I AM not and probably will never be an elected public representative. However, the recent uproar over the seemingly poor attendance of our elected representatives in Parliament has motivated me to share a bit of my knowledge about proceedings in the House as a former parliamentary researcher for a notable and prominent Member of Parliament.
MPs are naturally expected to champion national and local issues and Parliament serves as a transparent, observable platform for them to address their concerns. The opportunity in Parliament to directly interact with ministers as well as top civil servants offers MPs the chance to consistently update the government on key matters and also be informed of the progress made by the authorities on policy formulation and implementation.
But it seems that certain groups across Malaysian society do not comprehend the exact role, structure and, more importantly, developments behind the scene of parliamentary proceedings daily.
The majority of Malaysians equate active participation in Parliament to the frequency at which MPs are seen in the chamber, the controversial statements they say that make media headlines and, to a degree, the level of noise made by the representatives.
Due to this distorted perception, the negative sentiment over the lack of quorum during the proceedings, which has happened multiple times, is understandable. Since Parliament is perceived as the main gateway to understanding the government’s specific direction across various ministries, public expectation is sky high, particularly after Pakatan Harapan took over the government in May 2018.
As we strive to build a well-informed and inclusive Malaysian society, there should be greater emphasis on educating the public about what transpires in Parliament daily. Publication of the daily attendance of MPs may help to inform the public on the performance of their elected representatives, but this can be considered as only a small piece of the puzzle. Malaysians must be exposed to the overall parliamentary proceedings which include the question-and-answer (Q&A) sessions and debates on selected motions. There are also debates on the Royal Address and the annual Budget that may last a few weeks.
The Q&A session is the highlight of parliamentary proceedings, with responses provided by
the ministers or their deputies generating publicity for all sides involved.
Looking at the so-called absence of elected representatives, we have to understand that Parliament serves as a meeting point for selected MPs, especially those in the select committees, to discuss national issues.
Top-level meetings with ministry representatives, industry players and civil servants also take place regularly. Briefings on national issues are also done in Parliament with MPs being the primary participants.
For those who are keen to visit the Parliament building, MPs are usually more than happy to accommodate them and they often treat their guests to lunch.
The daily life for an MP when Parliament is in session is challenging. It requires resilience, time management skills, strategic placement of ideas, arduous preparation and a strong team supporting him/her at all times.
The misconception about MPs’ attendance in Parliament is partly due to a failure in communication, as MPs and Parliament itself fail to update the public on their ongoing activities in a convenient and efficient manner.
More MPs should emulate Subang MP Wong Chen’s way of updating the audience via social media on his parliamentary duties. Another priority for MPs
would be to boost their reach
and knowledge on diverse areas and subject matters despite the limitations some of them face
(i.e. inexperience, lack of confidence in mastering the subject
matter and inadequate preparation).
From the public’s perspective, it would be pointless for MPs to attend parliamentary proceedings without being active participants.
Parliament can 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.
I do believe we are heading in the right direction when it comes to institutional reforms, Parliament included. But with extensive initiatives to broaden the public’s grasp on national development and mastery of our main legislative body, the Dewan Rakyat would definitely enhance the public’s respect for both the institution and MPs.
Senior research officer
Merdeka Centre for Opinion Research