Reforms to the management of Parliament are needed to uphold its and ensure integrity and good governance for the nation, writes WH Cheng.
The Parliamentary Caucus on Reform and Governance, chaired by Port Dickson MP and PKR president Anwar Ibrahim, was set up to lead efforts to reform the parliamentary system and to tackle major issues of governance, looking into weaknesses and generating initiatives to reform the administration.
The parliamentary caucus is also reported to be planning to revive the Parliamentary Services Act, which was abolished in 1992 by the then Barisan Nasional government. The parliamentary administration was moved and placed under the direct purview of the Prime Minister’s Department. A minister without portfolio appointed to handle all affairs related to parliamentary staffing, budgeting and administration.
To revive the Parliamentary Services Act, the caucus tasked to handle the effort must ensure that the future act must be improvised and must not be part of the executive government’s instrument. The act must ensure total independence of the parliamentary service, free from any interference into its affairs especially from the executive organs.
To affirm its independence, the act must consist of a few independent entities of its own to be empowered to manage its own affairs effectively. A parliamentary service commission, a chief executive officer to handle the day-to-day affairs of the parliamentary service and a parliamentary corporation to take over the ownership of the parliament building and other complexes within the parliamentary compound as well as other assets with are deemed part of the parliamentary operations.
Principle role of the parliamentary service
The principle roles of the parliamentary service must be spelled out in details:
- to provide administrative and support service to the lower house, the Senate, MPs and senators
- to administer funding entitlement for parliamentary purposes and to process its remittances
- to administer the entitlement of the cabinet ministers, MPs, senators, the speaker, deputy speakers and the Senate president
- to administer the travel entitlement and its remittance to former MPs and former senators
- to provide research service and data to MPs and senators in support of their role as people’s representatives
Parliamentary service commission
To determine, create and implement the policy related to parliamentary resources, staffing appointments, finances or any other related matter, a parliamentary service commission must be established to perform the following roles:
- to advise the parliamentary speaker and the senate president on matters of the services to be provided to the house, Senate, MPs, senators, political parties, NGOs and any other appointees or those participating in inter-parliamentary programmes
- to advise the parliamentary speaker and senate president on the proposed direction related to the administration and the funding to support the research facility for MPs and senators
- to appoint, hire or contract any persons deemed fit to be officers, employees or research assistants to work in the parliamentary service
- to appoint a CEO to head and manage the day-to-day affairs of the parliamentary service or any other senior executives to assist the CEO in ensuring the proper administration of the parliamentary service.
A parliamentary corporation should be formed – as a corporate entity with perpetual succession and a common seal – and may exercise all the rights, powers and privileges and may incur all liabilities and any obligations.
The parliamentary corporation will be empowered to facilitate transactions relevant to the duties of the parliamentary service and to acquire, hold and dispose of interests in any land, buildings or any other assets for parliamentary purposes.
For the purpose of performing such functions, the parliamentary corporation may carry out the following:
- Enter into deeds, contracts or arrangements to purchase, acquire, lease, sub-lease or license any building or parts of the building, or to acquire any interest in land or any other property
- Sell, transfer, dispose or assign any lease, land or building or part of building
- Enact, alter, rebuild or add any building
- Develop or improve any land and fit out any building
- Grant leases, tenancies, and licences over land or parts of the building or parts of the building held by the parliamentary corporation and create easements or any restrictions over such land or building
Once the Parliamentary Service Act is revived and the act comes into effect, the federal government through the Prime Minister’s Department or any other government ministries must undertake to transfer the ownership of the parliament building, any parts of the building, complexes or any other land, parliamentary officials, staffs, research facility and other assets within the building or land to the parliamentary corporation. This will ensure the entire parliamentary system is no more part of the executive organ and becomes an independent entity with its own rights, powers and privileges.
Empowering the select committees
Apart from turning the parliamentary system into an independent entity, another provision can be added to the Parliamentary Services Act to empower parliamentary select committees. This will provide the most effective checks and balances on the executive government so that it performs to its standards and to the best interests of the people and nation.
In addition, the act should also provide these select committees with powers to call, summon or demand closed-door or public hearings with any member of the cabinet, deputy ministers, senior ministry officials or any other senior civil servants to answer questions or inquiries regarding budgets, public policy, implementation or whatever interests or issues that may generate public interest.
In doing this, the act should also empower the government to provide an annual or monthly allocations to all these select committees. It should also provide them with necessary research facilities, service and communications with all government ministries and agencies in support of the select committees’ effort to carry out their roles and responsibilities effectively.
Such allocations are crucial to allow select committees to establish their own administrative staff, research and communications and to hire experts to assist them in the portfolios under their watch.
These particular reforms are indeed an important measure and a key to ensuring that parliamentary independence and dignity is upheld in order to ensure integrity and good governance for our nation.