KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 3 — Electoral watchdog Bersih 2.0 and a local think tank Institute for Political Reform and Democracy (REFORM) today called on the new government to introduce a new law to safeguard Parliament as a free and independent national institution.
The two non-governmental organisations had earlier released the findings of a report written by a group of researchers from REFORM and public universities to make the case to bring back a law repealed nearly 30 years ago, the Parliamentary Service Act (PSA), or enact a new one that is similar to it.
The groups said the Malaysian Parliament is in need of autonomy and independence in administrative and financial aspects.
According to their research findings, the parliamentary administration now is dominated by officials from the public service sector after the PSA 1963 was repealed in 1992.
One major effect of the repeal saw Parliament’s finances placed under control of the executive arm of government. That means it is subject to approval and can be cut by the Ministry of Finance.
To allow Parliament free rein over its finances and to ensure full independence from the executive, REFORM lead researcher Ikmal Hisyam Md Tah said the Article 65 (4) and Article 132 of the Federal Constitution must be amended to return Malaysia to the period before 1992 when Parliament was not beholden to the Public Service Commission.
“Under the Westminster system, Parliament is an independent and free institution.
“Despite this freedom, the joint involvement of the government and the opposition is very important to ensure that Parliament can function properly,” Ikmal Hisyam said during the presentation of the report this morning.
He was referring to a recent call by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and public clamour for cross-party cooperation for Malaysia to move forward from partisanship that had seen the government change twice so far since the 2018 general election.
Ikmal Hisyam said the report also suggested that the Parliamentary Service Commission to have 12 members with seven to be given voting rights to determine, allowance and emolument for the staff as well as the Parliament budget itself.
In an online forum held after the report presentation, Liew Chin Tong related that Parliament’s independence was eroded over the years after 1992.
The DAP lawmaker noted that in 2004, the Barisan Nasional government led by then prime minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi appointed Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz to be the de facto law minister in charge of parliamentary affairs. This had the effect of putting the lawmaking institution under the control of the executive.
“In 2005, Nazri Aziz convinced the Cabinet to put the Secretary to the Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara Secretary to be only in charge of parliamentary affairs.
“If you read this report and the Constitution before 1992, the Dewan Rakyat secretary is the chief administrator of Parliament and the Dewan Negara secretary acts as his deputy,” Liew said.
He said that with these changes, Parliament officials could be changed out and highlighted the “demotion” of former Dewan Rakyat secretary Riduan Rahmat who was replaced last year by the government.
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia law lecturer Prof Datin Faridah Jalil said an independent Parliament could resolve many of its budget and staffing woes that impeded institutional reform.
She said that Parliament could also attract better and more committed staff who could devote themselves fully in the service such as those in other Westminster system countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia.
“When you meet the Parliament staff there who had spent 20 years to rise to their rank, you see they are the Parliament.
“We heard that once, when the Parliament needed to change the lights, they took time as they needed to apply from the National Treasury. That is only a small thing.
“With their own controlled budget, Parliament could solve a lot of problems,” she said.
Another forum panellist, Aira Azhari, said the suggestion could also help talented youths to get their footholds and the career to bolster Parliament’s research department.
“We see a lot of research officers working and being paid by the MPs themselves.
“Increase the research section in Parliament, interested young people can apply there. It will be more institutionalised there and they (the youths) will have better job security,”said Aira who is manager of the democracy and governance unit at another local think tank, the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs.
Umno Youth executive council member Bastien Onn suggested that if the PSA were to be implemented, they should open it for the state assemblies as well to justify and create a better environment and services.
“The parliamentary service should also be expanded to the state level, perhaps the proposal is included as a new service proposal, not only central but also state.
“It means not only at the federal level but also for state service for example state assemblies from other states could go to the other state assemblies to do their work,” he said.
The panellists welcomed the earlier statement today by the new law minister Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar to seek to modernise Parliament by getting rid of pre-Merdeka laws and rules, besides making the House independent from the executive.
In a statement today, Wan Junaidi said he is seeking to revive the PSA which was repealed by former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in 1992.
Wan Junaidi said there was also a proposal to create a new Act of Parliament to replace the Houses of Parliament Privilege & Powers Act 1952.
Bersih 2.0 chairman Thomas Fann in the forum welcomed the suggestion and he added that the Opposition should also be engaged to give their feedback as well as wanting the suggestion to be implemented before the next general election.