On July 13, Malaysians witnessed the much anticipated second Dewan Rakyat sitting of 2020 since the Perikatan Nasional coalition assumed power in Putrajaya in March. The legislative body was in full swing with an almost perfect attendance record in Parliament by MPs save for Kota Marudu MP and incumbent Sabah and Sarawak Affairs Minister, Maximus Johnity Ongkili’s absence due to exhaustion.
Fast forward 3 days and voila, attendance is decreasing and looking abysmal. This poor turnout of our elected representatives in Parliament has motivated this piece.
The Parliament is the legislative authority of Malaysia and it enacts laws to be enforced nationwide. It passes Federal laws, makes amendments to existing Federal laws, examines the government’s policies, approves the government’s expenditures, and approves new taxes.
As elected members of Parliament, it is an MP’s priority to attend these parliamentary sessions where bills and motions are debated, pressing issues highlighted and questions are put to the floor.
Even with circumstances as attending to official duties, there are government ministers who do take the time to attend parliamentary sessions. It is, therefore, befitting to demand the MP’s not serving in the government what their excuse is for failing to attend one of the key duties as an elected member of parliament?
It is worthy to note, opposition MPs, who are also not part of the government and therefore have no official duties, also fail to attend parliament sittings.
As elected representatives who are paid almost 4 times the typical national average wage at last check, an astonishing RM 16000 plus allowances and claimable, why the indifference when it comes to attending parliament?
When Pakatan Harapan was the government, this issue of poor attendance was brought up several times, even to the point where the Prime Minister, Tun Mahathir said he will speak with the MPs to ensure that they attended sessions to represent the interest of their constituents.
Back in 2019, some MPs gave absurd excuses when questions about the lack of turnout. Below are some of them;
Mohamed Hanipa Maidin: It’s not easy for us to stay for a long time, you know? It is very cold sometimes, adding that such occurrences were normal.
PKR parliamentary whip chief Datuk Johari Abdul also said that fatigue was a factor causing the poor attendance of MPs. “In this Budget session, we always finish at around 10 pm or 10.30 pm. When you get home, it’s about midnight and after you shower it’s about 1 am and after you say hi to your wife, its 1.30 am.
MPs are expected to champion national and local issues and as Parliament serves as the transparent, observable platform for them to address these concerns, it is imperative to attend sessions to be consistently updated on key matters and also be informed of the progress made by the authorities on policy formulation and implementation.
As parliamentary sessions can be long and arduous, MP’s need to plan in advance as it requires resilience, time management skills, strategic placement of ideas, arduous preparation, and a strong team supporting them at all times.
Parliament must increase public awareness of its roles by embarking on a creative, public-centric approach, most importantly by trying to capture and display the daily activities taking place in the chamber with closer media cooperation, as it will lead to further scrutiny and accountability.
In the spirit of transparency and accountability, parliament should release a publication of the daily attendance of MPs, which helps inform the public on the performance of their elected representatives, but this can be considered as only a small piece of the puzzle as MPs are good with the excuse, right off the cuff.
Another notable absence in Parliament was the number of MPs wearing masks. As there is still no vaccine available for Covid-19, even the WHO urges people to wear masks to mitigate the risk of infection. Are our MPs immune to the virus and if so, should the rest of the public follow in their footsteps? Hightime MP’s walked the talk.