Federal lawmakers will finally be able to return to Parliament from today to carry out their key duties of debating laws and policies, and holding the government accountable for its actions and how it spends public funds.
This is significant as Parliament has been suspended for the past seven months due to the nationwide Emergency. The Emergency started on January 11 and is expected to end on August 1, if it is not lifted earlier or extended.
In other words, there has been no parliamentary meeting since December 2020, with the last sitting in the Dewan Rakyat being on December 17 and the last sitting in the Dewan Negara being on December 29.
After repeated statements in June from the Istana Negara on the need to reopen Parliament as soon as possible and the filing of multiple lawsuits since January by politicians and regular Malaysians challenging the suspension of Parliament during the Emergency, the government on July 5 decided to hold special sittings for both the Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara.
dividuals who violate the standard operating procedures (SOPs) stipulated for the prevention and control of the Covid-19 pandemic can be fined up to RM10,000 beginning March 11.
This is based on the Emergency (Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases) (Amendment) Ordinance 2021, through a federal government gazette uploaded to the official online portal of the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) today.
The ordinance also holds that companies or corporations that violate the SOPs can be fined up to RM50,000.
The ordinance also includes amendments to general penalties under Section 24, stating that any person who commits an offence under the Act “for which no penalty is expressly provided” may be fined up to RM100,000 or imprisoned for a maximum of seven years.
In addition, it also states that those authorised may order Covid-19 patients or close contacts to wear tracking devices such as wristbands or any other device provided by an authorised officer.
A hybrid Parliament sitting can only be held after the necessary amendments to the Standing Orders and Rules are made, tabled, approved and then endorsed by the Dewan Rakyat and the Dewan Negara, said Minister of Entrepreneur Development and Cooperatives Dato Sri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar.
He said at the moment it would not be possible to hold a hybrid Parliament sitting because among others, the Standing Orders enacted in 1956, amended in 1959, does not have provisions for teleconferencing and modern technology accommodation.
He said to split the MPs into two, with some in the Chambers, some sitting in the office and some in the Parliament lobby to satisfy the Ministry of Health (MoH) standard operating procedures (SOP), would be possible physically, but it would be doubtful under the law, and the Standing Orders and Rules.
He said for example, the seats and sitting arrangements, and right to speak and to intervene during sitting must be addressed.
“Previously, I said this, Parliament has 222 members allocated to 222 seats, two MPs have passed away, now left with 220 members, and all are to be seated on the seats allocated to them in the Dewan.
“All the roles he or she plays in Parliament during session is from the seat allocated to him or her. Whether he or she wants to speak, to raise question, to table motions or intervene in others speech are all to be made from there.
“That is according to the Standing Orders and Rules of the Dewan Rakyat, similarly the Dewan Negara,” he said when ask to comment on talks of hybrid sitting of the Parliament.
He said one could not compare Malaysia with the United Kingdom (UK), where the House of Commons does not have allocated seats to all MPs because of the number.
He noted that UK’s House of Common has 660 MPs while the Chamber’s capacity is only 360 seats and so it’s on the first come first serves basis.
He said that was why the House of Commons’ Standing Orders and Rules is designed to accommodate that requirements.
Wan Junaidi said another matter that must be addressed was the MPs immunity in debates and discussions in the Chamber under Article 63 of Federal Constitution, which, according to conventional practice, when the MPs are in the Chamber.
“Remember the often quoted statement, “…. If you dare repeat what you say in the lobby…” on defamatory matters. This is a clear indication that only those debating and discussing in the Chambers are protected.
“So what happen to those who are outside the chambers? If they are not protected then we have two class of MPs in Parliament, one group in the chamber are protected under Article 63 the others outside the chamber are not, how could it be?
“MPs who are not inside the Chamber are not protected by privileges and rights afforded by Article 63 of the Constitution. The their rights are only found in Article 10 of the Federal Constitution just like any other ordinary citizen,” he said.
