Suspending Parliament & Select Committees Is Regressive For Parliamentary Democracy

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Media Statement by YB Kelvin Yii:

The Parliament and also Parliament Select Committees (PSC) should be allowed to convene even during the current Emergency to provide important Parliamentary oversight especially over our country’s approach towards Covid-19 and the biggest national vaccine rollout scheduled to begin at the end of the month.

When I was elected as the Chairman of PSC for Health, Science and Innovation, one of the agenda that we pushed immediately was for a fortnightly or monthly briefing by the Ministry of Health (MOH), the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) and other relevant agencies briefings on the government’s Covid-19 public health strategy and the national Covid-19 vaccination programme.

We intend to get a briefing from the government to understand their overall approach. We will call up the private sector, NGOs and other experts to give their input, and we’ll come up with a report to feed back to the government so that there is an effective and efficient “all-of-government” and “whole-of-society” strategy and approach in the war against Covid-19 pandemic.

During this unprecedented time, this PSC plays a pivotal role to provide a bi-partisan parliamentary oversight to empower a more transparent, trustworthy, and unique legislature that is appropriate for current pandemic. This will also help build confidence and acceptance of the government’s approach towards the pandemic especially during the vaccine rollout.

That is why, I am deeply disappointed when I received the call from
the House’s Secretary (Setiausaha Dewan Rakyat), Mr. Nizam Mydin informing that after seeking legal advice from the AGC, all PSCs are not allowed to convene when Parliament sittings is suspended. I was informed that this is pursuant to Clause 14 of the Emergency Ordinance 2021.

Clause 14(1)(a) of the Emergency Ordinance 2021 states, inter alia:-

For so long as the emergency is in force, the provisions relating to the summoning, proroguing and dissolution of Parliament in the Federal Constitution shall not have effect.

This is of course a reversal of the Speaker’s initial position whereby the Speaker took on 12th January 2021 to confirm that All Party Parliamentary Group and all Parliamentary Select Committees shall continue to be in force.

Such move by the government is worrying and a threat to democracy as the executive cannot have free rein over the country’s affairs, without being held accountable by Parliament.

This also clearly contravenes the Federal Constitution where it clearly states in Article 43(3) of the Constitution that “The Cabinet shall be collectively responsible to Parliament”

The Constitution never envisaged that Parliament would be suspended in a proclamation of emergency. In fact, for 35 years from 1977 to 2012, Parliament had operated under four Proclamations of Emergency.

That is why the government’s move to suspend Parliament and all legitimate activities of Parliament in the guise of an Emergency is somewhat draconian and a huge step back in parliamentary democracy.

Without legislative scrutiny and accountability, the Executives becomes overly powerful without checks and balance. This is extremely dangerous during time of pandemic when unprecedented amounts of funds to manage the Covid-19 pandemic are being allocated.

That is why I believe the letter writer by Deputy Speaker Azalina Othman Said to defend the sanctity of the legislature deserves bipartisan support. That is why I urge the Speaker of the House Datuk Azhar bin Azizan Harun to also make the same stand and defend the sanctity of the Parliament and also the principles of separation of power.

We need Parliament to convene and the PSC to do it work especially during a pandemic such as this.

Kelvin Yii Lee Wuen
MP Bandar Kuching