INTERVIEW | Selangor speaker Ng Suee Lim is contemplating various means to encourage more robust sessions when the state legislative assembly sitting commences next month, among them increasing the attendance allowance for assemblypersons.
He said it was important to have an active assembly, especially with the opposition as they represent only five out of 56 seats, just one-eleventh of the state legislative assembly.
Ng said a strong opposition was needed to keep the ruling government in check to ensure efficiency in governance, and deter corruption, as well as preserve the quality of the legislative branch.
A weak opposition, meanwhile, could pose a hindrance to the quality of the debate in the House, he added.
The state legislative assembly is expected to commence sitting next month.
"I will find ways to encourage the state assemblypersons in the House, especially the new lawmakers from both sides of the divide so as to optimise this platform to debate issues related to the rakyat.
"This will be among my main challenge to make the House as robust as the previous term," he told Malaysiakini in an interview.
Ng, who is also the Sekinchan assemblyperson, proposed a sixfold increase in the attendance allowance for assemblypersons from the current RM75 per day up to between RM300 and RM500, similar to the practice in Parliament.
"The allowance, which is meant to encourage the attendance of the lawmakers, was not attractive. The RM75 per day allowance has been fixed for decades," he noted.
He said if this measure is adopted, the state government should have the ability to fund the drastic increase.
Steps, however, should be taken to curb lawmakers who sign attendance merely to get the allowance.
Ng said he was mulling install a thumbprint or punch card machine at the entry of the House and that the full allowance would only be given to those who attend a full day's sitting.
"At the end of the sitting, we can upload the attendance of the lawmakers onto our website where the people can assess the key performing index (KPI) of the state assemblypersons," he said.
'Not naming and shaming'
This would allow constituents to indirectly monitor their representatives' performances in the assembly, he said.
Even so, the speaker stressed that this is not meant to name and shame absent state assemblypersons, but to make sure do not play truant.
"It is important for the lawmakers to attend the sitting as some local issues faced by their respective constituents could be related to state policies.
"And all relevant parties, from the state executives, to state agencies and local authorities are here to listen while the relevant departments respond to the lawmakers who voice out for the people," he stressed.
Besides encouraging attendance, Ng is also considering making it compulsory for every lawmaker to take part in the debate on budget and royal decree.
The lawmakers will study the feasibility of the proposals made and ways of implementation them, he said.
He agreed that the lawmakers from the ruling coalition should be allowed to vote according to their conscience instead of party line.
"We will use various method so the House showed that it is an energetic, innovative and dynamic branch," he said.
When asked if this can be done via secret ballot, he said, he had no problem with that should it be proposed.
He said: "If this is for the best interest of the people, I will give the opposition adequate space (for secret ballots). As a speaker, I am neutral."
On the matter of backbenchers, Ng said the latter could also play their part in keep the government in check for the interests of the people.
"I remembered former assemblyperson Yeo Bee Yin (photo) raised criticism together with some backbenchers. This may cause uneasiness (among the frontbenchers) who thought why they have to voice it out when the opposition did not.
"As the speaker, I urged the ruling party's backbenchers to play the role (of check and balance) if the opposition fails to do this.
"We not only can make for up the lack of opposition in the House, we can be better than the opposition," he said.
Treading a fine line
He said several lawmakers, included Idris Ahmad (Ijok), Lau Weng San (Banting), Saari Sungib (Hulu Kelang) and R Rajiv (Bukit Gasing) can be very vocal in the House.
He, however cautioned that the lawmakers could end up in dilemma like BN's Rembau parliamentarian Khairy Jamaluddin who was criticised for not joining BN's walkout during the appointment of Dewan Rakyat speaker Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof.
"It is difficult. You have to tread every fine line in your decision and speech. If a representative wants to think independently and beyond politics, you have to have the courage.
"As for me, I will give everyone the space to perform. But as the backbencher, do you dare to criticise the government?"
Ng cited former menteri besar Abdul Khalid Ibrahim, who he called out for being stubborn for refusing to meet with state representatives.
Abdul Khalid reportedly did this to prevent representative from lobbying for projects.
"But you can verify for yourself if I ever asked for any project. I only met him twice (between 2008 and 2014) privately and both were to discuss about my constituency issues.
"I particularly criticised him after 13th general election as he stopped several joint venture projects," he added.
There had been mixed reaction when Ng, a four-term assemblyperson, was appointed as speaker as some argued he was not a lawyer nor a university graduate, thus lacking the expertise to helm the legislative branch.
"Although I don't have a legal background, I am being assisted by a deputy speaker (Paya Jaras assemblyperson Khairuddin Othman) who is a lawyer," he said.
"I will learn along the way and I am confident to take up the responsibility due to my experience as four-term state assemblyperson and the state's former PAC chief," he said.
He urged the critics to allow him to prove himself before passing judgement against him.