Ask Lord Bobo: Seeking Public Opinion Doesn’t Mean Better Laws

From the Selangor Times 13 July 2012. Ask Lord Bobo is a weekly column by LoyarBurok where all your profound, abstruse, erudite, hermetic, recondite, sagacious, and other thesaurus-described queries are answered!

Dear Lord Bobo, I read that government departments and agencies must now seek public opinion before proposing draft amendments to existing laws or introducing new Bills. Does this mean that we will now get better laws? (I Didn’t Shoot the Deputy, via email)

Apparently, the Chief Secretary to the Government has directed that local councils, ministries and other statutory bodies must post recommendations for changes to by-laws, regulations and policies for 14 days on their websites.

The relevant bodies must then scrutinize any feedback, and then post online the reformed regulations taking into account such feedback. Laws affecting “national security” and “sovereignty” are not affected.

Naturally, we are most gratified with this change. But we are not confident it will in fact give rise to any meaningful difference in the quality of our laws.

Most by-laws, regulations and policies deal with mundane matters. Very few deal with major issues, and it would require a dedicated team of people to scrutinize and view every single website of every single government department to study whatever new proposals are made.

It is normally in Acts of Parliament that major issues of policy are determined. And nothing has been said by the prime minister or the attorney-general as to whether they will be changing their standard operating policy of putting Bills before Parliament at the last minute on the day the Bill is presented to Parliament, and then rushing through its approval within a matter of days.

We are also not sure that the mass of Malaysians — accustomed as they are to merely complaining about the government, the opposition and politicians generally — will be able to deal with the responsibility of actually making concrete suggestions and proposals.

How then should it work?

All Acts of Parliament, except those that must be approved urgently, should have sufficient time to be discussed by parliamentarians and the general public.

On issues of greater public importance, the system of White or Green Papers should be utilised – namely, discussion papers meant to seek the views of the public on how a particular objective is to be achieved. (In the English Parliament, from where our Parliament derived its procedures, a Green Paper is a very general consultation document, whilst a White Paper normally follows the Green Paper containing concrete proposals.)

The public must then mobilise themselves, shake off the apathy that pervades Malaysians, and actually give some feedback. That feedback must actually then be genuinely and sincerely considered by our lawmakers and civil servants, and legislation addressing the concerns in that feedback must be drafted.

Another round of consultation may perhaps be called for where a Draft Bill is published, and finally a Bill is presented to Parliament where it is then still debated and finally approved with or without amendments.

Of course, this process can (and in certain cases, should) be speeded up. But in the vast majority of non controversial and non urgent legislative reform, there is no need to mark every single consultation document or proposal as “Secret” and subject those who see it to the threat of prosecution under the Official Secrets Act 1972! The hope in all this of course is that with greater consultation, laws will be more effective in solving the problems it seeks to address.

In any event, the Malaysian government’s recent move is no doubt a good first step, as all reforms are. It’s now up to the Malaysian public to make use of this pre legislation consultation, and insist on greater transparency and more time to review all forms of legislation, especially Acts of Parliament and Enactments of State Legislative Assemblies, which are really the more important kind of legislation.

For background: Rakyat have a say on new laws from now (The Star)

Lord Bobo, what will happen in the event the prime minister does not call elections by the end of the five-year term of the government? (All The Way, via email)

The prime minister doesn’t call for elections. He must advise the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to “dissolve” Parliament, after which the Election Commission is under a duty to conduct a general election within 60 days from the date of dissolution, and Parliament must be summoned to meet no later than 120 days after that date.

But yah lah, we know what you mean.

The prime minister effectively calls for the election, since as a constitutional monarch, the Agong would normally accede to the call for a dissolution.

Note, however, that this is one of those rare cases where the Agong has a personal discretion under the Federal Constitution and is not bound to accept the advice of the prime minister [Article 40(2)(b)].
We saw this four years ago when the constitutional monarch of Perak did not accede to the advice of the menteri besar to dissolve the Perak Legislative Assembly. But that is another story, recounted in LoyarBurok’s “Perak: A State of Crisis”.

To therefore cut the answer to this simple query short, Article 55(3) of the Federal Constitution says that Parliament unless sooner dissolved shall continue for five years from the date of its first meeting and shall then stand dissolved.

So, Parliament will be automatically considered as dissolved by April 29, 2013, five years after its first meeting on April 28, 2008.

The general elections must be held no later than 60 days after that date, and the new Parliament must start 120 days after that date.

Have a question for Lord Bobo? Call on His Supreme Eminenceness by emailing [email protected], stating your full name, and a pseudonym (if you want), or tweeting your questions by mentioning @LoyarBurok and using the hashtag #asklordbobo. What the hell are you waiting for? Hear This, and Tremblingly Obey (although trembling is optional if you are somewhere very warm)! Liberavi Animam Meam! I Have Freed My Spirit!

You can read archives of all the Ask Lord Bobo columns by clicking here. These are the divinely-inspired words of His Supreme Eminenceness Lord Bobo Barnabus PhD SP GBE OMGWTFBBQ.

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Ask Lord Bobo is a weekly column by LoyarBurok where all your profound, abstruse, erudite, hermetic, recondite, sagacious, and other thesaurus-described queries are answered! It is the ONLY place that His Supreme Eminenceness' thoughts are regularly channeled, via His Lordship's most loyal meditating purple-banana munching minions.

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