The following article is sent to the editorial of MalaysiaGazette by reader, Hafiz Hassan.
Both Dewan Rakyat Speaker Azhar Azizan Harun and Senate President Rais Yatim have proposed a special sitting of Parliament in early August to make the necessary amendments to the Standing Orders and other issues.
Let’s appreciate the importance of such a sitting. Call the special sitting what it is – a Special Meeting (Mesyuarat Khas). But let’s take a leaf from the United Kingdom’s House of Commons which sat on April 21, 2020 to debate a motion to allow members to participate either virtually or physically in the debating chamber. The motion read as follow:
“That this House is committed to taking all steps necessary to balance its responsibilities for continuing scrutiny of the executive, legislating and representation of the interests of constituents with adherence to the guidance issued by Public Health England and the restrictions placed upon all citizens of the United Kingdom, and is further committed, in pursuit of that aim, to allowing virtual participation in the House’s proceedings, to extending the digital capacity of those proceedings to ensure the participation of all Members, and to ensuring that its rules and procedures are adapted to permit as far as possible parity of treatment between Members participating virtually and Members participating in person.”
It was approved without a vote.
So, at the sitting of the Special Meeting a similar motion can be debated and approved together with orders from the House to the Standing Order Committee (SOC) to consider amendments to the Standing Orders. The one-day Special Meeting can then be adjourned to allow the SOC to meet, deliberate and report to the House on hybrid proceedings.
The SOC is one of the Select Committees formed under Standing Order 78(1) whose duty is to “consider from time to time and report on all matters relating to the Standing Orders which may be referred to it by the House.” Rightly therefore, it is the SOC that should report on amendments to the Standing Orders.
One can have reservations on the Special Committee which has reportedly been formed and chaired by both Speakers, with members made up of the Deputy Speakers and the Dewan Rakyat and Senate Secretaries, as well as the Parliament’s secretariat, led by the Chief Administrator of the Parliament.
But there is a need to look at whether amendments to the Standing Orders are necessary. That’s the job for the SOC – collectively and not by individual members.
Now, the state of Emergency will end on Aug 1. Aug 2 (Monday) will be the first working day of the month. If the state of emergency is not extended, a notice of a Special Meeting to be held on Aug 5 (Thursday) or Aug 6 (Friday) may be issued by the Dewan Rakyat. The Speaker can so determine under Standing Order 9(2)(a).
The quorum under Standing Order 13(1) will suffice. Let the political leaders decide on the number.
Of course, August is more than a month away. Parliament can be reconvened or recalled for the Special Meeting in July. It’s for the prime minister to make the call as well. Following the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong’s decree that Parliament should convene as soon as possible, a one-day sitting is either a “case of urgency” [Standing Order 9(2)(a)] or “public interest” [Standing Order 11(3)] as the phrases are used in the Standing Orders.
It is also doable.
Why a one-day special sitting and not a full sitting? It is important for detractors of the special sitting to appreciate that the one-day sitting will allow the Speaker as the Chairperson of the SOC to call for the SOC to meet, deliberate and report to the House on hybrid proceedings.
Symbolically, it is also the “unlocking” of Parliament.
Whether in early August or early July – a July 5-notice for a July 9-sitting – it should herald the beginning of a digital Parliament. Lest we forget, a digital Parliament is arguably a sustainable development goal (SDG) which Malaysia is committed to pursue and achieve. It will be a national key achievement and progress which Malaysia may report in its Voluntary National Review (VNR).
As media reports go, the one-day special sitting of Parliament in early August has been conveyed to the prime minister to which “very good cooperation and support” was received.
Perhaps it can also be conveyed that an early July one-day special sitting of Parliament is also doable.