LETTER | Seed Community for a Professional Parliament welcomes Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s announcement of 7-points of reform on Sept 10, which is widely expected to be the core of the de facto confidence and supply agreement (CSA) between the government and the official opposition.
We further call on the prime minister to produce a clear timeline for the realisation of these promised reforms in order to show its firm commitment to the public.
However, we are also acutely concerned with some omissions and dilutions from the offer made by former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin on Aug 13, as well as the misleading offer concerning Undi18 in both offers.
Constituency Development Fund Act
The glaring omission is equitable constituency allocation. Muhyiddin categorically offered, “all MPs will be receiving the same annual allocation regardless of parties. For all the opposition MPs, the allocation for this year will be made pro-rata for the remaining months.”
Ismail Sabri cannot offer less on the constituency allocation than Muhyiddin without undermining his “Keluarga Malaysia” approach and his own credibility and sincerity as a leader for inclusion and stability.
It would be most damaging if any constituency allocation offered to the opposition would be limited to only MPs from parties which enter the CSA with the government.
It would mean Ismail Sabri’s Keluarga Malaysia is not one based on fraternity but on transaction, that “you are my brothers and sisters only if you support me”.
Until proven otherwise, we remain hopeful that Ismail Sabri is a sincere, visionary and transformational leader who would introduce a new model of political stability for a vibrant multiparty Parliament.
He should make it a legacy to enact a “Constituency Development Fund (CDF) Act” to ensure regular and equitable CDF for all MPs regardless of parties. And this should be tabled latest in the October-November sitting so that the CDF in 2022 would be provided under such law.
Internationally there are many CDF laws that the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) can easily emulate and adapt. In the event the AGC is bogged down by other drafting works, civil society organisations like SCPP can offer their professional assistance.
We are also concerned with two dilutions from Muhyiddin’s initial offer.
Expansion of PSSCs
The first dilution was on parliamentary special select committees (PSSCs). Muhyiddin made two ground-breaking offers, first, “the total number of PSSCs would be increased to ensure all MPs get to play the roles of check-and-balance more effectively through their involvement in such committees”, and second, “as a recognition to the check-and-balance role in Parliament, 50 percent of the PSSCs would be chaired by the government MPs and the remaining 50 percent by the opposition MPs”.
This has been watered down to mere “Balance in membership for PSSCs concerning government MPs and opposition MPs” in the Sept 10 statement. All MPs must be guaranteed their right to sit in at least one PSSC or the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) if they so wish.
That 88 (40 percent) of the 220 MPs were left without any executive, house and committee responsibility under Muhyiddin's government is simply not acceptable.
We expect the actual CSA signed would demonstrate the prime minister’s full commitment to the expansion of PSSCs which must be preceded with a re-organisation of the selection committee, the committee that assigns membership of all other committees, to be multipartisan.
Currently, the selection committee chaired by the speaker is lopsided with five members from the government’s camp and only Anwar Ibrahim represents the 48 percent opposition bench.
Status of parliamentary opposition leader
The second dilution concerns the numeration and facilities provided to the Parliamentary Opposition Leader (POL), from “senior minister” in Muhyiddin’s offer to “minister” in Ismail Sabri’s announcement.
While the Members of Parliament (Remuneration) Act 1980 [Act 437] does not distinguish senior ministers from ministers, we look forward to expressing assurance that the POL would have access to government information, subject to reasonable constraints, that would be offered to a senior minister.
Immediate implementation of Undi18
Finally, we would like to point that no constitutional amendment is needed to expedite the implementation of Undi18, and this must not be falsely presented as an obstacle for the government to claim a false credit.
The Constitution (Amendment) Act 2019 [Act A1603] is complete to enable the realisation of Undi18 even in 2019. The delay is merely and unnecessarily caused by the then insistence by main parties in Ismail Sabri’s government for Undi18 (which does not involve any technicality) and Automatic Voter Registration (AVC) (which takes time to build the database infrastructure) to be tied together through Section 1(2) in Act A1603 that “[both changes] comes into operation on a date to be appointed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong by notification in the Gazette.”
Consistent with the Kuching High Court decision on Sept 3, 2021, the government must implement Section 3 of the Constitutional Amendment Act in its entirety without further delay.
This will enable the 1.2 million young Malaysians currently aged 18, 19 and 20 years old and about five million Malaysians who are above 21 years old but have yet to register as voters to be eligible to vote immediately with the implementation of automatic voter registration.
This would be the best way to show the Ismail Sabri government’s sincerity to respect the Kuching High Court’s decision on the matter on Sept 3.
It is politically unwise for Ismail Sabri if Keluarga Malaysia is construed as a cynical family in which younger members’ rights can be deliberately held back for the political scheming of the elders.
This statement is initiated by the Seed Community for a Professional Parliament, a network of individuals active in civil society organisations, think tanks and academia working towards a professional Parliament that facilitates healthy policy competition between parties.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.