Deputy Speaker also moots having said office-holder appointed among lawmakers, to have him ‘sit in the House’
KUALA LUMPUR – With many unanswered questions by MPs pertaining to the emergency and its ordinances, Attorney-General (AG) Tan Sri Idrus Harun has been urged to make an unprecedented appearance in Parliament at the upcoming special sitting beginning Monday.
Deputy Dewan Rakyat Speaker Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said said by virtue of Article 145(2) of the federal constitution, it is the AG’s duty to advise not only the Cabinet but the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, which – together with the Upper and Lower Houses – constitute Parliament.
“Presently, the AG is not legally required to answer directly to the Parliament. In lieu of that, who will justify the rationale of the ordinances promulgated during the emergency?
“To allay doubts of potential conflict of interest on the AG’s conduct, any AG should be given the right to be heard in Parliament in person and not through a third party,” she said in a statement today (July 21).
Azalina’s call comes in light of criticisms hurled at Idrus after he was accused by certain quarters of impartiality in advising the Agong on matters relating to the emergency as well as the position of the prime minister.
Idrus had, on June 25, said the monarch must only act on the advice of the cabinet, and on July 8, backed Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin as the prime minister despite Umno’s withdrawal of support.
He had also been questioned previously over his role in advising the Istana Negara to proclaim a state of nationwide emergency beginning January, which many had claimed to be a misguidance.
Moving forward, Azalina urged for a constitutional amendment that will see future AGs be appointed among the members of Parliament, as it would be desirable to have him sit in the House to explain and answer legal matters.
On concerns that a political AG’s tenure in office will be at the mercy of the prime minister, Azalina urged for the restoration of a pre-1963 provision to have a tribunal before the position holder can be removed.
To ensure legal matters are efficiently looked into and scrutinised, she said the AG should also be included in all Cabinet meetings so that his opinions are continually given to the executive and that his advice is not only sought and given on an “as and when” basis.
Additionally, Azalina said the government must look into delegating the AG’s prosecution powers to the Solicitor-General, who is independent and has prosecution expertise.
Reinstate PSA, set up more Special Select Committees
Among other proposals to the prime minister, Azalina urged for the reinstatement of the Parliamentary Services Act (PSA) – an act allowing Parliament to conduct its own administration, staffing and financing – which was repealed in 1992.
“Frankly speaking, my personal experience of being a Deputy Speaker has taught me to empathise with the reasons proffered by Parliament staffers as to why they remain hesitant or reluctant to the idea of having the PSA reintroduced.
“A parliamentary committee should be allowed to inquire, investigate and report on the possibility of introducing a new legislation where Parliament can truly be autonomous – and at the same time, government servants can still take charge of the day-to-day affairs of the Parliament.”
Azalina also noted that at present, the public remain sceptical how the coming five-day special sitting can have any meaningful impact in holding the Cabinet responsible for their actions during the emergency.
In view of this, the Pengerang MP has urged the government to establish more parliamentary committees to oversee ministerial affairs, by way of introducing a “Motion for Definite Matter of Urgent Public Importance” under Standing Order 18.
To back her proposal, she cited Article 43(3) of the constitution which expressly states that the Cabinet shall be collectively responsible to Parliament.
“If ministerial responsibility was truly appreciated by those in power, it is perfectly reasonable to expect elected members of the Dewan Rakyat to enquire and debate on all decisions that have been made during the Emergency.
Should MPs not be allowed to do their part to invest in finding ways to mitigate further catastrophic effects of the pandemic together with the government of the day?
With 88 MPs still free from any parliamentary committee responsibility, Azalina called for the utilisation of these lawmakers, to ensure that every member of the House can meaningfully engage in the national Covid-19 response.
“All the government has to do is table a motion during the upcoming Special Sitting and establish more parliamentary committees immediately.
“Funding should be allocated to Parliament so that these parliamentary committees can employ professional researchers and analysts to help identify issues affecting the rakyat,” she said.