The Seed Community for a Professional Parliament conducted a preliminary survey of Members of the Dewan Rakyat (MPs) to obtain feedback on the implementation of the National COVID-19 Immunisation Programme (PICK) in their respective constituencies. The survey seeks to understand the extent of MPs’ role in the implementation of PICK, their on-the-ground observations and the challenges faced in carrying out their representational functions under current restrictions.
The online survey was conducted between 20 May to 12 June 2021. All 220 existing MPs were directly invited to respond. 58 MPs responded to the survey within the prescribed time frame, representing approximately 26% of the total MPs in the Dewan Rakyat. Two of the 58 MPs are Deputy Ministers in the current administration. The respondents comprise MPs from 10 political parties and includes Independent MPs. There are between one to nine MPs from every state, including Sabah and Sarawak. Of the 58 MPs, 36 (62%) represent urban constituencies, 16 (28%) represent sub-urban constituencies and 6 (10%) represent rural constituencies.
SUMMARY OF THE SURVEY
MPs’ observations on the implementation of PICK and their role
On the implementation of PICK within their constituencies, only 19% of MPs agree that the PICK rollout has been efficient, rapid and impartial. The overwhelming majority (71%) disagreed or strongly disagreed, while the remaining 10% were not sure. Even among the proportion of MPs that the government involved in the implementation or provision of feedback on PICK, only 43% agreed that the programme is being run efficiently, rapidly and impartially, while half (50%) disagreed.
With regard to their role, all 58 MPs who participated in the survey were unanimous in their agreement of the vital role that MPs play in the national COVID-19 immunisation efforts. They all agreed (88% strongly) that it is critical for MPs to be able to obtain information and clarification from the government, and provide suggestions and feedback to the government, in order to ensure the highest standards in the implementation of PICK for the public benefit.
However, only 19% of the MPs in the survey felt that they had received sufficient information and data on PICK to enable them to answer their constituents’ questions and adequately respond to their needs. The vast majority (81%) said that they received either insufficient information (48%) or not enough information at all (33%) to effectively discharge their constitutional / representational functions. This lack of information and sense of debilitation was particularly felt by almost all of the MPs from urban (90%) and sub-urban (81%) constituencies, and by a third (33%) of the small sample of MPs from rural constituencies.
Government’s engagement with MPs in the rollout of PICK
The data from the survey indicates that the government has taken a fairly impartial approach in reaching out to MPs to brief them on PICK. A majority (67%) of survey participants had been invited to attend government-led briefings on PICK. This includes a majority of urban (69%), sub-urban (56%) and rural (83%) MPs.
However, the government’s policy on involving and engaging MPs appears to be limited to a one-way communication channel – while authorities seem open to briefing MPs, they do not seem prepared to include MPs in a structured or transparent way in the execution of PICK within the MPs’ respective constituencies, or to set up a clear system of communication that allows MPs to provide feedback to, and seek clarification from, the authorities. An overwhelming 76% of survey participants were not included by the government in the process of implementing and sourcing feedback on PICK, and this comprises 81% urban, 75% sub-urban and 50% rural MPs surveyed.
The inclusion of MPs in the PICK process can yield positive results, as this survey shows. Of the 24% of MPs who have been included by the authorities in the implementation of PICK or in feedback on the programme, more than half (57%) felt that they were receiving sufficient information on PICK and just under half (43%) felt that the national immunisation programme was efficient, rapid and impartial.
The main issues relating to PICK that were identified by MPs
Overall, the government’s current outreach and engagement with MPs was viewed as insufficient by the MPs surveyed. Of greater concern, these shortcomings are affecting the ability of MPs to discharge their role and functions. For example, of the 39 MPs in the survey who attended government-led briefings on PICK, 76% felt that they had received insufficient or not enough information at all on PICK to enable them to answer their constituents’ questions and adequately respond to their needs.
MPs also observed the breakdown in communication between the government and the public in their activities on the ground. A large majority of MPs (between 66% – 88%) reported that their constituents lacked sufficient information regarding the types of available vaccines, known vaccine side effects, the vaccine registration process and scheduling of vaccine appointments. A majority of MPs (62%) reported that their constituents were afraid or uncertain about being vaccinated. Some MPs also highlighted the lack of basic information regarding the location of PPVs, the lack of proximity between PPVs and the communities they are meant to service, and the lack of transportation arrangements for vulnerable communities.
MPs’ commitments and contributions towards achieving national immunisation goals
In spite of the hindrances they face, all the MPs participating in the survey remained committed and contribute towards achieving our national immunisation goals and assisting their constituents in accessing PICK and managing the impact of the pandemic. 95% of participating MPs involved themselves in communicating available information on PICK to the public, and 79% involved themselves in immunisation registration drives. Approximately 29% of MPs also attempted to provide their feedback and ideas to the JKJAV.
Presented with the opportunity within the survey to offer suggestions on furthering the national COVID-19 immunisation goals, MPs made proposals on various aspects of the immunisation process and pandemic management, which were informed by their on-the-ground observations. Proposals include ideas on: designing inclusive working groups and networks that can accelerate the immunisation process, assist in pandemic management and act as a channel of communication; prioritisation of vulnerable and frontline groups; data collation and distribution.
MPs near unanimous that Parliament must reconvene
In the face of these challenges and difficulties, almost all the MPs surveyed (91%) supported the reconvening of Parliament and particularly, parliamentary committee proceedings, as a factor that would contribute towards accelerating the implementation of PICK and the achievement of the nation’s immunisation goals. 93% of MPs also supported measures to enlist MPs and their service centres in the implementation of PICK.
Parliamentary proceedings may be suspended under the Emergency, but as this preliminary survey indicates, the members of the Dewan Rakyat are continuously navigating the fallout to find ways to carry out their constitutional role and representational obligations, under challenging conditions.
The government initiated the suspension of Parliament and thus, the removal of the traditional avenues through which MPs scrutinise, seek clarification and provide feedback on the government’s policies and programmes. However, this survey shows that the government has not taken proactive steps to put in place structured and constructive alternative measures for MPs to act as a checkpoint and dual channel of communication on PICK.
Such platforms are critical. As this survey indicates, MPs have a wealth of data to share, and genuine public concerns to communicate regarding current policies and programmes. They also have ideas to contribute that may improve the national immunisation efforts and the broader management of the pandemic. This preliminary survey indicates that where there was government engagement with MPs on PICK, there were higher levels of understanding and support from them. Had the issues relating to COVID-19 been allowed to be raised and debated through the parliamentary process in the last six months, the transparency and engagement may have led to increased support from MPs, and by extension from the public.
Based on the results of this preliminary survey, the Seed Community for a Professional Parliament reiterates its call for Parliament to reconvene as a matter of priority, with parliamentary committees free to conduct proceedings under safe conditions, and a special select committee formed to scrutinize PICK and engage with health and epidemiology experts and civil society organisations working on health on ways to bring the Covid-19 pandemic under control.
Some have justified the suspension of Parliament as a means of enabling the government to legislate and implement policies swiftly and easily in a time of national crisis. But the process of governance in a democracy must never be wholly unchecked and unaccountable. In fact, it is in such times that the government must commit to the hard work of delivering policies and programmes transparently and under parliamentary oversight, albeit under reasonable restrictions. Any loosening of the rules of democratic governance must be negotiated through compromise on both sides, and not arbitrarily set aside by one side. Shortcuts that reflect authoritarian practices cannot be given a place in our system of government.
This statement is initiated by the Seed Community for a Professional Parliament, a network of individuals active in civil society organisations, think tanks and academia working towards a professional Parliament that facilitates healthy policy competition between parties.
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