I WAS encouraged to write after reading Terence Fernandez’s “What Singapore teaches us about succession planning” (The Star, Nov 12; online at bit.ly/star_lesson).
Can we also learn from Singa-pore how its Parliamentary Select Committee on Bills deals with Bills?
Let’s recall that when the Inde-pendent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) Bill was referred to the Select Committee on Bills, The Star reported it as historic, as it was the first time in our Parliament’s history that a Bill was being referred to a Select Committee on Bills for consideration (“History in Parliament as IPCMC Bill is first to be referred to Special Select Committee for consideration”, Oct 7; online at bit.ly/star_bill).
Since then, there have not been many updates on the work and proceedings of the Select Committee except for the fact that “Sabah cops back IPCMC Bill but want some changes first” (Nov 10; online at bit.ly/star_sabah).
Singapore’s Parliament has procedures and steps that the Select Committee on the IPCMC Bill could perhaps consider.
In Singapore, when the House refers a Bill to a Select Committee on Bills, the Office of the Clerk of Parliament must “advertise in such newspapers as the Speaker may direct, inviting written representations on the Bill to be sent to him
within not less than a period of 15 days from the date of the advertisement and requesting the representors to state whether they are prepared, if invited, to appear before the Select Committee to give evidence in support of or supplementary to their written representations.” This is from Singapore Parliament Standing Order No.78.
In simple words, the public is invited to make written representations to the Select Committee on the Bill and may be invited to give evidence before the Select Committee on the matter.
Singapore’s most recent Select Committee on Bills is, interestingly, the Select Committee on the Cross-Border Railway Bill. The Bill, which was read for the first time on Oct 3,2017, was to propose a new law to support the development of rail links between Singapore and Malaysia, enabling the construction and running of two future rail links between the two countries (bit.ly/rail_links).
Upon the Bill being referred to the Select Committee at its second reading, a notice was issued by the Office of the Clerk of Parliament to invite written representations from the public. The notice can be seen here: bit.ly/sing_bill.
The notice does not only invite the public to write in but also advises people on how to submit written representations. The notice also informs the public of the Bill as well as of the work of a Select Committee on Bills.
The Committee on the Cross-Border Railway Bill received five written representations, all of which were found to be relevant to the Bill. However, it agreed not to invite any representor to give oral evidence. The Bill was passed on March 19,2018, following amendments proposed by the Committee. The report of the Select Committee can be seen at bit.ly/bill_report, and the Select Committee on the IPCMC Bill would be well advised to read it.
Malaysian Parliament Standing Orders do not have the exact equivalent of Singapore’s Parlia-ment Standing Order No.78. But both Standing Orders empower a Select Committee on Bills to send for persons, documents or papers, and to examine, and take evidence of, witnesses (Malaysia Parliament Standing Order No.83 and Singa-pore Parliament Standing Order No.103).
So do the British House of Commons (the lower House of Parliament) Standing Orders. Standing Order No.83A empowers the Public Bill Committee, which is similar to a Select Committee on Bills, to send for persons, papers and records as well as to hear oral evidence from interested parties.
The British Parliament’s website, parliament.uk, has a wealth of information on Public Bill Committees that includes information on open calls for evidence and guidelines on making submissions, written and oral. In contrast, our Parliament’s website, parlimen.gov.my, has almost no information on the first Select Committee on Bills except for its membership.
So yes, we can learn from Singapore, and Britain too. Let’s have the humility to learn from others.
Note: The writer researches on the law and has submitted a written representation to a Singaporean Select Committee