Parliament should sit for more days

Media statement by DAP National Political Education Director and MP for Kluang Liew Chin Tong on 10th November 2014

I call on the Speaker of Parliament, Tan Sri Pandikar Amin, to revise upward the number of sitting days for 2015 from 61 days to at least 80 days. I also call on Barisan Nasional backbenchers to pressure the Najib Government to agree to an increase of sitting days.

Unlike most other parliaments, the Malaysian Parliament does not have a committee system to oversee ministerial performance and scrutinise ministerial budget in a detailed fashion. The sittings in Parliament’s chamber is the only platform for MPs to scrutinise the Government, yet the number of sitting days is on an alarmingly sharp decline.

In 2008, the Dewan Rakyat sat for 79 days; 72 days in 2009; 83 days in 2010; 63 days in 2011; 70 days in 2012; 51 days in 2013; and 57 days in 2014.

From the provisional parliamentary calendar, 61 sitting days are scheduled for Dewan Rakyat sittings in 2015. The Dewan Rakyat will sit from 9th March to 9th April; 18th May to 18th June; and 19th October to 3rd December 2015. The 11th Malaysia Plan is to be presented on 21st May and Budget 2016 will be presented on 23 October.

When the 10th Malaysia Plan was presented in 2010, Parliament devoted substantial days to debate it and Dewan Rakyat sat for 83 days in that year. But 61 sitting days in the year we are to debate the 11th Malaysia Plan is not a good sign.

Just for the sake of comparison, the British House of Commons sat for 162 days in the 2013-2014 Session and the Australian parliament typically sits for 150 days per year. Beyond the sitting in the main chamber, these parliaments have very robust committee debates and deliberations, which the Malaysian Parliament refused to adopt.

Parliament begins the “committee stage” of Budget 2015 debates today. It is not an actual committee comprising a small group of MPs from both sides of the political divide as most would expect but just the “Committee of the House” where there is almost no difference from a chamber debate except that the Speaker is called a “Chairman” in such settings and the Parliament’s mace is lowered.

Just two years ago in 2012, 18 sitting days were devoted to the “Committee Stage” of Budget debates but it is now 10 days only. It just means the Government is getting even lesser scrutiny in an already constrained and restricted parliamentary system. This must change!

Liew Chin Tong

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