The leaders of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) parties, as well as those of WARISAN and BERSATU’s Chairman have recently issued a joint statement calling for Parliament to sit for at least two weeks, rather than just one day on 18 May 2020.
Why does the Opposition keep harping on this, especially given the Covid-19 novel coronavirus pandemic still on-going? Isn’t the rakyat tired of “politicking”?
Well, for one thing, the economy is being opened up right now, with the Movement Control Order (MCO) being rebranded as a “Conditional MCO (CMCO)”.
There has of course been controversy over how and when the states are choosing to implement the CMCO, but it seems likely that our economy is in the process of reopening.
If businesses in our capital can resume full operations—adhering to strict Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) of course—why not our nation’s legislature?
Parliament was originally supposed to sit from 9 March—16 April 2020, then after the fall of the PH Government, delayed to 18 May—23 June.
However, all we are left with now is a one-day, 18 May 2020 sitting. As has been argued elsewhere, this will be a mostly ceremonial event and MPs will not have any opportunity to question Ministers.
During this extraordinary crisis, we have been presented with capable and credible bureaucrats who ensured the country kept running. At the end of the day however, as a Parliamentary democracy, the Prime Minister and his cabinet must be held to account by the MPs.
This means that debates and perhaps much-needed legislation to tackle the socio-economic fallout will only take place in the July sessions.
Malaysia cannot wait that long.
This will mean that Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and his government will have no effective scrutiny on whatever actions it decides to take since the formation of the PN Government for a period of four months.
They will be basically able to use the machinery of government and spend the rakyat’s tax ringgits without any check and balance until then.
Muhyiddin claims that the people are sick of “politicking”. That may very well be true.
But his own actions—by appointing countless PN MPs to GLCs and other public bodies, often at the expense of technocrats—makes a mockery of this sentiment.
And this is not an excuse to clip the wings of our democratic institutions.
Most fundamentally the PN government has no electoral mandate, nor articulated any of its long-term plans or manifesto so far.
Indeed, the Minister of Finance Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz has recently warned that Malaysia’s economy could shrink even more than initially forecast due to the extensions of the MCO.
However, even the PRIHATIN economic stimulus packages have yet to be passed by Parliament—and they need to be.
There is also an urgent need for MPs to review and pass the packages, as well as most probably other measures that the government ought to be doing to save the jobs of ordinary Malaysians.
Why is the government being so lackadaisical?
Jobs, businesses and even lives are at stake.
We MPs are also willing and able to accept whatever SOPs imposed that will allow Parliament to function. To attend the Parliamentary opening, all MPs will be screened for Covid beforehand.
Other democracies have enabled their legislatures to function in one way or another through the Covid-19 pandemic. South Korea even had a general election during this period.
So, what excuse can the PN administration really give?
Historically, leaders who have prorogued legislatures in an attempt to avoid legislative scrutiny have been heavily criticised. And rightly so.
This happened to the-then Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada in 2008 and more recently, Boris Johnson of the UK in 2019. Indeed, the latter’s actions were declared illegal by the Supreme Court of the UK.
The Prime Minister should consider this when it comes to our own Parliament.
Our only intention is to perform our duties as the rakyat’s elected representatives to help save Malaysia, its people and economy.
The government should summon Parliament into session as soon as possible and allow it to sit for at least 2 weeks. There should be no excuse.
NIK NAZMI NIK AHMAD is the KEADILAN Organising Secretary and Setiawangsa MP. He also Chairs the Parliamentary Select Committee for Defence and Home Affairs.