KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 17 — Dewan Rakyat Speaker Azhar Azizan Harun has proposed forming eight special select committees in Parliament to monitor government ministries, including the Ministry of Health (MOH).
Azhar, popularly known as Art Harun, said the proposed eight ministry-based Parliament special select committees are health; education; infrastructure development; agriculture and domestic trade; agencies under the Prime Minister’s Office; security; finance and economy; and fundamental liberties and constitutional rights.
Azhar clarified that health and education will be two separate committees, after The Star published an interview with him on the suggested formation of the eight new special select committees.
“Yes, the two are separate. They are each on its own,” Azhar told CodeBlue today.
He added that he was targeting November, when Dewan Rakyat resumes sitting, to launch the new Parliament committees that require approval from the House. The Perikatan Nasional government has a thin majority in the Dewan Rakyat of 222 MPs.
MOH received the third biggest allocation, at RM30.6 billion, in Budget 2020, behind the Finance and Education Ministries at RM37.8 billion and RM64.1 billion respectively.
When asked if these special select committees will function like select committees in the UK Parliament and be empowered to summon ministers and civil servants to explain issues in their ministries, Azhar said: “Yes, even call on their own experts on specific issues if the committee deems necessary.”
The UK Parliament’s House of Commons has a select committee for each government department, examining spending, policies, and administration. The Commons’ Health and Social Care Committee, which shadows the Department of Health and Social Care, launched inquiries this year on the government’s management of the Covid-19 outbreak and on the delivery of core NHS and care services during the pandemic.
Evidence given in UK parliament committee hearings are made available, with video recordings and transcripts, on the Parliament website. The committee reports findings to the Commons that are later published on the Parliament website. The government usually has 60 days to respond to the committee’s recommendations. In Malaysia, Parliament committee hearings are not public.
Azhar maintained, however, that there must be sufficient budget for the eight new proposed special select committees, saying: “I am trying to establish a dedicated secretariat for the select committees. Have proposed for basic staffing.”
Azhar also told CodeBlue that these new Parliament committees will replace the previous special select committees implemented by his predecessor, Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof, subject to the Dewan Rakyat’s approval.
Under then-Speaker Mohamad Ariff, the Dewan Rakyat set up 10 special select committees that did not specifically shadow government ministries: consideration of bills; budget; defence and home affairs; gender equality and family development; states and federal relations; major public appointments; election; human rights and constitutional affairs; international relations and trade; and science, innovation and environment.
When asked why the previous committees needed to be replaced by the new ones, Azhar said: “I would rather have a more focused group of special select committees. Optimise resources. Catch the low-hanging fruits.”
Note: This article was updated at 1.43pm with additional quotes from Azhar in the last paragraph.