Monday, February 19, 2018

Reimagining Malaysia Part 3: Legislative Reform in Selangor the Future of Parliament

Many people may not aware, since the change of state government in 2008, the Selangor Legislative Assembly has undergone a series of legislative reforms. I will share some of the important checks and balances mechanisms that have been put in place in Selangor to strengthen the legislature and how Parliament can be reformed in the future for national-level legislative oversights.

Formation of Select Committees in Selangor

Since 2008, the Selangor Legislative Assembly has formed six select committees and and four special select committees. These committees meet when the state assembly is not in session and help to provide legislative scrutiny on executive administration.

Select Committee

i. Public Account Committee (PAC) or Jawantankuasa Kira-Kira Wang Kerajaan

ii. Select Committee of District and Land Office or Jawatankuasa Pilihan Pejabat Daerah dan Tanah (JP-PADAT)

iii. Select Committee of Local Authority or Jawatankuasa Pilihan Pihak Berkuasa Tempatan (JP-PBT)

iv. Select Committee of Agency, Statutory Body and Subsidiary Company or Jawatankuasa Pilihan Agensi, Badan Berkanun dan Anak Syarikat (JP-ABAS)

v. Standing Orders Committee or Jawatankuasa Peraturan Tetap

vi. Rights and Privileges Committee or Jawatankuasa Hak dan Kebebasan
Special Select Committee

i. Selangor Competency, Accountability and Transparency Committee (SELCAT) or Jawatankuasa Pilihan Khas Mengenai Keupayaan, Kebertanggungjawaban dan Ketelusan Selangor

ii. Special Select Committee on Poverty Eradication or Jawatankuasa Pilihan Khas Pembasmian Kemiskinan

iii. Special Select Committee of Management of the Assembly or Jawatankuasa Pilihan Khas Pengurusan Dewan

iv. Special Select Committee of Water Resources Management of the State of Selangor (JPK-SAS) or Jawatankuasa Pilihan Khas Pengurusan Sumber Air Negeri Selangor

The difference between select committees and special select committees is that the former is legislated through the Standing Orders (SO) of the Legislative Assembly while the latter focuses on specific issues and are formed via a motion in the Legislative Assembly [1]. Technicalities aside, overall, all the committees are formed to achieve the same purpose – to provide systematic legislative checks and balances to the executive branch of power.

Because of space limit, I shall not elaborate further what is the function of each of these committees. You can read the book to check them out in more details. I would like to only touch on one select committee here, which is the Select Committee of Selangor Competency Accountability and Transparency, which is commonly referred to in its short form SELCAT.

SELCAT was formed to conduct hearings on special issues in Selangor in relation to competency, accountability and transparency in the state. SELCAT hearings are often made public and live-streamed [2] so that the people of Selangor can watch it in real time.

SELCAT has conducted many hearings since its formation. One worthy of note was the hearing on Perbadanan Kemajuan Negeri Selangor’s (PKNS) Execution of Integrity Pact on 25 March 2014 [3]. The hearing was conducted to investigate the widespread allegations in the media that then MB Khalid Ibrahim had abused his power in PKNS to sack current MB Azmin Ali as a member of the board of directors of PKNS, as well as several other complaints. Both the former and current MB were summoned and present to testify before SELCAT on the matter (pictures below). The entire process was live-streamed.

Photo Credit: Saari Sungib

What is the big deal of such legislative practices? Well, imagine what would happen if such a select committee in Parliament was able to summon the Prime Minister to question him about 1MDB and the personal donation scandal. Imagine also that this hearing was being live-streamed. That’s how big deal it is.

After hearings and investigations, all the select committees can decide whether to table reports at the Legislative Assembly. For issues that need the attention of the State Assembly, reports are tabled, debated and passed at the Legislative Assembly. Once they are passed, they will be uploaded to the Dewan Negeri Selangor website [4] to ensure transparency.

