By Deborah Loh
SUBANG Member of Parliament (MP) R Sivarasa's response to the MP Watch: Eye on Parliament project, which asks all 222 MPs six questions.
(source: parlimen.gov.my)Name: R Sivarasa
Party: PKR (Opposition)
Years as MP: 2008
Government position: None
Membership in parliamentary committees or caucus:
Parliamentary Rights and Privileges Committee member
Original deadline: 2 Feb 2010
Responses appended: 3:30pm, 5 Feb 2010
Would you support the abolition/review of the Internal Security Act, in particular the provision that allows for detention without trial?
I have always been for abolition of the ISA. There are enough laws in the country to deal with any kind of terrorist threat. We should deal with terrorism transparently through public trial: prove that they are terrorists and then put them away.
Too often, we put people in Kamunting Prison to prevent the public from knowing the truth, e.g. Sri Lankan Buhary Seyed Abu Tahir, the business [executive] [who was] alleged to have sold nuclear devices; persons alleged to have forged banknotes; persons who organise large-scale fake and real blue ICs for political purposes in Sabah.
The argument that it prevents terrorism is false. Preventing suspected terrorists from [committing] any crime is [done] by denying bail pending trial, which should be done transparently in court.
Another reason is the serious abuses of human rights that a law like the ISA facilitates — putting innocent people in jail for years. We detained persons up to 16 years without trial — no civilised society does that! Physical and mental torture on detainees is routine. People have been damaged beyond repair.
Do you think Malaysia should be a secular or an Islamic state? Why?
Neither. We in Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) uphold the Federal Constitution. With Article 3 of the Federal Constitution, which says that Islam shall be the religion of the federation, it is also difficult to categorically say that Malaysia is a secular state. It all depends on what meaning you give the word “secular”; there are a range of meanings in which the word is used, all quite different.
How do you define your role as an elected MP? Does Parliament provide you with the necessary infrastructure and support to fulfill your role?
My role as an elected MP has different aspects. I represent the people in my constituency of Subang and function as a voice for their issues and problems, which can take place at different forums and levels of government.
In Parliament, I represent the party as well, and play a role in articulating the concerns and positions of PKR as well as the Pakatan Rakyat. These issues would mainly be national-level issues and concerns, but could also include constituency-level issues from time to time.
With regard to provision of infrastructure and support, I think it is grossly inadequate for us to play our roles as parliamentarians effectively. I have often said that as far as our opposition is concerned, we elect a group of fairly skilled people but do not give them the resources for maximum performance as other countries do.
Other Asean countries like Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and even [Cambodia] provide their parliamentarians with secretarial and research staff. We need better support, which should be state-funded and given regardless of party affiliation for our constituency work (office, staff etc), and also for our Parliament function (secretarial and research).
Spending about RM30 million to RM40 million a year in this way will give us great value and benefit for the country, compared to the billions being lost through corruption. I would suggest that every parliamentarian needs at least RM250,000 for his [or her] constituency office and staff to serve his/her best; and another RM 100,000 to employ adequately skilled secretarial and research staff. This would be money well spent by the nation.
Would you support a Freedom of Information Act? Why or why not?
I would certainly support a Freedom of Information Act. I was the first MP to table a motion proposing a private member's Freedom of Information Bill in the May 2008 Parliament session.
Regrettably, the Barisan Nasional did not allow the motion to be discussed. Our outdated and oppressive standing orders give priority to government bills without allocating any time for opposition bills and motions as is done is other modern parliaments.
If there was one thing you could do to strengthen parliamentary democracy in Malaysia, what would it be?
I believe our Parliament is a key institution in dire need of reform. We say we are "Westminster", but we no longer live up to the spirit and values of the real Westminster system.
We need to implement immediately a full committee structure to keep up with other modern parliaments in the world. This means that there are parliamentary committees to shadow all the major ministries so that there is detailed scrutiny of all ministries. This will also ensure that the discussions in Parliament are kept much more focused and effective.
We also need a complete overhaul of our standing orders to guarantee time for opposition business, motions and bills. Question time needs to be reformed to make it more effective by allowing questions without notice, and controlling with clear rules the time for putting and answering questions.
We also need to strengthen parliamentary democracy by reinstituting a modern version of our now repealed Parliament Service Act, which guarantees administrative and financial autonomy to Parliament. This is to ensure that the secretary of Parliament is answerable only to the speaker and not also to the minister in charge of Parliament, as the case is now.
Pakatan Rakyat Selangor has already shown the way by presenting in a recent seminar its proposed version of such a law for Selangor called the Selangor State Assembly Services Enactment (Selesa), which I believe will be tabled for adoption in their next state assembly sitting.
Do you believe in separation of powers between the government, Parliament and judiciary? Why or why not?
One cannot be a democrat and not believe in the separation of powers between the government, the judiciary and the executive.
In Malaysia, the separation of powers is flawed and weak. The judiciary is seen to be cowed by the executive. Likewise, Parliament is still a rubber stamp where bills are pushed through by executive fiat and rubber stamped in the Senate.
We will see true separation of powers when our judiciary shakes off its fear of the executive, which in turn needs the confidence and political will to recognise that the judiciary must be allowed to function independently. Parliament must also mature into an institution where the nation's issues are fully and freely debated without the current controls and inefficiencies.
Finally, it goes without saying that for true separation of powers to exist, the fundamentals of democracy must also be in place, i.e. genuinely free and fair elections; real freedom of expression, public assembly and association with a free media; and our key institutions like the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, the police, and the Attorney-General's Chambers functioning as professional and independent institutions. Then each arm of government can play its proper role as a check and balance on each other