MPs need Parliamentary researchers

APRIL 15 — There are a number of Members of Parliament who suffer from the “foot-in-mouth” syndrome when speaking in Parliament.

Of the 222 elected representatives in Parliament, quite a number actually appreciate the need to prep themselves — either on their own or with the help of Parliamentary researchers — before engaging in a debate.

But many others downplay the need for homework and opt to speak “off the cuff”, trying to prove that they know a whole lot more than they actually do.

This leaves many of us who work in Parliament — be it researchers, officers or journalists — and others who tune in to catch the daily debates cringing with disbelief.

And the latest addition to this seemingly ever-growing list is Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz.

Replying to PKR MP Steven Sim Tze Tzin on the need for more Parliamentary researchers, Nazri said there was no need for that as Members of Parliament are smart and most of them speak “off the cuff.”

In his winding-up speech on Parliamentary Reforms, the Padang Rengas MP went on to say that Parliament should not convene for more days as MPs do not depend solely on their income as elected representatives since they engage in businesses too.

According to the Umno Supreme Council member, there are 14 Parliamentary researchers on Parliament’s payroll available to the 222 Members of Parliament; they are separated into four policy areas — Economy, Social, Science and Technology, as well as International Affairs and Security.

This is simply insufficient to cater to all the policy areas MPs work on and many resort to hiring external help — although they are not provided the funds to do so — to prepare speeches, research on areas they work closely in including vetting Bills presented to Parliament.

I have worked closely with an MP on these areas for over three years now and it is no walk in the park.

It can sometimes take weeks to research national and local policy matters, outline the important areas, crunch vital numbers to back up arguments — especially on economic policies — and fine tune a speech to ensure it is as simple as possible to understand.

For instance, the MP I work with has been following the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement since the 13th General Elections and the work which went into detailing the final debate in January this year was immense.

Although our office was already familiar with the issues surrounding the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, there was no “off the cuff” nonsense in the final Parliament speech about the trade deal.

I also am familiar with a number of other MPs who work closely with their researchers to ensure that they are armed with facts, figures and everything that comes with it to ensure that their constituents get proper bang for the buck after electing them into Parliament.

Additionally, Parliament should convene for more days to allow for a thorough process of lawmaking instead of the shocking clock-stopping approach we are accustomed to now.

Malaysia’s Parliament sits for a meagre 53 days this year, well off the international hallmarks in the United Kingdom (133 days) and New Zealand (91 days).

But by arguing that Parliament does not need to meet more often because MPs are making money elsewhere simply shows where Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz’s focus lies; not in improving Parliament by learning from experiences abroad but finding a cop out to maintain status quo.

The first step to improving the quality of debate in Parliament would be to allow Members of Parliament to hire Parliamentary researchers.

That should be followed by an increase in the number of days Parliament convenes, followed by a whole slew of other upgrades the people of Malaysia have been calling for.

Malaysians deserve better than witnessing more of their MPs contracting the “foot-in-mouth” disease, like Nazri has done.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.