It was not reassuring to be told by Dewan Rakyat Speaker Azhar Azizan Harun recently that the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) would be allowed to audit government spending made during the emergency soon after it is supposedly lifted in August.
We acknowledge and appreciate the role of the PAC in ensuring transparency and accountability of the government, but it is also important to emphasise that the legislature has a vital duty to scrutinise government spending beforehand.
That is why it is of utmost importance that the suspension of our Parliament be lifted as soon as possible so the MPs can do the job they are entrusted and paid to do.
Reconvening Parliament became urgent, especially after the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah, had given his consent, not too long ago, for the session to be held even during the emergency.
To scrutinise the additional government spending that had been unilaterally approved by the Perikatan Nasional government during the emergency is a situation akin to a fait accompli.
In fact, if our democracy acknowledges the crucial principle of separation of powers, we would instead expect the Speaker of the legislature to make a good case for the reopening of Parliament so that the legislature can check the actions and policies of the executive.
This is because apart from examining government spending, lawmakers also need to address pressing matters, particularly those concerning the Covid pandemic, which is now raging mercilessly across the land. For instance, the flip-flops in the movement control order restrictions require an all-party debate in search of a better alternative strategy for full-blown combat against the menace. Such flip-flops have caused unnecessary anguish, confusion and frustration among ordinary Malaysians, as well as heavy financial losses to businesses, especially small-time traders.
If two heads (and more) are better than one, then policies and strategies need to be debated and crafted in Parliament to ensure they can be effective easing the sufferings of the vulnerable in our society, especially those rendered jobless and penniless and who have to constantly worry about putting food on the table. In this regard, better informed and resourceful parliamentarians, as well as science and data, come in handy.
It appears that certain ministers could do with a bit of help, perhaps from other politicians, in policymaking and coordination.
There has been an outcry, for example, from small and medium enterprises hit by the so-called hotspots identification for dynamic engagement (HIDE) system, which they felt had targeted them unfairly. They feared that the stigma associated with the controversial listing would cost their businesses dearly.
Here, contradictory statements emerged, as pointed out by Seputeh MP Teresa Kok, between Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin and Senior Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob over HIDE. Khairy had said businesses listed under HIDE were not confirmed Covid clusters, while Ismail argued that these businesses must shut immediately for three days.
Both ministers were again seen locking horns. This time over the issue of police approval for people travelling across districts during the lockdown to get vaccination. Khairy said ythey did not need police approval, while Ismail disagreed.
Parents are confused over differing government instructions on the operation of kindergartens, childcare centres and nurseries for the implementation of the lockdown. This can affect parents’ work schedules, family arrangements and the running of these childcare entities.
In another incident, some workers who were authorised to travel for work were caught recently in apparent confusion regarding directives between the police and the International Trade and Industry Ministry (Miti). And how was this confusion resolved? Miti resorted to Twitter to inform the police that its authorisation letters to the travelling workers did not need police stamping.
It looks as if formal administrative procedure or protocol was set aside – and as a result their lack of coordination was indirectly made known to the public.
To reiterate, transparency and accountability are important in ensuring good governance, without which abuse of power may occur and ill-advised policies reign supreme. This, in turn, affects ordinary people.
Let the MPs – most, if not all, of whom have been vaccinated – go back to work in the Parliament. They owe it to their constituents and Miti. – The Malaysian Insight