Don’t remove public scrutiny of government spending; reconvene Parliament, state assemblies now!

There is no reason why these legislative bodies must remain shut when most other sectors are operating normally

Aliran is alarmed that a new ordinance gazetted yesterday will temporarily allow the prime minister, chief ministers and menteris besar to approve government spending beyond their budgets without having to seek parliamentary or state legislative approval.

The Emergency (Essential Powers) (Amendment) Ordinance 2021 came into force while Parliament remains suspended under emergency rule.

The ordinance allows federal and state leaders to approve extra government spending or withdrawals from federal or state consolidated funds without legislative oversight.

This effectively means that Parliament and the state assemblies will no longer be able to scrutinise such spending or provide checks and balances. Elected representatives, supported by their researchers, will be unable to question ministers or state executive council members in their respective legislatures.

This government money is money that belongs to the public. The ordinance sidesteps public scrutiny, exercised by the people’s representatives, of how this money is spent.

With a general election said to be looming, the situation is even more serious. It will mean no scrutiny of government spending ahead of the polls. How can we be sure that public money will not be used for vote-buying initiatives?

There is another serious implication of the removal of public scrutiny. The federal government, already saddled with so much debt, is now heavily reliant on loans and borrowings. Removing parliamentary checks and balances will increase the financial risk of government borrowing from the lenders’ perspective. Financial institutions may then increase interest rates on government borrowings in the future.

The media, civil society and the public must step up and demand that Parliament and the state assemblies reconvene immediately. There is no reason why these legislative bodies must remain shut when most other sectors are operating normally.

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Aliran executive committee
1 April 2021
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