With its functioning select committees, Selangor acts as an example of how the legislative branch can systematically provide oversight on the executive, thus making it accountable to the assembly.

Public Account Committee (PAC) Chairmanship

Under the leadership of Hannah Yeoh Tseow Suan, the Speaker of the Selangor State Assembly, the power of the select committees was further strengthened through a series of amendments to the Standing Order.

One of the most notable amendments was one to the Standing Order to mandate the appointment of the opposition leader as Public Account Committee (PAC) chairman. This is in line with the practice of other developed countries.

PAC, as the name implies, is a committee that examines public accounts, including that of the Selangor government, public authorities and other bodies administering public funds as well as the appropriation of the budget approved by the Legislative Assembly to meet public expenditure. 3

This standing order amendment is important because it strengthens PAC’s ability to provide checks and balances to the government. The opposition leader in Selangor can now use PAC to investigate all matters related to public funds.

PAC and all the other select committees have the power to summon officers from state government agencies, statutory bodies, government-linked companies (GLCs) and any associated bodies that the Selangor government has authority over.

Unfortunately, just four days after the landmark amendment on December 4th 2015, then opposition leader, Sungai Burong assemblyman Datuk Mohd Shamsuddin Lias, resigned from his position [5]. UMNO and BN have refused to appoint a new opposition leader, making the Selangor state assembly the only one in the country without an opposition leader.

Why has UMNO refused to take up the PAC chairman position? The answer is obvious. If UMNO were to take up the position, they would be required to make the same amendment in the states they govern and most importantly, in Parliament. Imagine if Parliament Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail was PAC chairman in Parliament instead of the cari makan one we have now – what would happen to the legislative scrutiny of the 1MDB case?

If the 1MDB scandal had taken place in Selangor, PAC and SELCAT would have investigated it through a series of public hearings. All the relevant officers, including the Prime Minister, would have been called to testify before the committee and all the hearings would have been live-streamed for everyone to watch.

Future: Strengthening Parliament through Select Committees

Now let’s have a look at what we have in the Parliament. The federal government has much wider jurisdiction than state governments, which should translate to a greater number of select committees in the Parliament of Malaysia.

However, as of now, Parliament only has five select committees [6]. Only one select committee, PAC, provides executive scrutiny and even that has been sullied by the fact that it is led by a cari makan chairman.

What are the select committees that should be formed in Parliament? We can refer to the list of select committees in the Parliaments of the countries that have the Westminster parliamentarian system that is practiced in Malaysia such as United Kingdom (UK), Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

Overall, the select committees of these countries aim to make every aspect of executive governance accountable by scopes of work and special purposes. For us in Malaysia, as a first step, we could start by forming additional select committees according to the respective ministries in order to make all ministers accountable to the legislature. We should also form special select committees for special purposes such as to: -
i. provide an avenue for voiceless groups such as indigenous people, refugees, stateless persons, children etc.;
ii. advocate matters related to Sabah and Sarawak;
iii. monitor the democratic system in terms of electoral fairness, institutions etc.; and
iv. provide oversight on the governance of statutory bodies and GLCs as they also handle a great deal of public wealth.

Proposed Select Committees (according to ministries)

1.       Education
2.       Higher Education
3.       Finance
4.       Home Affairs
5.       Foreign Affairs
6.       Works
7.  Urban Well-being, Housing and Local Government
8.       Human Resources
9.       International Trade and Industry
10.    Communication and Multimedia
11.    Tourism and Culture
12.    Defence
13.    Natural Resources and Environment
14.    Science, Technology and Innovation

15. Domestic Trade, Co-operatives and Consumerism
16.       Health
17.       Federal Territories
18. Women, Family and Community Development
19.       Transport
20.       Agriculture & Agro-Based Industry
21.       Plantation Industries and Commodities
22.       Rural and Regional Development
23.       Energy, Green Technology and Water
24.       Youth and Sports
25.       Prime Minister's Department (JPM)

Proposed Special Select Committees (Special Purposes)

1.   Sabah and Sarawak Affairs
2.   Indigenous People Affairs
3.   Children Affairs

4.   Refugees, Immigrants and Citizenship
5.   Electoral and Institutional Reform
6. Statutory Bodies and Government-Linked-Companies.

