Reconvene Parliament – where there’s a will, there’s a way

I see no other way for Malaysia to move forward in this state of emergency.

MP SPEAKS | I write this out of utter frustration at the lack of response from my distinguished colleagues in the government. My questions to the attorney-general on the emasculation of Parliament and law minister have been left unanswered.

It would seem that the suspension of Parliament has not only crippled democracy, but it has also crippled the capacity of government officials of basic courtesy to respond to valid concerns raised by MPs beyond the walls of Dewan Rakyat.

At the expense of sounding like a broken record, I see no other way for Malaysia to move forward in this state of emergency but for the Parliament to reconvene. Since the government is fond of standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the citizens, allow me to humbly put forward my suggested SOPs for Parliament. Hopefully, fellow parliamentarians will agree and support the following recommendations:

To minimise Covid-19 risks: Ensure that all parliamentary staffers are vaccinated including all MPs and senators. I was informed that as of now, Parliament staffers are not considered as frontliners. I don’t agree with this. As guardians of both Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara which uphold democracy, they are frontliners in my opinion.

To minimise unwarranted “drama” in Parliament: Promulgate an ordinance for Parliament to reconvene without motions of confidence to be heard. Until and unless the pandemic is controlled and herd immunity of at least 50 percent is achieved, no general election should be held but instead, an Interim Emergency Government with an emergency cabinet be formed, with representation from all political parties.

To facilitate efficient parliamentary proceedings: Invest in preparing for Virtual Parliament and speech-to-text systems. It’s not costly. Even Zoom provides polling options to facilitate voting processes. And I’d be happy to use the mute function to stop errant parliamentarians who talk too much.

Enforce quorum requirements for in-person parliamentary proceedings. The Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara are large enough to ensure social distancing. Don’t worry about Standing Orders and constitutional parliamentary procedures since we are in a darurat.

(Note: In Australia, the House of Representatives resolved to meet in a manner not provided under the Standing Orders in response to the pandemic, and so did the Parliaments of Indonesia and France). Hendak seribu daya, tak hendak seribu dalih (Where there’s a will, there’s a way).

To promote “check and balance”: Use the Special Select Committees (SSCs) as an alternative tool to establish a transparent inquisitorial process and promote executive accountability. Make such hearings accessible to the public and in real-time so that the public can participate in the process.

Let’s learn from the experiences of other countries which are making significant headways in investigating and inquiring into how the pandemic has affected the public in general, particularly those from vulnerable groups such as women, people with disabilities, and children (check out Canadian SSC example).

To ensure fair allocation of constituency funds: Allocate “Constituency Covid-19 Funds” as a bipartisan tool to reset, restart and realign different political parties towards a common goal, i.e. Covid-19 pandemic. Please also consider granting all MPs special travel privileges to visit constituencies (for work purposes only).

To bridge the ever-growing political ideology gap: Allow MPs to “cross the floor“, collaborate and allow them to raise concerns and in doing that, equip them with all the necessary information to raise awareness and defend the government’s strategies. Work as one “Team Malaysia” to alleviate the “Confidence Crisis” which is clouding the nation.

To bridge the “trust deficit” between rakyat and administrators: (Please!) Use us, MPs, who were voted in by our constituencies as your agents of communication and public health information disseminators. Arm us with all the necessary health information and data on Covid-19, including myth-busters regarding the vaccine so that we can help you (the government) achieve your goals.

The government can lock down the people but the government must not lock down the process of democracy. We have already suffered enough trade-offs by compromising basic democratic and individual rights for the sake of a public health crisis.

We are at war with a virus that knows no borders and a key strategy to fight any war is gaining public trust. By denying the rights of MPs to engage with the government in a meaningful manner, you are denying the rights of the people.

America lost public confidence with the Vietnam war and again during the Iraq and Afghanistan crises. To re-establish public confidence and trust, we need to demonstrate three critical dimensions: Performance, professionalism, and patriotism.

When citizens are disconnected and angry, do not expect gratitude. A clear example is vaccine hesitancy and low uptake of vaccine registration, which is one of the many indicators that the government has lost the confidence of the people. Public mistrust must be handled via public debate via Parliament. Confidence building during a “period of war” will keep the people safe.

Read and understand how other countries published select committee reports on how the Covid-19 pandemic is being dealt with and finding solutions by the people for the people. Government know-all attitude must stop.

Meanwhile, the SSC in the UK has already published an interim report entitled “Unequal impact? Coronavirus, disability, and access to services: Interim Report on temporary provisions in the Coronavirus Act: Government Response to the Committee’s First Report”.

Whereas, the House Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs in Australia had adopted an inquiry into family, domestic and sexual violence with a view to announcing Australia’s next “National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children”.

It is unfathomable why Malaysia is unable to progress beyond the Emergency Ordinances. Given that Covid-19 is here to stay for years to come, we cannot afford to be in a state of emergency forever.

Do we remain the only country in the world that has immobilised Parliament in times of crisis?

P/S: I had a chat with Health DG Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah recently. He has no objection to Parliament reconvening virtually.

By : AZALINA SAID OTHMAN (Penggerang MP and deputy speaker of the Dewan Rakyat) – MALAYSIAKINI

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Stringer.

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