OCTOBER 12 — It is reported that the Prime Minister in his monthly address to the staff of the Prime Minister’s Department, mentioned that “Parliament would screen the candidates for judges and for other posts before submitting them to the Yang di Pertuan Agong”. G25 welcomes the role that parliament will be playing in screening appointments to key posts in public institutions but this process should not apply to judges as it will lead to political interference in the independence of the judiciary.
The process of appointing judges should be left to the Judicial Appointments Commission to select them before proposing their names to the Agong, with no influence from any side because judges are expected to be independent of any ministerial influence or political interests. Parliament and the judiciary are two separate independent institutions with responsibility of providing checks and balance on the powers of the executive (The Cabinet). Federal judges in the judiciary can also strike out any law of Parliament or the state legislature or any administrative action of the government that goes against the spirit and intent of the Federal Constitution, the supreme law of the country. Thus, while the power of governing lies with the elected government. This power is not absolute because if its policy is challenged, it can be overruled by the judiciary and questioned by parliament.
In a vibrant democracy, apart from passing laws, parliament also plays an important role in making the government transparent and accountable by holding cabinet ministers, civil servants and government agencies answerable for their policies and actions. It performs this oversight function by establishing permanent and select parliamentary committees with the power to question ministers and their civil servants and also, to conduct public inquiries on matters that are of wide public concern such as a serious financial scandal involving the integrity of the government. In overseeing the government, one of the most important duties of the parliamentary committees is to check on the appointments of top officials to head the key ministries and various statutory institutions in the public sector.
As part of its institutional reforms initiative, government has decided that the Judicial Appointments Commission, Elections Commission, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and Suhakam (Human Rights Commission of Malaysia) will be taken out of the Prime Minister’s Department and made responsible to parliament. These agencies will be placed under standing parliamentary committees which will be responsible for overseeing them. The parliamentary committees should not interfere in the running of the commissions but instead, monitor their activities by making it mandatory on them to submit annual reports and progress updates for scrutiny and debate in the committees, with experts and civil society representatives being called to answer questions or give their views on the matters of interest to them. Through this interaction between the parliamentary committees, the institutions and civil society, the public will be better informed about the issues affecting them, especially the issues of law and order and violations of the political, economic and human rights of citizens.
G25 welcomes the parliamentary process of providing oversight on the functions of government and hopes that more standing and select committees will be set up apart from the six announced earlier. Parliament needs to set up several more committees to oversee the large number of ministries and government agencies including statutory bodies and religious authorities as their developmental, social and religious functions are often abused, raising concerns over corruption, financial mismanagement and excessive politicisation of public institutions as seen in the controversies surrounding 1MDB, Felda, MARA, Jakim and Iksim, for example.
Parliament should undertake surveillance over the institutions including those dealing with Bumiputera and religious policies to ensure that their chairmen, board directors and chief executives are not politically linked and that they are men and women of high integrity and good character. The candidates chosen to head these public sector institutions must go through the confirmation process in the select or standing parliamentary committees before they are appointed.
Both the standing and select committees should be provided with budgetary and professional resources so that the parliamentary staff can do the background research work to guide and advise the members of the committees when they hold their meetings or conduct open public hearings on matters that they are deliberating on or investigating. Where necessary, the committees can employ external professional advisers to help them on highly technical issues.
The administrative reforms within parliament need to start now so that its committees can function effectively as soon as possible. G25 hopes that the Federal Treasury and the Public Services Department will give their full support for parliament to obtain the necessary approvals to become an autonomous body with its own administrative and professional service to provide the strong institutional infrastructure for the effective functioning of the parliamentary committees.
Parliament cannot be subject to the uncertainties of ministerial or bureaucratic controls over its yearly budget allocations or its staff development as this will disrupt the functioning of the committee system. It should have the autonomy to plan its own funding and staff requirements. Parliament should determine its own annual budget requirements and vote on it to make it mandatory for the Federal Treasury to accept it without further examination.
G25 calls for the parliamentary reforms to be expedited so as to make us a true democracy with an open government that is clean, fair and just.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.