Parliament mulling 11 more select committees

KUALA LUMPUR: Parliament is looking to set up another 11 special select committees on top of the existing six, Dewan Rakyat Speaker Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof said today.

These include select committees on trade and foreign affairs; human rights and constitutional affairs; health, education, community and social development; environment, climate change, energy and technology; economy, urban affairs, rural and sustainable development; and electoral reform.

“We intend to cover all ministries,” Ariff added. “We are looking at clusters.

“Among the key select committees which should be immediately set up are the ones on trade affairs, human rights, the environment and sustainable development.

Dewan Rakyat Speaker Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof.

“We need these select committees. Unless we have proper select committees, important matters will be ignored,” he said in his presentation at a forum titled “The New Parliament, New Culture, New Code of Conduct, The Reforms” in Parliament here.

The six existing select committees are for budget, major public appointment, rights and gender equality, defence and home affairs, consideration of bills and federal-state relations.

Ariff also criticised what he called “unparliamentary behaviour” in the Dewan Rakyat, saying it is usually “the same few MPs” who misbehave.

“The last sitting saw a fair share of unparliamentary behaviour,” he said, listing behaviour such as unruliness in debates, partisan discord and sexist or racist remarks.

“We can have internal institutional changes in the lower house, but over and above that, to really succeed, we need a change in culture and mindset.

“Misbehaviour on the floor of the house puts a damper on the entire reform method,” he said.

He called for a code of conduct to govern the behaviour of MPs, saying anything in relation to their conduct currently falls under the Standing Orders.

“That is not good enough,” he said, citing the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association code of conduct which he said could be adapted for use in the Dewan Rakyat.

Batang Sadong MP Nancy Shukri, who was present at the forum with several other lawmakers, proposed an interactive session for MPs before each parliamentary sitting.

“The other side has been the opposition for so long. They are trying to adjust to their roles, and both sides are still learning,” she said, adding that there are also many new MPs who may not know each other.

Nancy, a former minister, said she too was embarrassed to see the goings-on in Parliament.

“I have changed. I used to be quiet. But when people provoke you with labels and names, we cannot just keep quiet,” she said.

Ariff welcomed the idea but said it must obtain the support of the MPs.

On the issue of unruly MPs, the former judge said the parliamentary procedure to discipline lawmakers is complicated. In the past, he said, speakers had suspended MPs for up to half a year.

“We wouldn’t want to do that,” he added. “A half-year suspension means half a year of non-service, no salary or allowances.

“Someone suggested a hefty fine. Why not? At least it bites.”

He also questioned how often an MP could be sent out of the Dewan Rakyat.

“In the heat of the debate, harsh words are uttered. Sometimes you have to let go when the other side starts challenging you.

“Once it goes beyond a person to another person, to groups, all hell will break loose,” he said.