LETTER | New Zealand’s Covid-19 bill best reference for Malaysia

Fakhrurrazi Rashid

Modified 14 Jul 2020, 5:20 am

LETTER | The Malaysian Parliament has finally begun its sitting on July 13. The session will take place for 25 days and focuses on issues related to Covid-19, in particular the supplementary bill related to the Prihatin Economic Stimulus Package and the Covid-19 bill.

So far, an estimated 395 proposals have been received by the government to draft the Covid-19 bill. Some of the issues to be addressed in the bill include contractual obligations and financial burdens involving companies and individuals.

According to Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz, the Covid-19 bill will likely mirror the concept of the Covid-19 bill of Singapore and New Zealand. However, to date, information on the Malaysian Covid-19 bill remains unclear and this will surely open a wider debate on the kind of concept that the Malaysian government is looking to adopt.

New Zealand’s Covid-19 Response (Urgent Management Measures) Legislation Bill is said to be the best concept for the Malaysian government’s reference in drafting the Covid-19 bill. The New Zealand government's proposed legislation touches on the country's socio-economic recovery and amendments to the five existing laws which covers education, pandemic preparatory, information, local government, and residential tenancies.

However, the enactment of the Covid-19 bill in the Malaysian Parliament will face some challenges and issues. First, the government's delay in accelerating the bill to address Malaysia's socio-economic impact due to the virus outbreak. As of recently, the Bill of Implementation to reduce the impact of Covid-19 is said to be enforced latest by September 2020.

This is different from countries such as New Zealand and Singapore which have debated and passed the Covid-19 bill as early as the start of the pandemic in March.

Second, lawmakers will have limited time and space to review the Covid-19 bill. Although the Dewan Rakyat will convene for 25 days, the allocation of time for lawmakers to review the bill is estimated to be not more than 10 days. A total of 16 days is provided for the Royal Address of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and a further nine days is needed for present bills and government motion. In this case, will the Covid-19 bill be tabled in the Dewan Rakyat through a Select Committee review?

The best approach

The transparency and accountability of this bill should not be taken lightly by the Malaysian government. It must include transparency practices to ensure the government’s integrity in managing the Covid-19 crisis.

The government and the attorney general's office should include elements of parliamentary role as check and balance on executive governance in implementing parliamentary-approved policies such as the UK Coronavirus Act 2020.

In the UK, the government has the responsibility to present the report to the British Parliament every two months, including the rules not contained in the Act. If the parliament does not meet then, the report should be published on the government's official website.

The issue of transparency and accountability of the Covid-19 bill in Malaysia can be dealt with if the government gives the parliament select committee the opportunity to review the bill before it is debated by all lawmakers before the second reading.

This was as practised by New Zealand lawmakers when the bill on Covid-19 was passed to the Epidemic Response Committee comprising lawmakers from different parties, following its first reading on May 5, 2020. Later, the committee tabled it to the Parliament on March 12, 2020. All the lawmakers then debated in the Committee of the Whole House and eventually passed the bill.

Overall, the Covid-19 bill in New Zealand took eight days in an effective and transparent manner. It would not be a problem if the Malaysia government follows the same practice to scrutinise the Covid-19 bill and ensure its implementation is successful to address the socio-economic issues in the country.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.