Hope the DAP Parliamentary Reform Study Group would spark national interest in how to instill greater vigour, vitality and meaning in Malaysian Parliament

Speech by Parliament Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General, MP for Tanjung and Assemblyman for Kampong Kolam, Lim Kit Siang, at the inaugural meeting of the DAP Parliamentary Group on Parliamentary Reforms held in Parliament House on Tuesday, Nov 4, 1986

Hope the DAP Parliamentary Reform Study Group would spark national interest in how to instill greater vigour, vitality and meaning in Malaysian Parliament

The DAP Parliamentary Group has decided to form a Parliamentary Reform Study Group because we feel that on the occasion of the forthcoming 30th anniversary of Malaysian nationhood, one of the most neglected areas of our political system- parliamentary reforms- must be addressed seriously. As the Government has shown no interest whatsoever in taking the initiative to undertake comprehensive study of needed parliamentary reforms, the DAP as a responsible Opposition has decided to fill this gap to the best of our ability.

I feel that serious national studies of various aspects of our country, like national unity, review of the Malaysian Constitution after 30 years, higher education policy review and studies, etc would be more purposeful manner of celebrating our 30th year of nationhood, then just parades and march-pasts.

It is also our hope that the DAP Parliamentary Reform Study Group will spark national interest in how to instill greater vigour, vitality and meaning in our Malaysian Parliament, in other words, restore to Parliament its originally intended place as the apex of the political system which captures the imagination of the people where important political decisions and issues are debated and decided.

The Government has its political reasons for not being interested in parliament reforms, for life is much easier for the Prime Minister and Minister if Parliament remains as a rubber stamp of the Executive.

We must however take a long-term perspective of what is good for Malaysia and future generations, and not what is expedient or convenient for the political leaders of the day.

Malaysia is always well-represented at Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conferences all over the world, but while other Commonwealth Parliaments have played a vigorous role in parliamentary reforms to make their legislatures more effective and more in keeping with changing times and needs, the Malaysia Parliament has stood still in time for the last 30 years- and what is worse, in certain areas, gone backwards in curtailing parliamentary control of the Executive.

If we want to make parliamentary democracy a successful system in Malaysia, the Parliament must be a living and dynamic institution capable of adapting itself to the needs of changing times and popular demands.

There are many areas which the DAP Parliamentary Reforms Study Group can and should look into, for instance:

1. How the principle of parliamentary control of the Executive had fared in the last 30 years
2. How effective Parliament had been in controlling government finances, whether through the Public Accounts Committee or by the whole House itself
3. How to make question time more effective in eliciting information and demanding accountability from government front-benches
4. Specialist Committees to enable MPs to specialize and take part in various decision-making processes of national policies
5. Review the standing order on ‘urgent definite public importance motions to enable Parliament to debate topical and urgent public interest developments
6. Question of privilege as at present, it would appear that only the Government has the ‘privilege’ to refer Opposition MPs to the Committee of Privilege, while ‘offending’ MPs or Minister of the ruling parties are immune from such privilege reference
7. The status of substantive motions in terms of priority to be given for them to be debated, as otherwise, they cease to have any meaning and no different from ordinary motions
8. Increased time for debate in Parliament
9. Time for the Opposition to introduce Opposition business
10. Research, information and proper library facilities for MPs

One of the most urgent parliamentary reforms must be increase of parliamentary time for the transaction of parliamentary business. The number of MPs in the Dewan Rakyat had increased from 104 to 144 in 1963, to 154 in 1974 and now 177 MPs, but parliamentary time has not increased in proportion.

In the early sixties, for instance, the Parliament spent 27 days for the entire budget debate for an allocation which did not exceed even $1,000 million. Today, even with all the slashes and reductions, the Federal Budget still stand at over $27 billion. Despite an increase of over 27 times in Federal Budget, the time for debate has remained the same although there had also been an increase in the number of MPs. Last month, in fact, Parliament adopted supplementary estimates of about $1,000 million – in a matter of three days!

The DAP Parliamentary Reforms Study Group can adopt several modus operandi for its work, including:

1. Studying the innovations and developments in other Parliaments and legislatures, which could be applied to Malaysia
2. Interview present and former MPs, Minister and Speakers
3. Conduct public forums to generate public interest and views on needed parliamentary reforms
4. Conduct public hearings in Parliament House where Malaysian and organizations with proposals, ideas or memodandum can set out or elaborate their views

The terms of reference of the DAP Parliamentary Group Reform Study Group is not how to make Parliament more amenable to DAP MPs, but how to make Parliament more meaningful and effective to fulfil the role intended for it by the Malaysian Constitution and people.

For this reason, it is my hope that the Report of the DAP Parliamentary Reform Study Group could be a standard reference work for any future discussion of Parliament and its role in Malaysia, and which could be a guide for all Malaysian who are genuinely committed to the concept of parliamentary democracy.

As this study on parliamentary reforms is for the god of Parliament, and not for any partisan purpose, I suggest the Study Group approach the Speaker, Tan Sri Zahir Ismail, to see what help and assistance Parliament can provide for such a study.