Members of these committees should comprise those who have the interests and concerns of the rakyat at heart, writes Mustafa K Anuar.
If Parliament is the place where laws are supposedly made for the overall benefit of ordinary Malaysians, then Speaker Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof’s plan to allow the public to attend proceedings of special select committee meetings by next year is a step in the right direction.
These proceedings will be livestreamed for the benefit of those who cannot physically be present in the law-making body – which would go a long way towards reinforcing transparency in the parliamentary system.
This would also help concerned and interested members of the public to understand better certain public issues tabled and discussed by these committees. At the same time, they can keep track of performance of politicians who purportedly represent the interests of the electorate.
It is also commendable that since Pakatan Harapan came to power last year, 10 new select committees have been created by Parliament: budget; major appointments; rights and gender equality; defence and home affairs; federal-state relations; consideration of bills; elections; human rights and constitutional affairs; international relations and trade and science; and innovation and environment.
Parliament has also created two all-party parliamentary groups (APPGS) on sustainable development goals and policy for refugees, which are open to the participation of academics, civil society groups and industry professionals.
In this regard, perhaps we could do with a few more committees to look at other equally important matters, such as ethnic relations, minority affairs, education and backbench business. These are to address issues of increasing exploitation of race and religion by certain politicians in recent times, concerns of minority groups, problems of the national education system, and provision of parliamentary time for non-government business.
While it is significant progress that the parliamentary select committee meetings are made accessible to the public, it is crucial that their composition can command public respect and confidence to ensure worthwhile watching for the rakyat. Members of these committees, thus, should not only be those who have the interests and concerns of the rakyat close to their hearts but also ones who are competent and committed to their important responsibilities.
These cross-party committees should be able to select and examine issues objectively and in great depth, without having to score political points as they would tend to do in the Dewan Rakyat chamber. Ministers and officials, for instance, can be made to be more accountable with a committee that is bold and assertive in asking searching questions.
This would obviously give meat to the notion of accountability, which would also help prevent financial leakages. In the United Kingdom, for example, the chairman of a government agency is made to account to a select committee for the sluggish performance of the body he or she heads, given the high amount of remuneration that is received for that position.
Clearly, politicians whose so-called forte is only to flaunt their racial bigotry and sexism or to play clown in Parliament have no place in these important committees.
The robustness of these committees is also dependent on the financial allocation they receive, which, in turn, would determine how good their support staff is, in terms of doing research and providing administrative assistance.
With these developments, it is hoped that our Parliament is made more transparent and accountable to the ordinary people, whose lives are largely shaped by the laws crafted.