Where’s the Westminster system in Malaysia?


It is clear our nation’s parliamentary and governance systems have been fractured so much that we can’t even see a single Westminster quality in it

WH Cheng, Berita Daily

Until today, we are still hearing many allegations made by politicians especially from the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition saying that Malaysia has been practicing the Westminster system in our nation’s parliamentary and governance structures.

In many occasions, these BN leaders had also accused the opposition bloc in parliament over the latter’s failure to establish a shadow cabinet, by all means labelling them as non-compliant of the so-called Westminster system when opposition leaders spoke of the same against the BN government.

Well, we have some questions here for the BN leaders who loudly claim the Westminster system has been long established here in Malaysia. However, we are uncertain if they are brave enough to face the facts that the Westminster system has never been in existence in our nation’s parliamentary and governance framework.

Let us look at the parliamentary system of electoral, structuring and its organisational framework.

Elected but not recognised

First, when an opposition member was elected to the parliament, the opposition member of parliament should be provided with all the necessary allocations and funds annually for his constituency work and programmes like what his counterparts from the BN have been enjoying.

But in Malaysia, all opposition members of parliament are systematically being denied such allocations and funds as well as research facilities. The opposition MPs here have to resort to soliciting public donations and contributions from their supporters to fund their work and programs. Such a move is seen as undemocratic and clearly against the Westminster system.

Secondly, in our parliamentary framework, there are no oversight committees to oversee government ministries and portfolios at all other than the weak and ineffective Public Accounts Committee (PAC) which only has limited powers to summon any minister or other public officials for hearings to answer any reports of irregularities. Until today, we have seen many ministers and senior officials who dare to ignore summons from the PAC to testify on certain issues on mismanagement and power abuse of public funds.

The fact is, the PAC cannot even cope with tons of reports under its care nor to complete all their investigations within a year. Again, not having parliamentary oversight committees to provide check and balance on the government is also not being part of the Westminster system.

Furthermore, in the Westminster system, the shadow cabinet or official opposition frontbench is fully recognized as an institution equal to the government’s cabinet ministers under the constitutions of most Commonwealth nations like the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, to name a few. In the case of Malaysia, the shadow cabinet was not recognised and nothing has been written in our nation’s Federal Constitution pertaining to the needs and importance of such an institution to oversee the government’s performance and policies. So, is the BN government aware of such?

If any of the BN leaders were to question the opposition bloc again on why a shadow cabinet has not been realised until today, let us all question those BN leaders with the same – where is their official recognition of the said institution, annual allocations and other facilities in order to see a fully functioning shadow cabinet? Have they ever treated their opposition counterparts as equal partners in order to ensure our nation is being well-administered?

Rubber-stamp parliament

Is our nation’s parliament being run as it was supposed to be? How effective and fair is our parliament Speaker to members of parliaments especially to those from the opposition bloc?

During the parliamentary sitting sessions, we saw no fruitful debates, discussion and exchange of ideas and facts. Instead we saw MPs from the governing bench very often being given more opportunities to attack the opposition bench from every corner and in return opposition MPs were only allowed limited time to respond and debate on issues of importance.

In many occasion, we also saw the Speaker deliberately rejected motions forwarded by opposition MPs citing those were unimportant, top secret or pending investigation from the authorities.

The worst ever part of our parliamentary system today, is even our nation’s prime minister can be exempted by the Speaker to answer any critical questions brought up by MPs. On many occasions too, many questions were forwarded, and majority were left unattended and at times unsatisfactory or unclear responds were given.

The irresponsible nature of the prime minister and his cabinet ministers in responding to the MPs has rendered the entire parliamentary system to be ineffective. Because of frequent absence of cabinet ministers in parliamentary sittings, MPs too, have decided to skip the sessions as they also think that the sitting has been ineffective due to the continuous absence of these ministers.

So, if the prime minister and his cabinet ministers can be excused and allowed not to present themselves in the parliamentary sittings, how effective will all these sessions be?

Has the Speaker been fair and equal to all MPs, to ensure full attendance of each session and to make certain that all parliamentary business are being attended to by both sides of the political divide?

It is so clear that both our nation’s parliamentary and governance system are so fractured until we cannot even see a single Westminster quality in it. A reminder to BN leaders, we are not fools to be fooled by you. The Westminster system has never existed in our nation at all.

WH Cheng is director of Inter-Research And Studies (IRAS)