Breach of parliamentary privilege if cabinet rebukes Parliament through Speaker – LFL

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By N Surendran

I refer to the statement on 8 March by Fahmi Fadzil that the cabinet will contact the Speaker of the House of Representatives to convey a stern rebuke (“teguran” or “kenyataan tegas”) over alleged misleading statements made by certain MPs during recent parliamentary sittings.

I had never before heard of a statement of this nature from the cabinet, directed at Parliament. Parliament is not a government department to which the cabinet may administer rebukes. This dangerous development must be nipped in the bud.

Infractions by MPs during parliamentary proceedings must be dealt with by the house itself, in accordance with its standing orders.

By virtue of Articles 62 and 63 of the Federal Constitution, the House of Representatives has complete power and control over its own affairs or proceedings. This is fortified in the Houses of Parliament (Privileges and Powers) Ordinance 1952, as well as in provisions of the standing orders.

Hence, if the cabinet proceeds with this unusual step, they may well be in breach of parliamentary privilege and commit contempt of the house.

I cannot recall a previous occasion when the federal cabinet had made such a stark attempt to control or exert influence over proceedings in the house, from the outside.

Individual ministers in their capacity as MPs can raise concerns in the house or move a motion to suspend an MP, but ministers cannot in their collective and extraneous role as the cabinet, attempt to regulate or interfere in parliamentary affairs. To allow this would lead to the emasculation of Parliament and lead towards a dictatorship of the cabinet.

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It does not matter which political coalition is in power, whether Pakatan Harapan-Barisan Nasional or Perikatan Nasional, this principle must be upheld.

The members of the cabinet must remember that the cabinet is a servant of the House of Representatives, and not the other way around. The cabinet holds power subject to the confidence of the House of Representatives.

It is baffling how the cabinet appears to have lost sight of this basic position.

Now, the cabinet must:

  • withdraw from the untenable course of action announced by Fahmi Fadzil henceforth refrain from issuing directions or rebukes of any nature to the house through the Speaker or otherwise
  • improve its parliamentary understanding by taking steps to comprehend and comply with the constitutional provisions and laws providing for the autonomy and independence of the parliamentary institution

Meanwhile, the Speaker and members of Parliament must be ever vigilant and vigorously resist any encroachment or threat to the independence of Parliament and the autonomy of its proceedings.

N Surendran is an adviser to Lawyers for Liberty (LFL)

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