FEBRUARY 8 — You’ve just been voted in as a member of parliament, not under the executive branch but still excited nonetheless. You’re enthusiastic about the possibilities, as you believe you have numerous ideas and recommendations that can assist the Rakyat. However, as parliament begins, you start to realise that your voice goes unheard. This is a common issue faced by many members of parliament, especially opposition backbenchers.
In Malaysia, for members of parliament not part of the executive branch to propose a law, they have to do it through a private member’s bill. In simple terms, a private member’s bill is a proposed law introduced by a member of a legislative body who is not part of the government.
While a private member’s bill is supposed to provide a voice for those not part of the government, in reality, the bureaucracy makes it very hard to even table such bills.
The process of how a private member’s bill works in Malaysia begins with the presentation of a motion by an ordinary MP, approved by the Speaker, and listed in the Order Paper. The executive, led by the Prime Minister, influences the process. The House debates the motion, not the bill’s details. If the motion is passed, signifying acceptance, the MP hands the bill to a minister. This minister oversees the transition of non-government business into a potential Government Bill. The process reflects a fusion of power, with the minister producing a report as a crucial step in converting the Private Member’s Bill into a potential Government Bill.
Despite these steps, the most challenging part of the private members’ bill is passing it through the Speaker. In 2022, 17 private members’ bills on citizenship for foreign-born children were rejected by the Speaker. When a private member’s bill is rejected by the Speaker, it will not be brought up, stopping it in its tracks.
Even if a private member’s bill is approved by the Speaker and added to the order paper, there is still a rough road ahead. In an interview that we conducted with Datuk Mastura Yazid, former MP of Kuala Kangsar and Former Federal Deputy Minister, she informed us that private members’ bills are always pushed aside to prioritise the government’s business. This means that some bills may not even see the light of day. Furthermore, she mentioned that certain private members’ bills may be buried or rejected outright if they pose a threat to the government, for example, when a bill could affect foreign relations. Additionally, when asked if there was any private members’ bill that Datuk would recommend herself, she said that if given the opportunity, she would like to introduce a bill requiring political parties contesting in the General Election to fulfill the 30 per cent requirement of fielding female candidates. If any party fails to do so, they should be disqualified from the General Election altogether.
In another interview conducted with The Adun of Puteri Wangsa, YB Amira Aisya Abd Aziz stated that if she were in a position to introduce a private members’ bill, she would propose an Equitable Constituency Development Fund that can be used by an MP for development projects in each constituency.
YB Amira Aisya maintained the stance for an Equitable Constituency Development Fund so that everyone in Malaysia will be treated fairly by the government, regardless of which politicians they choose to elect in elections.
Now, let’s face the music. Can private members’ bills work in Malaysia?
In theory, yes. The private members’ bill can work in the Malaysian Parliament, but the mechanism is not fully functional in our country.
In Malaysia, no bill brought forward by a Private Member of Parliament has ever been passed into law.
More often than not, any bills that are not brought by the Cabinet will not be prioritized, as per Standing Order 15(1) of the Malaysian Parliament’s Standing Orders. Standing Order 15(1) specifically mentions that government affairs will be prioritized by the House.
This means that if the government is uninterested in the private members’ bill brought by government backbenchers or opposition members, that bill will remain on the order list of the house without ever being debated.
Private members’ bills in the Malaysian Parliament encounter significant challenges, with practical hurdles undermining their theoretical promise. But we can make private members’ bills a less daunting task by following examples from other countries like the UK. For instance, in the UK, they have the “10-minute rule“ where, on certain dates, a member of parliament can propose a bill and speak about it for 10 minutes. If they can persuade other members, the bill can proceed to its first reading.
Additionally, we could implement special committees to review private members’ bills. These committees would be unbiased and would help prevent bills from being dismissed solely because they may challenge the current government. Notably, such special committees are currently being implemented in British Columbia and could serve as a valuable example for Malaysia.
Private members’ bills hold promise for a more inclusive legislative process in Malaysia. Yet, bureaucratic hurdles and political influences often thwart their progress. Despite these challenges, hope shines through. By adopting innovative practices from countries like the UK and fostering a more inclusive environment, Malaysia can empower its lawmakers to enact meaningful change. Let’s envision a future where every voice is heard, driving progress and equity for all Malaysians.
*This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.