KUALA LUMPUR, July 21 — Malaysia’s attorney general should be a member of Parliament to enable the government’s top legal adviser to be present in parliamentary sittings and answer questions from lawmakers, Dewan Rakyat Deputy Speaker Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said urged today.
Azalina made this suggestion when asking Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin as the leader of the lower house to consider calling Attorney General Tan Sri Idrus Harun to the upcoming five days of special sittings from July 26 to August 2.
“Ideally, the AG should also participate in the upcoming Special Sitting. The MPs have questions unanswered,” she said in a three-page statement today.
Azalina pointed out that the Federal Constitution’s Article 145(2) states that it is the attorney general’s duty to advise the Yang diPertuan Agong or the Cabinet or any minister on legal matters as Malaysia’s chief legal advisor.
“Seen in this light, the AG is not only the legal advisor to the Cabinet of Ministers but rather he is also the legal advisor to the YDP Agong, which together with both Upper and Lower Houses, constitute Parliament,” she said.
Azalina noted that the attorney general is currently not legally required to answer directly to Parliament, before questioning who would then take on the role of justifying the rationale of the Emergency Ordinances that were introduced recently for the nationwide Emergency.
“To allay doubts of potential conflict of interest on the AG’s conduct, any AG should be given the right to be heard in Parliament in person and not through a third party,” the Pengerang MP said, when urging for the enabling of the attorney-general to directly and personally speak in Parliament.
In order to mitigate this in the future, Azalina said it was “high time” for the government to consider having a member of parliament as attorney general.
Azalina highlighted that the late former prime minister Tun Abdul Razak had as the then deputy prime minister moved in Parliament for the second reading of a Bill for amendments to be made to the Federal Constitution for the appointment of a “political AG”.
She quoted Tun Abdul Razak as having then said: “The Government is of the view that with the progress of our country and of our democratic institutions, it may prove desirable at some future date to have an attorney general as a member of the House. It may be convenient, and it may be desirable for the chief legal adviser to the government to sit in this House to explain and answer legal matters.”
While acknowledging that there are concerns of having a “political AG” in Malaysia as his tenure in office is at the prime minister’s mercy, Azalina said this is why any future Malaysian government must look into delegating the political AG’s prosecution powers to the solicitor-general who is independent and has prosecution expertise.
Azalina also suggested the safeguarding of the AG’s tenure: “To allay concerns about the AG’s tenure, Malaysia must restore the provision of having a tribunal before the AG can be removed just like we used to pre-1963.”
She further said the AG should be included in all Cabinet meetings to ensure the efficient scrutiny of legal matters and to ensure that the AG’s legal advice is not only sought and given on an “as and when” basis.
In the same statement, Azalina also asked the prime minister to consider setting up more parliamentart special select committees to enable MPs to scrutinise the government’s Covid-19 response and find solutions together to address the pandemic.
She noted that the upcoming Dewan Rakyat sittings from next week to August 2 only provided five days for 220 MPs to seek clarification and debate on the national Covid-19 response after seven months of the Parliament’s suspension, and went on to suggest that MPs be allowed to do more through the forming of new special select committees.
“I strongly urge the government to introduce a ‘Motion for Definite Matter of Urgent Public Importance’ under Standing Order 18 to establish more parliamentary committees, be it in the form of ad-hoc special select committees, committees to consider legislations or even special select committees to oversee ministries,” she said.
She also noted that the Federal Constitution’s Article 43(3) states that the Cabinet is to be collectively responsible to Parliament, and added that the Encyclopaedia Britannica states ministerial responsibility to be central to the parliamentary system as it ensures the government’s accountability to the legislature and to the population.
“If ministerial responsibility was truly appreciated by those in power, it is perfectly reasonable to expect elected members of the Dewan Rakyat to enquire and debate on all decisions that have been made during the Emergency.
“Should MPs not be allowed to do their part to invest in finding ways to mitigate further catastrophic effects of the pandemic together with the government of the day?” she asked.
She said the public is sceptical how a five-day special sitting can have any meaningful impact in holding the Cabinet responsible for their actions for the past seven months, pointing out that the 88 MPs who are not currently members of any parliamentary committees should be deployed to enable all MPs to meaningfully engage in the national Covid-19 response.
“All the government has to do is table a motion during the upcoming Special Sitting and establish more parliamentary committees immediately,” she said.
Azalina also called for funds to be allocated to Parliament to ensure parliamentary committees would be able to employ professional researchers and analysts to help identify issues affecting the public, noting that there is no better time and way for the government to help restore political stability by including all stakeholders to resolve issues collectively through Parliament.
She also called for the now-repealed Parliamentary Services Act to be reinstated, but also acknowledged parliament staffers’ reasons on why they are hesitant to see this law being reintroduced.
“A parliamentary committee should be allowed to inquire, investigate and report on the possibility of introducing a new legislation where Parliament can truly be autonomous and at the same time, government servants can still take charge of the day-to-day affairs of the Parliament,” she said, before citing the UK and Canadian experiences as examples of how Parliament’s operations can be run and governed.