Constituency development funds law key to political transformation of ‘Malaysian Family’

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Seed Community for a Professional Parliament welcomes Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s announcement of seven points of reform on 10 September, which is widely expected to be the core of a de facto confidence-and-supply agreement between the government and the official opposition.

We further call on the prime minister to produce a clear timeline for the realisation of these promised reforms in order to show its firm commitment to the public. However, we are also acutely concerned with some omission and dilutions from the offer made by former Prime Minister Mahiaddin Yasin on 13 August, as well as the misleading offer concerning Undi18 in both offers.

Constituency development fund act

The glaring omission is equitable constituency allocation. Mahiaddin categorically offered “all Members of Parliament (MPs) … the same annual allocation regardless of parties. For all the Opposition MPs, the allocation for this year will be made pro-rata for the remaining months.”

Ismail Sabri cannot offer less on constituency allocations than Mahiaddin without undermining his “Malaysian Family” approach and his own credibility and sincerity as a leader for inclusion and stability.

It would be most damaging if any constituency allocation offered to the opposition would be limited to only MPs from parties which enter the confidence-and-supply agreement with the government. It would mean Ismail Sabri’s Malaysian Family is not one based on fraternity but on transactions, that ‘you are my brothers and sisters only if you support me’.

Until proven otherwise, we remain hopeful that Ismail Sabri is a sincere, visionary and transformational leader who would introduce a new model of political stability for a vibrant, multi-party parliament. He should make it a legacy to enact a ‘constituency development fund act” to ensure regular and equitable constituency development funds for all MPs, regardless of parties. And this should be tabled at the latest in the October-November sitting so that the constituency development funds in 2022 would be provided under such law.

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Internationally, there are many constituency development fund laws that the Attorney General’s Chambers can easily emulate and adapt. In the event, the Attorney General’s Chambers is bogged down by other drafting works, civil society organisations like Seed Community for a Professional Parliament can offer their professional assistance.

We are also concerned with two dilutions from Mahiaddin’s initial offer.

Expansion of parliamentary special select committees

The first dilution was on parliamentary special select committees.

Mahiaddin made two ground-breaking offers. First, “the total number of parliamentary special select committees would be increased to ensure ALL MPs get to play the roles of check-and-balance more effectively through their involvement in such committees.” And second, “as a recognition to the check-and-balance role in Parliament, 50% of the parliamentary special select committees would be chaired by the government MPs and the remaining 50% by the opposition MPs”.

This has been watered down to a mere “balance in membership for parliamentary special select committees concerning government MPs and opposition MPs” in the 10 September statement.

All MPs must be guaranteed their right to sit in at least one parliamentary special select committee or the Public Accounts Committee if they so wish. That 88 (40%) of the 220 MPs were left without any executive, House and committee responsibility under the Mahiaddin government is simply not acceptable.

We expect the actual confidence-and-supply agreement signed would demonstrate the prime minister’s full commitment to the expansion of parliamentary special select committees, which must be preceded by a re-organisation of the Selection Committee, the committee that assigns membership of all other committees, to be multipartisan. Currently, the Selection Committee chaired by the Speaker is lopsided with five members from the government’s camp and only Anwar Ibrahim represents the 48% opposition bench.

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Status of parliamentary opposition leader

The second dilution concerns the renumeration and facilities provided to the parliamentary opposition leader, from “Senior Minister” in Mahiaddin’s offer to “minister” in Ismail Sabri’s announcement.

While the Members of Parliament (Remuneration) Act 1980 does not distinguish senior ministers from ministers, we look forward to express assurance that the parliamentary opposition leader would have access to government information, subject to reasonable constraints, that would be offered to a senior minister.

Immediate implementation of Undi18

Finally, we would like to point out that no constitutional amendment is needed to expedite the implementation of Undi18, and this must not be falsely presented as an obstacle for the government to claim a false credit.

The Constitution (Amendment) Act 2019 was complete, to enable the realisation of Undi18 even in 2019. The delay is merely and unnecessarily caused by the then insistence by the main parties in Ismail Sabri’s government for Undi18 (which does not involve any technicality) and automatic voter registration (which takes time to build the database infrastructure) to be tied together through Section 1(2). This section states that “[both changes come] into operation on a date to be appointed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong by notification in the Gazette”.  

Consistent with the Kuching High Court decision on 3 September 2021, the government must implement Section 3 of the Constitutional Amendment Act in its entirety without further delay. This will enable 1.2 million young Malaysians currently aged 18 – 20 and about five million Malaysians aged above 21 but who have not yet registered as voters to be eligible to vote immediately with the implementation of automatic voter registration. This would be the best way to show the Ismail Sabri government’s sincerity in respecting the Kuching High Court’s decision on the matter on 3 September.

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It is politically unwise for Ismail Sabri if the Malaysian Family is construed as a cynical family in which younger members’ rights can be deliberately held back for the political scheming of the elders.

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.

Signed by:

  1. Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0)
  2. Persatuan Pengundi Muda (Undi18)
  3. Engage
  4. Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs
  5. Bait Al-Amanah
  6. Institute for Political Reform and Democracy
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