by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Tanjung, Lim Kit Siang, in Petaling Jaya on Friday, 14th February 1992:
The decision to reduce Parliamentary week from five sittings to four a week most improper and irregular
The letter by the Secretary to Parliament, Dato’ Haji Wan Zahir bin Sheikh Rahman, dated 25th January 1992 notifying all MPs that the Parliamentary week would be reduced from five sittings to four a week beginning with the April Parliamentary meeting is most improper and irregular.
The shortening of the Parliamentary week has highlighted the lowly place Parliament has been reduced to in recent decades, until Parliament is treated not only as a rubber stamp, but as a minor government department.
The Malaysian Parliament has reached a stage where it has even lost the right to govern its own affairs, and the question of the shortening of the Parliamentary week is decided not by MPs but by Ministers.
The fundamental principle of a parliamentary democracy that Ministers must account to MPs in Parliament has been reversed in Malaysia, where MPs must satisfy Ministers in the Cabinet!
It was reported in the press that the decision to shorten the Parliamentary week was made by the Cabinet following representations by the Barisan Nasional Backbenchers’ Club
Surely this is a matter which should be made by Parliament itself and has nothing to do with the Cabinet whatsoever.
If Parliament decides to shorten or lengthen the Parliamentary week, it is no business of the Cabinet either to agree or disagree, but only to comply with the decision of Parliament – unless the Barisan Nasional Government publicly declares that in Malaysia, the apex of the democratic system is the Cabinet and not the Parliament.
Although the Parliamentary Standing Orders do not state how many days Parliament should meet a week, any change of existing parliamentary practice and procedure must be decided by Parliament itself and not by a body extraneous to Parliament.
The Secretary to Parliament should take orders from Parliament and not from Cabinet, for otherwise, we might as well dispense with the office of Secretary to Parliament and let the Cabinet Secretary double up as Secretary to Parliament.
There is a Standing Orders Committee as well as a House Committee in the Dewan Rakyat, the latter charged to deal with matters connected with the comfort and convenience of MPs.
The question of the change of the Parliamentary week, whether to lengthen or shorten it, should be referred to the Standing Orders Committee or House Committee for study first, before tabling the matter in the Dewan Rakyat for a decision.
If Parliament has lost the right even to run its own affairs, as to decide on whether to have a five-day, four-day or even six-day Parliamentary week, how can Malaysians believe that Parliament can play a meaningful role to provide the checks and balances necessary to hold the Government and Cabinet to the principles of democracy, responsibility and accountability?
The Secretary to Parliament should retract the letter that he had sent out to all MPs on the shortening of the Parliamentary week, until he had received instructions from Parliament, whether by the Dewan Rakyat or the House Committee of the Dewan Rakyat on the matter.
Until a decision has been properly made by Parliament itself, the status quo of the five-day parliamentary week must remain.