Bersih, Reform lay out what needs to be done for parliamentary independence

Bersih and the Institute for Political Reform and Democracy (Reform) are calling for multiple reforms to be introduced in its recent report on reviving the Parliamentary Services Act (PSA).

The report, commissioned by Bersih and written by a group of researchers from Reform and public university academics, identified the need for parliamentary autonomy and independence in administrative and financial aspects.

“(The report’s) core message is that a Parliament that has its independence guaranteed by the constitution must have institutional autonomy, administrative autonomy, and financial autonomy.

“These ‘autonomies’ could only be achieved through the establishment of a parliamentary service commission to reverse the harms done on parliament via the abolition of the PSA in 1992,” said Senator Liew Chin Tong at a panel discussion on the report today.

Coincidentally, de facto Law Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar announced this morning his intention to modernise Parliament by getting rid of pre-Merdeka laws and rules, besides making the House independent from the executive.

His first course of action is reviving the Parliamentary Service Act (PSA).

Restoring it would give Parliament the ability to manage itself administratively and financially, instead of being under the purview of the executive as it is now.

Wan Junaidi expressed his intention to form a joint committee to ensure this can be executed swiftly, which led to Bersih chairperson Thomas Fann requesting that opposition MPs also be appointed to the committee.

“We welcome Wan Junaidi’s initiative. With reference to the establishment of a committee, I would like to request that opposition members are also invited to weigh in their opinions to improve the parliamentary institution,” he said.

Bersih and Reform also called for the establishment of a select committee on parliamentary administration and finance to assist an independent parliamentary services commission in carrying out its roles as well as implementing a model of expenditure management and budget preparation in collaboration with the government to ensure the financial autonomy of Parliament.

They said that the Federal Constitution should be amended to allow the secretaries of the Dewan Negara and Dewan Rakyat to be appointed by the commission, established under the PSA.

They urged for the commission to guarantee the independence of parliamentary service by codifying the commission’s core functions in the act; ensuring membership is in an odd number for voting purposes; the establishment of several departments in the Parliament and codifying the roles of the chief administrator of the Parliament, the secretary of the Houses and the secretary of the department; and codifying parliamentary service values as “philosophical values essential in the parliamentary service” or a code of conduct.

Meanwhile, Liew commended Wan Junaidi’s commitment to revive the parliament service act and amend the standing orders to keep up with time.

“His statement augurs well for the transformation of parliament that Malaysians have waited for decades. I hope he will leave a legacy by making his tenure the most transformative period of the Malaysian parliament,” he said.

However, he called on Wan Junaidi to aim to be the last minister of parliamentary affairs and end the position of chief administrator that was introduced by the former minister in charge of parliamentary affairs Nazri Aziz.

According to Liew, Nazri introduced the post as a “power grab” to exert his presence and impose his will on parliament, even convincing the cabinet to take away the powers of the secretaries of Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara and restrict them to the affairs of the chambers only.

“I hope Wan Junaidi would do a great service for the parliament and the nation by aiming to be the last minister for parliamentary affairs and help end the position of chief administrator.

“He should return the prestige and roles of the secretary of Dewan Rakyat as the chief administrator and secretary of Dewan Negara as deputy chief administrator of Parliament.

“The Parliament should be governed by the parliamentary service commission as proposed in the report, well as by former speakers Pandikar Amin Mulia and Mohamad Ariff Md Yusoff, with the secretary of Dewan Rakyat as the chief executive and secretary of Dewan Negara as deputy chief executive,” said Liew.

He added that the leader of the house could possibly be an experienced minister with a deep understanding of parliamentary affairs such as Wan Junaidi, as opposed to the prime minister.

Liew also called on Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob and Wan Junaidi to reverse the decision made by the previous Perikatan Nasional government which demoted the former secretary of Dewan Rakyat Riduan Rahmat in May 2020.

“Why was he demoted? Merely for accepting the no-confidence motion from former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohammad. It was a cruel decision because Riduan had done the right thing and should not be punished for upholding the sanctity of the Parliament.

“Riduan was secretary of Dewan Negara from 2014 till February 2020 when he replaced Roosme Hamzah as secretary of Dewan Rakyat. It is only right that Riduan is reinstated to his erstwhile position,” he said.