.

Now, whose responsibility is it to be in Parliament to ensure quorum is met? Everybody has to do their bit but the cabinet has to lead the way. With 55 ministers and deputy ministers, they should at least meet the very minimum 12% attendance rate themselves, i.e at least 7 ministers/deputy ministers in attendance at all times in Parliament. The remaining attendees can be topped up the other MPs, supplying the balance 19 attendees to meet the minimal 26 quorum. However on most days, there is only one to three ministers/deputy ministers in attendance. And in the case of Khairy’s budget speech a few days ago, he complained about an empty cabinet front bench.

There is also the matter of MPs attending committee meetings in the Parliament building. When the quorum count was done yesterday at 4 pm in Parliament, some 8 MPs including myself were in our PAC hearing. We had to suspend our PAC hearing and rush back into the Dewan to make up the quorum. So while committee MPs are sitting in official Parliament meetings such as a PAC hearing (as opposed to drinking coffee in the MP lounge), other MPs need to do their bit to be physically in the Dewan.

Bottomline, Parliament should publish a list of daily attendance. There is no greater cure to tak apa and sluggishness, than some transparency. Then let the absent MPs explain why they couldn’t be there. Sick leave and those overseas on official business/conferences can be excused.

Lastly, due to the busy lives of MPs we can’t expect full attendance, but their attendance overall should not fall below 70%. They should also voluntarily declare their annual attendance rate. When I visited South Korea last year, a Korean MP told me that some civil society NGOs militantly monitor the attendance rate and publish daily numbers and names. So if the government refuses to take up the attendance reforms, perhaps an NGO reading this, will step up and do it.

Now, to a more localised issue of heavy rains and flooding in USJ. I received an email last night from a Felicia Leow on the matter.

A few months back, we had a very serious case of a flash flood, with cars floating away. After the incident, MPSJ held a couple of meetings and they actually have a solution. But it has always been an issue of money (or lack of money) to construct the solution. Engineers and MPSJ need to factor in whether the sudden storm was a freak event, and judge the cost benefit of the solution. In other words, MPSJ has to make a judgement call to prioritise their budget and allocate limited resources. Either way, they must be transparent to the public about the cost of the solution and their decision on the matter.

At the national level, the Federal government can give grants to Selangor government and the Selangor government can then channel some money to MPSJ. Whether the grants are requested or adequate is a matter of debate. Lastly, on yet another related national issue, climate scientists are predicting the incidence of freak storms will continue to increase due to global warming. The carbon pricing matter that I am pursuing in Parliament, is the single most important policy to try to contain climate change.