With these proposed select committees and special select committees formed in Parliament, we could more systematically and effectively scrutinise the executive branch of government according to its different fields of administration. Of course, we should also amend the standing order of the parliament such that the opposition leader will be automatically made PAC chairman.

Future: Institutionalising a Transparent Government

Aside from select committees and the necessary standing order amendments to strengthen the legislature, it is also important to institutionalise government transparency through law reform.

Selangor and Penang passed the Freedom of Information Enactment (FOI) on April 1st 2011 and November 4th 2011 respectively and remain the only two states in Malaysia to have done so. The legislation enables the public to apply for access to documents that the Selangor/Penang state governments have full power of.

However, if federal documents are involved, the Official Secrets Act (OSA) would apply. OSA provides the federal government with the power to classify any official document as secret and it is an offense to make public these documents. While the law was supposed to be used on documents related to the military or national security of the country, it has now been misused to classify highway concession and public-private-partnership agreements by the federal government.

Therefore, as of now, there is no way to have full access to many public procurement documents of federal projects. The OSA must be amended to limit what documents can be classified as secret and to decentralise the power of who can classify these documents.

Aside from the FOI, we should also introduce the Ombudsman Law. The Swedish word was first used in a modern sense in 1809 when the Swedish Parliament set up the Justitieombudsman office to protect the people from the government, including from violations of human rights, abuse of power, and unfair and misleading decisions. At present, more than 150 countries have existing ombudsman institutions. It plays an important role in ensuring that government action is more open and its administration is more responsible to the public.

In addition, to further improve government transparency, we should shift towards an open government doctrine. The FOI mandates the government to provide documents and information when citizens apply to have access to it while an open government doctrine will go a step further by having the government be proactively transparent and disclosing as much information as possible.

The law to institutionalise an open government is often called Sunshine Law. Sunshine is the best disinfectant – when there is a high level of transparency and openness in the government, corruption and other bad practices can be reduced.

With the FOI, Ombudsman institution and Sunshine Law, those in power will be forced to be “clean”, whether they like it or not, because their actions would be open for scrutiny.
Indeed, good leaders come and go, they may retire, die, or change, only good institutions remain.

Therefore ladies and gentlemen, let’s build good institutions to protect our welfare and rights and that of our future generation.

This article is extracted from a chapter of my book, "Reimagining Malaysia."


[1] Standing orders of the legislative assembly 1965. The Legislative Assembly of Selangor. (Revised -2016).
[2] Hansard. Dewan Undangan Negeri Selangor yang ke-12 penggal pertama mesyuarat kedua (pembukaan). p 101-102. 26 May 2008 [cited 30 Aug 2017]. p. 101- Available from
[3] Select Committee Report. Penyata SELCAT berhubung “Strategi Pemulihan Pengurusan Perbadanan Kemajuan Negeri Selangor (PKNS): Pelaksanaan Integrity Pact”. Kertas Bil 20/2014. 21 May 2014. [cited 30 Aug 2017]. Available from
[4]Dewan Negeri Selangor. Perundangan dan Perbahasan. Penyata Jawatankuasa. [cited 30 Aug 2017]. Available from
[5] Adrian Wong. Shamsuddin letak jawatan ketua pembangkang. Malaysiakini. 8 Dec 2014 [cited 30 Aug 2017]. Available from
[6] PAC, the Standing Orders Committee, Committee of Selection, Committee of Privileges and House Committee. Official Website. Parliament of Malaysia. House of Representatives. Committee. [cited 30 ug 2017]. Available from