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Liow Tiong Lai (Bentong)

BENTONG Member of Parliament (MP) Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai’s response to the MP Watch: Eye on Parliament project, which asks all 222 MPs six questions.


Name: Liow Tiong Lai

Party: MCA
Years as MP:
Since 1999

Government position:
Health minister

Party position:
MCA vice-president

Membership in parliamentary committees or caucus: None


1 Would you support the abolition/review of the Internal Security Act, in particular the provision that allows for detention without trial? Why or why not?

I have always believed that the ISA must be reviewed, and the MCA has always supported calls for the Act to be re-evaluated. In fact, the latest MCA position paper on the ISA has gone as far as to recommend that the ISA ought to be repealed and replaced with an Anti-Terrorist Act to indicate that its function is strictly to curb terrorist activities.

Just last week, 10 people were arrested under the ISA because of their suspected links with the man who tried to blow up the American plane near Detroit on Christmas Day [2009]. If their involvement in the incident is true, then we must take it seriously, as there cannot be any room for complacency when it comes to the country’s safety.

However, there are provisions in the ISA that allow for abuse by the authorities. So there is a very strong case for a thorough reassessment of the Act in Parliament. We must understand that the Act’s most important role is to protect Malaysia and its citizens. So any loophole that might lead to the abuse of Malaysian citizens themselves must be dealt with.

2 Do you think Malaysia should be a secular or an Islamic state? Why?

I have never appreciated nor have I ever understood the need or fascination some of us have for Malaysia to be defined either way. The key word here is balance, and I think the people of Malaysia have been very successful at maintaining the balance between religion and the freedom to live their lives as they see fit. Article 11 of the Malaysian constitution is very clear, that every person has the right to profess and practise his [or her] own religion.

It is also clear that Islam is the country’s official religion, and it must be noted that this in no way affects non-Muslims’ rights.

To call Malaysia “secular” or “Islamic” is an argument many have purely for political reasons. Malaysia’s religious status has never fitted into a concrete definition and there is no reason for us to be forced into one.

We must remember that there is a clear disparity between Malaysia and other Islamic states in the world. One key element that differentiates us from most Islamic states is the fact that we have a dual court system. This is not only testimony that both Muslims and non-Muslims have equal rights under the legal system but also an acknowledgement that we value our differences.

We have had an effective and successful formula dating back [decades] and it is imperative that this principle of living together and respecting each other’s faiths continues, without being hijacked by those with ulterior motives.

3 How do you define your role as an elected MP? Does Parliament provide you with the necessary infrastructure and support to fulfill your role?

As a minister and an MP, I have to balance both my responsibilities in the Health Ministry as well as my duties in my constituency of Bentong. I have always believed the best way to improve one’s constituency is by constantly boosting its economic activities.

It is my stint as an MP that paved the way for me to have an important cabinet portfolio and I have to thank the people of Bentong for this. I believe the portfolio I am responsible for is vital as the nation’s productivity and its way forward depends on the people’s health. Thus, I take my positions as an MP and minister seriously.

As for the infrastructure of Parliament, I find it competent and I have also come to enjoy the quality of debate now, and hope that it continues to improve.

4 Would you support a Freedom of Information Act? Why or why not?

I will support a Freedom of Information Act but it has to be done in the proper context and must be drafted responsibly. There are larger reasons for this Act, and they range from individual cyber rights to strengthening protection measures for children. With the rise in new social media tools every day, we must not forget that our personal space is crucial and must be protected.

The Act must serve a purpose and it must be debated without political motivations, with the main objective being the whole nation’s well being.

I also believe that the government must slowly look into what information truly affects national security and what information does not. We cannot use the term (“national security”) loosely as and when we think it’s convenient. The way the recent Selangor landslide report was handled and released is a good example of this.

Perhaps, there should be some form of liberalisation of the Official Secrets Act as it will create healthy debate and it might prove to be more constructive than destructive. It is obvious that flow of information is unstoppable, so we must learn to embrace this fact instead of fearing it.

5 If there was one thing you could do to strengthen parliamentary democracy in Malaysia, what would it be?

There must be genuine efforts by all parties involved to improve the quality of the democratic process, and the best way of doing this is by education.

MPs, political secretaries and their staff must be well trained by their parties to be able to serve their constituents effectively. Political parties must allocate funds to ensure their candidates are properly educated on the laws and conventions of Malaysia as a parliamentary democracy.

We must always ensure that information flows from parliament to the voters, and we have to be mindful of the need to address different groups in the language and style they are most comfortable with. We have to remember that each voter is equal and deserving of our full attention.

6 Do you believe in separation of powers between the government, Parliament and judiciary? Why or why not?

Of course, the separation of powers between the executive, legislature and the judiciary is vital in the success of any genuine democracy. The concept of checks and balances is an age-old idea that has proven time and time again to be the most effective method of governance.

All three branches must work for the people, and it must never be the other way round.

However, governance is a constant learning process, and in Malaysia, we have always tried to deal with problems that arise from this model constructively. I take the judiciary’s current improvement as a key example of this.

The prime minister and the Attorney-General’s Chamber as well as the chief justice have been genuine in repairing the judiciary’s image and it is imperative that lawyers and judges play a constructive role in the process as they were very much involved in the 1988 constitutional crisis.

There is no alternative model to the separation of powers, and it can prove to be effective if all the role players are genuine in their duties and responsibilities.

For other MP responses, see Full MP list

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