He added that furthermore, under Article 62(5), MPs who are not in the Chamber could not vote.
He said because of that, Article 62(5) too has to be amended, and amendment of the constitution requires two-third majority.
Otherwise, parliament has to come up with the mechanism of how to conduct voting under movement control order (MCO) SOP’s condition in case it’s so required.
“That is why, under the present Covid-19 circumstances and MoH SOP requirements, the Parliament Select Committee on Standing Orders and Rules has to convene meeting to review the Standing Orders and Rules and make necessary amendments to accommodate the requirements in the three main areas – seating and the right to speak, the immunity under Article 63 so the MPs have equal protection under the law as the Member of the House, and to design arrangement for voting in case where decision requires such voting.
“That is the reason for a committee being formed in Parliament to answer and to prepare for whatever kind of meeting the Parliament later decide.
“Once they agree on the kind of meeting, physical or virtual or hybrid, they will have to tell the government on infrastructure to be arranged,” he said.
Wan Junaidi said supposed the Committee has decided on the virtual or hybrid sitting, it would have to propose amendments to the Standing Orders and Rules which would be quite voluminous.
He said this proposed amendments have to be submitted to the attorney general’s office for enactment, like amendment of any other laws.
He said once the amendments are made, the new order and rules are to be tabled at Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara for the approval and endorsement.
“That’s the sitting that the two speakers are talking about because the amended Standing Orders need the approval of Dewan before it could be enforced.
“Once the New Standing Orders and Rules are passed by Dewan, only then Parliament can meet. I use the term Dewan because the Dewan Negara and Dewan Rakyat have a separate set of standing orders and rules. The Dewan has to pass its own rules,” he said.
Wan Junaidi said the other aspect is the MPs entitlement to transportation, accommodation and allowance during meeting.
He said due to restriction and quarantine orders, some of them have to be at home, in their respective states or anywhere at all.
He pointed out that under the present set of laws, statute and orders, the MPs cannot claim those rights because under the present sets of laws, statutes and orders require them to check in at the Parliament building.
He said those would also require amendment or adjustment.
Wan Junaidi said Parliament is also subject to Auditor General scrutiny and auditing, and thus all those relevant laws, statutes and orders need to be amended.
“Once all these amendments and arrangements are made only then the Speaker will discuss with the Leader of the House, that is the Prime Minister, to decide on the date.
“Because under Rule 11 of the Standing Orders and Rules, the leader of the House is to fix the date after receiving the ‘titah’ or decree from the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong to meet.
“The timeline for meeting in September and October set by the leader of the House is to accommodate all the process of preparations as enumerated above,” he said.
“That was why I said before, how to rush Parliament? Although Parliament has the right to regulate its own internal affairs, but it should not be seen to abandon its own laws and Standing Orders blatantly.
“So we have to give time for Parliament and government to come up with ways to overcome these constitutional, legal, and procedural problems,” he said.
Wan Junaidi noted that the pace at which the Government to agree on the session of Parliament would be determined by the leader of the house or the Prime Minister under rule 11 of Standing Orders and Rules of Dewan Rakyat, created under Article 62 of the federal Constitution.
He believed this would also be based on how fast the Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara speakers amend the rules to accommodate the hybrid sitting or teleconferencing.
He said the consultation between Parliament and the government is to be made to prepare for media infrastructure.
“It is not about the motion of no confidence, but on the question of how to organise a meeting at the time when the Movement Control Order (MCO) is still being enforced and imposed by MoH and the National Security Council (NSC).
“The Parliament might have the immunity from MCO SOP enforcement, but there is no guarantee to be immune from Covid-19 infection,” he said.
He said at the moment, the government on the advice of the MoH was not allowed to hold any physical or face to face meetings, and all meetings are conducted online.
He said if there is any Parliament meeting it must also follow the same rules, conforming to SOP to be set by MoH.
He said if that is so, then Parliament has to come up with the solution on how to amend the Standing Orders and Rules to accommodate the virtual sitting requirements.