Updated 6:50pm, 22 Feb 2010
(Source: parlimen.gov.my) Name: S Subramaniam
Years as MP: Since 2004
Government position: Human resources minister
Membership in parliamentary committees or caucus:
Parliamentary select committee member
Original deadline: 12 Feb 2010
Responses submitted: 10am, 22 Feb 2010
Would you support the abolition/review of the Internal Security Act (ISA), in particular the provision that allows for detention without trial? Why or why not?
Preventive detention is not peculiar to Malaysia. It is something that is practised in different countries in different forms. The principle of it is that there will be some events which have to be prevented to safeguard the welfare of the majority.
In such situations, you might not be able to do this with existing legal mechanisms. [Let’s assume] there are people we know of who are going to be a terrorist threat. You probably have got evidence. But unless they’ve done something that is against the present laws, you might not be able to take action against them. That is the reason why the ISA has been in force.
Over the years, in particular the last few years, it [has been] the administration’s will to ensure that the ISA is only used in cases when it is absolutely necessary.
Whether we can abolish it in total or not will depend on how we are going to deal with these kinds of situations. In ensuring the ISA is not abused, the government has to be vigilant in ensuring the greater population’s safety. That is the premise on which the reformation of the ISA should be done. I’m not for total abolishment.
Do you think Malaysia should be a secular or an Islamic state? Why?
I think the constitutional provisions are very clear. Malaysia is not a secular state because a secular state doesn’t conform to any religion. We have already stated in the constitution, which has been accepted by all races, that Islam is the official religion.
Being an official religion and being an Islamic state will of course [draw] different interpretations from different people. In a typical Islamic state, the entire administration — [the spirit, legal mechanisms and implementation] — is based on Islam as such. This is not so in Malaysia.
So I think we are not an Islamic state in that sense of the word. Neither are we a secular state. We are a state that identifies and recognises for all official purposes in the government that Islam is the religion used, but other groups also have their own religions. This is given importance and provided for in our constitution. And I think that’s how it will be, because any attempt to change this is not going to be easy and can cause instability in the country.
How do you define your role as an elected MP? Does Parliament provide you with the necessary infrastructure and support to fulfill your role?
You are expected to implement projects and assist people in your constituency, and voice the views of your constituency in Parliament. MPs raise and propose development for their areas.
But budget constraints are always there. There will always be a gap because demand exceeds the government’s ability to fulfill expectations. We need to compromise to ensure that the most important, most needed things are addressed first, and are made available to everybody.
This is one part that any MP will say is a constraint on them. They are not able to totally meet the expectations of their constituents because expectations normally far surpass what is possible to be done by the government. So this is about management, where engagement between the government, the MPs and the constituents should be made so that everybody understands that the more important needs are met first, and that there are certain needs that cannot be met immediately.
Otherwise, as far as Parliament is concerned, our system is fairly free. I think members are free to voice their opinions and give their ideas whether they are from the ruling party or not, and the executive actually takes a view of all these comments which are given and sees how it can respond.
Would you support a Freedom of Information Act? Why or why not?
The practice of freedom as such is already there in our country. But in a country of our nature, any kind of absolute freedom, unless [used with discipline], can lead to abuse, and at the same time can jeopardise the delicate situation we have.
Any act that gives complete access to information or complete freedom to express your own opinion has to be seen within the context of how this freedom is going to affect the country’s overall stability, peace and structure. Only after this is met can absolute freedom be given.
In Malaysia, some areas are still sensitive. While we can discuss many other areas openly, there are some which still might have to be discussed [behind] closed doors because open discussion might lead to different perceptions, interpretations and reactions. We are not a homogenous society with similar goals. We have to manage differences, and we are trying to do that, but we have not reached a stage of homogeneity in which everybody has got the same goals, aspirations and directions.
I’ve got no qualms about access to information on tenders being made public or about how the government manages its funds. That’s not an issue at all. It’s the more sensitive issues pertaining to religion, for example. These are the issues where we have to be careful.
If there was one thing you could do to strengthen parliamentary democracy in Malaysia, what would it be?
Electoral voting is still very race-based. If I’m elected in a constituency, it is because to a great extent, I am a candidate of the Barisan Nasional (BN). And because of all the people who believed in the principles of the BN who voted for me. But in that decision, there is a distinct racial element.
I think the ideal day will be when a Malay [Malaysian] candidate can win in a Chinese [Malaysian] constituency because they feel he [or she] is the best candidate for them by virtue of his [or her] capabilities and abilities. Or, a Chinese [Malaysian] candidate can win in a predominantly Malay [Malaysian] constituency on his [or her] own value because people feel that he [or she] is the best [person] for the job. We have not reached that level of evolution.
That level of evolution will provide stability to politics in Malaysia. Race still predominates the Malaysian parliamentary democratic system. This change [needs to] grow in people’s minds [according to their] degree of acceptance to transcend racial and religious borders, to see beyond all that and look at individuals. That is what I think will give real life to parliamentary democracy.
Do you believe in separation of powers between the government, Parliament and judiciary? Why or why not?
This is already in existence. And this system has to go on, because the day these three become part and parcel of the same, there will be no check and balance. The recourse of fairness to the people, protection for the people, is that the judiciary is independent. So when the executive is not doing the right things, then the people have the comfort that there is still one system that can redress the unfairness and put it right.
The separation of powers, which has been the doctrine of the parliamentary democracy we have been practising, is something which should be continued and strengthened. The separation should be visible and independent without interference from other sides because that strengthens the country and the people.
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