Last week, House of Representatives Speaker Johari Abdul suggested that the meeting allowances payable to members of Parliament (MPs) who fail to attend parliamentary sittings should be deducted.
This allowance is provided for under Section 5 of the Members of Parliament (Remuneration) Act 1980 and set at a rate of RM400 per day according to Statute Paper 235 of 1983.
The Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4 Center) supports this suggestion, as the meeting allowance should not be considered an entitlement but an assistive tool to facilitate MPs’ attendance in Parliament. Based on a reading of the Hansard dated 18 June 1980 (when the Members of Parliament (Remuneration) Act 1980 was debated), the increased salary and allowances for MPs was intended at the time to support less wealthy elected officials in performing their official duties and responsibilities.
Of course, the continued relevance of this assertion over 40 years later is debatable, yet the principle is still applicable – financial standing must not be an impediment to any person wishing to be an elected MP. Therefore, the continued provision of this allowance is useful, but if an MP does not perform the very purpose which the allowance is meant to support, there is no logical basis for them to receive the payment at all.
However, it is imperative to also consider the bigger picture here. In response to Johari’s suggestion, several MPs have reportedly voiced their concerns – stating that they may be absent from parliamentary sittings due to other official duties within their constituencies or their involvement with government-linked companies.
This leads to a pressing question: should MPs – who are elected by voters to advocate on their behalf in the federal legislature on matters of national concern – be allowed to hold positions which impede that duty? As it stands, there is nothing preventing an MP from also being an elected member of the state legislative assemblies and numerous elected officials currently sit on the boards of government-linked companies as well.
If these roles are preventing MPs from performing their responsibilities, the government should seriously consider restraining this overlap of duties.
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Foregoing one’s duties as an elected official in favour of their involvement with government-linked companies is also another example of the insidious nexus between business and politics, where elected officials seem more focused on doing business instead of representing their voters. This is further exacerbated by the lack of regulation on political financing, which enables government-linked companies to be potentially used as vehicles to siphon funds for politicians’ personal interests.
The engagement of MPs in government-linked companies not only hampers their effectiveness in their roles as parliamentarians but also poses challenges for the government-linked companies they lead. This is due to the divided attention between their constituency work and their responsibility to ensure the government-linked companies fulfil their objectives, a commitment that demands significant time and dedication.
Furthermore, many MPs are simultaneously engaged in their personal business ventures and other professional work which makes it infeasible for them to fully dedicate themselves to their parliamentary duties.
Further, the length of each parliamentary session should also be increased to allow for more laws and reforms to be tabled. Presently, the second session of the 15th Parliament shall sit for a total of 80 days, including a six-day special meeting for the mid-term review of the 12th Malaysia Plan. Taking away the days allocated for the debate on the royal address and the Budget, only a fraction of time is left for the tabling of bills and questions to the government.
By comparison, the UK House of Commons sat for a total of 147 days from May 2020 to April 2021 and for 152 days from May 2021 to April 2022 (with sittings every month), whereas Article 54 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan requires the National Assembly to meet for not less than 130 working days in each year.
Thus, in order to facilitate the development of a more mature legislative process, the Malaysian Parliament should also aim to increase the duration of parliamentary sittings, which would allow MPs more time for debate and also to use measures such as questions to ministers or private members’ bills.
The proposed extension of the parliamentary session aligns with the current government’s agenda of reforming institutions, the economy and various legislation. For these reforms to be executed efficiently, every MP should fully commit to their responsibilities and actively engage in substantive debates, parliamentary select committees and taskforces established by the government to pursue these reform initiatives.
To effectively participate in these meaningful debates and contribute constructive suggestions to the reform process, MPs must dedicate significant time to conducting in-depth research on various issues. This becomes challenging if they are also involved in activities related to government-linked companies and personal businesses.
Hence, there is a compelling need for MPs to devote their efforts full-time to their parliamentary duties.
Therefore, C4 Center urges the following:
Implement Speaker Johari’s proposal to deny payment of the meeting allowance to MPs who fail to attend sittings
Expedite the introduction of laws to govern political financing, to regulate political appointments to government-linked companies, to prevent MPs from being appointed to government-linked companies, and to prevent the holding of both House of Representatives and state legislative assembly seats simultaneously
Increase the duration of parliamentary sessions, to allow for sittings throughout the year
Involve MPs in the various government taskforces which are currently pursuing reforms
– C4 Center