BY OOI HENG
OCTOBER 15 — Dewan Rakyat will resume sitting on the 17th of October. The Dewan Rakyat Order Paper showed that the first four items of business consists of three motions and one Government Bill. The motion by the President of Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) and Member of Parliament (MP) for Marang, Hadi Awang, is being listed as the fourth item. It is understandable that the media are focusing on this fourth item.
In the past, the media tend to make such reports, treating a motion as a bill, and treating the legislative procedure of a Private Member’s Bill as the same as that of a Government Bill. Dealing with the controversial ‘Hudud issue’, the media currently need to present the aspects of the different legislative procedures.
The legislative procedures for Government Bills and non-Government Bills are not indifferent. Those being presented by Government frontbenchers or ‘MPs who are ministers’ are Government Bills, while those being presented by the so-called ‘ordinary Members of Parliament’ (ordinary MPs) or ‘MPs who are not ministers’ are non-Government Bills. The Government frontbenchers are representing the executive branch, while the ordinary MPs consisting of government backbenchers, opposition MPs and independent MPs, are representing the legislative branch.
In terms of institutional design, Malaysia is not really practicing a system of separation of power. The so-called legislative role of the Parliament is conducted by the executive branch. The government frontbenchers not only hold the power of presenting Government Bills, but also controlling the legislative procedure for the ordinary MPs to present their non-Government Bills.
Leaving aside the roles of the Dewan Negara (Senate) and the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (the King), the procedure of a Government Bill in the Dewan Rakyat, is basically First Reading, Second Reading, Committee of the whole House, and Third Reading.
The main points of this legislative procedure are, the one presenting the bill is a Government frontbencher, the bill being presented is a Government Bill, and the Government’s agenda is running through the entire system. The role of the ordinary MPs is strictly speaking, not legislating (making laws). This is because under the system of fusion of power, the legislative branch is being led by the executive branch.
However, when dealing with non-Government Bills, the legislative procedure would be different. Despite this, if the executive branch wants to ensure the legislating of a non-Government Bill is also to be led by the executive at the first place. How is this going to be implemented under the system? How is the will of the executive going to bear fruit through a different legislative procedure?
Private Member’s Bill is a type of non-Government Bill. The one presenting a Private Member’s Bill is not a Government frontbencher, but an ordinary MP. A Private Member’s Bill being presented by an ordinary MP is not a Government’s Bill either. In terms of the design of the system, in order for the Government frontbenchers to take control over the legislative role of the backbenchers and other ordinary MPs, they would need a different legislative procedure, in order to ‘convert’ a Private Member’s Bill into a potential Government Bill.
Before an ordinary MP wants to present a Private Member’s Bill, he or she needs to present a motion beforehand. With the Speaker’s approval, the motion will be listed into the Order Paper. However, the one controlling the Order of the Day is the executive, therefore once the Prime Minister, through the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (PMO) in charge of parliamentary affairs, informs the Speaker to bring forward an ordinary MP’s motion, the motion will get a chance to be presented in the House.
Once the motion for a Private Member’s Bill is being brought up in the House, it will be debated. At this stage, the MPs are debating the content of the motion in the House, not the details of the Private Member’s Bill.
After that, the House will decide on this motion. Once the House passed the motion, it means the motion for the Private Member’s Bill is being accepted, and the ordinary MP who presented the Private Member’s Bill will hand the bill over to a minister, thus his or her errand would be completed.
What Hadi is presenting is actually such a motion. This motion is being listed in the Order Paper, so once it is given the chance to be presented in the House, there will be a debate for it. This is a debate of a motion. It is this motion, and not the bill, that is the subject of the debate and decision of the House.
If the motion is passed in the Parliament, Hadi who is an ‘ordinary MP’ will hand his Private Member’s Bill to a minister. This minister is likely to be the Minister in the PMO in charge of Islamic affairs.
Once a minister accepts a Private Member’s Bill, it means a non-Government business is to ‘become’ a potential Government business through the presentation, debate and acceptance of a motion. What Malaysia is practicing is a fusion of power, where the legislature is being led by the executive, thus before a non-Government Bill may get a chance to become an Act of Parliament, it has to ‘become’ a potential Government Bill first.
The minister in charge of a Private Member’s Bill will produce a report. Once a motion has completed all its steps in the House, the task to fulfil it is to ‘convert’ a Private Member’s Bill into a potential Government Bill.
At the end, as for whether this potential Government Bill will be presented again as a Government Bill to the Parliament, when will it be presented, and whether there is any difference in the content of the bill, these are all out of the ordinary MP’s control.
Political consideration is an important factor determining the success for a Private Member’s Bill motion to be presented and debated. The debate and acceptance of a motion is sufficient to fulfil the intention of the executive. However, if the media reports do not make it clearly that the one being debated and accepted is a motion and not a bill, it will create confusion.
* Ooi Heng is Executive director of Political Studies for Change (KPRU).