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S’gor wants better separation of powers

SHAH ALAM, 11 Aug 2009: The Selangor government is working on a draft law to separate control and administration of the state legislative assembly from the executive.

If the draft law is passed, the separation will notably be done through independent recruitment of assembly staff instead of relying on civil servants.

The proposed Selangor Legislative Assembly Service Enactment (Selesa) 2009 will allow the legislative assembly to hire its own staff for assemblypersons, besides providing other resources such as funding entitlements for legislative assembly purposes.

These services will be handled by a Legislative Assembly Service Commission, which will act as a statutory body that will recruit assembly officers. Assembly officers are currently recruited by the State Service Commission which is part of the civil service.

The commission is not meant to be a state government instrument but it will be chaired by the assembly speaker. The menteri besar and the opposition leader will also be commission members, along with other assemblypersons appointed by the House.

However, the commission will not have any role with regards to legislative assembly proceedings or meetings of select committees.

The proposed enactment was unveiled at a seminar today as part of the state’s consultative process in law-making. Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim said there was no target date to pass the law, as the draft had to go through more rounds of discussion and public scrutiny before the bill could be tabled.

The seminar moderated by Subang Member of Parliament R Sivarasa

The law is aimed at enforcing the doctrine of separation of powers, in this case, between the executive and the legislative. Politically, the enactment would prevent events such as those that culminated in the physical removal of the Perak speaker on 7 May 2009.

Avoiding Perak repeat

Selangor Speaker Teng Chang Khim, who introduced the draft enactment, noted how the Perak assembly secretary declared an emergency sitting convened by Speaker V Sivakumar as illegal. This resulted in the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) representatives holding the sitting under a tree. The assembly secretary’s overriding of Sivakumar’s authority was endorsed by the chief secretary to the government.

During the Perak assembly on 7 May, the assembly secretary was also asked by the Barisan Nasional (BN) assemblypersons to see to Sivakumar’s vacating of the speaker’s chair before the latter was removed by police officers.

Later, Teng told The Nut Graph that the enactment was the third of the reforms he had successfully introduced as assembly speaker. The first was the formation of the Select Committee on Competency, Accountability and Transparency (Selcat), and the second was amendments to give the speaker power to appoint select committees outside of a legislative assembly sitting.

“The plan for this enactment to make the Dewan’s administration independent of the state government was before the Perak crisis happened, but I believe that the crisis will give momentum to people’s acceptance of the need for such a law,” Teng said.

The proposed enactment is modelled after New Zealand’s Parliamentary Service Act 2000.

In other countries

The seminar noted that in the parliamentary systems of other countries, parliamentarians received aides, research assistants and funding to perform their law-making duties. Even “poorer” countries such as the Philippines and Cambodia had such provisions for their legislators, it was noted.

Law expert Prof Datuk Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi, from Universiti Tekonologi Mara, said the proposed enactment should also look into provisions that would allow the legislative assembly to hire its own legal drafters to write bills.

“Why should bills for the assembly be written by the federal Attorney-General’s Chambers? Their [drafters] may not understand the spirit of the bill your assemblypersons are proposing,” said Shad, who was a panelist at the seminar.

He also suggested that each assemblyperson be provided with at least one fully-paid research officer, and that each elected representative be given funds to run their service centres.

Lawyer Tommy Thomas, who was also a panelist, agreed, adding that state legal advisers should also be hired independently and not be from the Attorney-General’s Chambers. “The state legal adviser’s loyalty will be to the AG who decides his [or her] transfer or promotion,” Thomas noted.

“Learn from the Perak crisis, if ever you need justification for a bill like this,” he said.

Thomas, a constitutional law expert, cautioned, however, that hiring assembly staff independently of the civil service would be “an expensive exercise” for the state which might not be welcomed by consumers if it resulted in increased rates and assessments.

“It will be important to educate the public on the separation of powers,” he said.

A number of PR assemblypersons attended the seminar today, but no BN representatives were present. Asked about it, Khalid said it did not matter as the state government would hold more consultations about the draft enactment.

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5 Responses to “S’gor wants better separation of powers”

  1. Ellese says:

    The issue is not separation of powers but abuse of power. In Perak clearly the speaker abused his powers. PR condemned sultan for not following Ningkan but they never applied [that] Ningkan and the speaker’s exercise of his power epitomised the abuse. According to Ningkan, loss of confidence should be determined by the assembly. But in Perak, Sivakumar clearly did not want to follow Ningkan and in fact dismissed duly elected reps to maintain balance of power. Sultan was vilified for not following Ningkan but Sivakumar was praised for not [following either]. Hypocritical. Thus to me Selangor’s action in this matter is actually not for separation of powers but to ensure that PR can maintain power at all costs. It will only further provide room for abuse of powers by the Speaker as it favours the incumbent. Westminster parliamentary practices in the event of loss of confidence for the head of state cannot be effected at all. And PR says they want to uphold democracy?

  2. vp says:

    Good move. This is the way of government management needed by rakyat. Although PR may have many problems, but they are more professional compared to BN who only know “talk nonsense” and “eat (duit rakyat)”.

  3. Joe says:

    Where force and other criminals ways of power taking is used, PR may lose. However, no matter what, we the civilians are always with PR, whether they are the ruling party or not.

  4. PM says:

    That’s the way to go. It is an irony that it needs a “2 year old PR baby” to show “52-year old BN-Umno men” how to walk properly.

  5. Gopal Raj Kumar says:

    [….] You cannot have a half pregnancy or a part pregnancy or even a better pregnancy. You either have a pregnancy or you don’t.

    It is either the separation of powers or it is not. The concept is based on the Westminster doctrine of the same name.

    Perhaps what Selangor may wish to have like any other state that has reached that level of enlightenment is a better set of standards for those who seek to practise as lawyers, with knowledge and skills sufficient to interpret the concept to inform their clients. In this instance, it is the state of Selangor.

    The very proposal mentioned here is an attempt to farm out the rights of the people by passing the public service into an unaccountable private sector institution with cosmetic responsibility and accountablity with the leaders of opposition and the state assembly at its head. Where is the proof that the private sector will not produce a result that is better than what’s anticipated or claimed to be worse (by implication of the plan) than the public service?

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