TEMERLOH Member of Parliament (MP) Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah’s response to the MP Watch: Eye on Parliament project, which asks all 222 MPs six questions.
Name: Saifuddin Abdullah
Years as MP: Since 2008
• Deputy higher education minister
• Supreme council member
• Temerloh division deputy chief
Membership in parliamentary committees or caucuses: None
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?
Yes I support that. We need to review, not only the ISA, but other freedom-related Acts like the Official Secrets Act (OSA) and so on.
I especially support the need to review the section which allows detention without trial. To a certain extent, [although] I don’t know how we can do this in legal terms. The government should be allowed to detain certain people without trial but I don’t think we should do it to politicians. I’m sure the public would be able to understand and appreciate when the government names who they are detaining and so on, whether [it] is a criminal case and involves serious security matters, or whether it is simply a political detention. I am definitely against political detention without trial.
As I have said, I think we need to go deeper into trying to allow more freedom, so we have to look at some of the other Acts, like the OSA. How do you define a secret? I like to give this example: The Inspector General of Police has a file, for instance, with some documents considered top secret. So it is fair that the IGP should know what is secret and what is not secret inside [the file]. But as to, say, the cost of the file, which company supplied the file, and whether it was through open tender, I think all that is not a secret. We must be able to differentiate the file and the contents of the file.
I am also a columnist, besides a politician, and I sometimes find it hard to get information. I used to have such trouble finding information and I used to argue with government officers, saying, “Look, what is so secretive about this information? It should be in the public domain.”
Do you think Malaysia should be a secular or an Islamic state? Why?
I am a Muslim; I believe Malaysia should be an Islamic state, but we must also be aware of the definition of what is an Islamic and what is a secular state. My definition of secularism refers to the division of what is in this world and what is in the hereafter. Now, as Muslims, we believe that we cannot compartmentalise and divide what is here and the hereafter into two different things.
Secularism to my understanding is that you leave to God what is God’s. There is a separation of the state from religion. Now we don’t believe in that, but an Islamic state, to my mind, must not necessarily be like Iran. I am not for that kind of Islamic state, where the constitution defines an Islamic state so strictly to the extent that only certain people can be appointed or selected as the ruler. An Islamic state has nothing to do with who is the leader, so long as he [or she] is elected and so on. So an Islamic state must concern itself with its own principles and laws, but otherwise it should be a real democracy.
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 problem is that this is my first term as an MP, and I became a deputy minister straight away. So I have never enjoyed the luxury of becoming a full-fledged MP, and taking part in the debates in Parliament. I must say I miss that because I always thought that if I was an MP, I would be able to debate.
But otherwise, I carry out my duties as an MP for my constituency. At the same time I have to do my job as deputy minister, so I have to divide my time. But I think we need to improve the public understanding of an MP’s role. I think most of my constituents are not able to understand that I am, by definition, a lawmaker. They look at me like I am a welfare officer, that I have to be in my constituency most of the time, and that I have to do some of the jobs which are not really, by definition, an MP’s job. It could be the job of the welfare or district officer or the Yang di-Pertua Majlis Perbandaran. I do not blame my constituents for thinking that way, however, because we have yet to educate our people. I think we need to make our democracy more mature and have more political education.
On the necessary infrastructure and support for MPs, I think we can do more. I think MPs, regardless of party, should be allocated research assistants and a proper office in Parliament or somewhere near. This is the practice of many advanced democracies. This is so that the MP can really play a lawmaker’s role. Some say MPs should also be given special officers to do parliamentary work in their constituencies, but I am not for that. I am more for [allocating research assistants to] MPs for [their] Parliamentary work as a lawmaker.
Would you support a Freedom of Information Act? Why or why not?
I am very supportive of a Freedom of Information Act. When I was in university I was one of those fighting for the amendment of the Universities and University Colleges Act and I supported the idea for a Freedom of Information Act. I believe the rakyat has the right to information and MPs and elected representatives also have the right to get the information that they need in order for them to execute their work. This goes for the media too, as they face a lot of problems when it comes to getting information for their stories.
If there was one thing you could do to strengthen parliamentary democracy in Malaysia, what would it be?
Can we be bi-partisan, and go without the whip? I don’t like the idea of the whip but I am still an Umno and Barisan Nasional member, and I have to follow the whip. But if you ask me, I would do away with the whip. So that you can speak with your mind and vote with your conscience. I say this because you call it a parliamentary debate, but after spending hours debating, you end up voting according to bloc.
Do you believe in separation of powers between the executive, Parliament and judiciary? Why or why not?
Yes, I believe in it and I believe we need to do more about it. I may not be able to say much about the judiciary, except that we now have the (Judicial Appointments) Commission, which is one step forward.
However, we also need to review the relationship between the legislature and the executive. We sometimes see that the cabinet makes decisions without having to get prior approval from Parliament. Perhaps we cannot have a system whereby the cabinet needs to go back to Parliament every time before they make a decision, as that would not be practical. But we should have some kind of understanding, whereupon certain matters pertaining to certain fundamental issues could be at least discussed first in Parliament. This would give due recognition to the people’s voice.
The other issue that we need to study is also the role of an MP who is also in the administration. I think we need to have studies on how best we can differentiate the role of a parliamentary representative and of a member of the administration. In some countries like the US, the role is quite clear-cut because the secretaries are not congress or senate members. So there is an actual separation there.
But in our case you have an MP who is also a minister or deputy minister. That is our system and we need to live with it, but we could look at how we could go about it and make this better.
For other MP responses, see Full MP list
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