New Dewan Rakyat speaker Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof shuns comparisons between himself and his predecessor, Pandikar Amin Mulia.
“I do not want to bring up what my predecessor has done, it could be right or wrong. I take things as of now, instead of yesterday.
“It is not good to keep harping on the past, I prefer to look to the future,” Mohamad Ariff told Malaysiakini in an interview at his office in Parliament.
Many of Pandikar’s rulings in his decade as speaker were heavily criticised, perhaps none more so when he decreed that bringing up the 1MDB affair in the Dewan Rakyat was tantamount to “sub judice”.
Asked whether he would allow any topic being debated, the former judge said he could not provide “ironclad” assurance, but said the rule of law will be upheld.
“I cannot speak for my predecessor, I can only say the current government is committed to the rule of law.
“We have said it a few times: in Parliament, everyone must be given the opportunity to air his or her views.
“You may not like it, but let’s hear him or her out, and then we engage, we have an intellectual debate,” he said.
These are the essentials of the new robust and responsible parliamentary culture that Mohamad Ariff wants to inculcate.
On Dewan Rakyat debates being sub judice to ongoing cases, Mohamad Ariff said he will make a ruling based on his understanding of the term and what he regards as proper parliamentary convention if this matter arises.
As a High Court judge, he had dismissed a contempt proceeding brought by Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor (Syabas) against lawyer Fahda Nur Ahmad Kamar, who spoke in public about the water industry takeover while acting for the Selangor state government.
Citing British judge Tom Denning’s famous maxim “Fair comment does not prejudice a fair trial,” Mohamad Ariff ruled that the court had to be cautious in applying contempt proceedings to curtail freedom of speech.
And in 2015, he reportedly disagreed with the sub judice argument put forth by the government in not having former prime minister Najib Abdul Razak answer questions in Parliament about the RM2.6 billion channelled into his personal account.
He said that the matter of sub judice does not arise since the matter was not the subject of any court proceeding at the time.
The right direction
Nevertheless, Mohamad Ariff did point out a number of positive reforms Pandikar implemented when serving as Dewan Rakyat speaker.
“The institution of a second chamber is a move in a good direction. The Minister’s Question Time (MQT) is working out quite well too,” Ariff said.
The MQT, where ministers answer questions from MPs in the Dewan Rakyat, is based on the Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQ) that is conducted in the British Parliament.
On whether he would implement a similar feature, Mohamad Ariff said the MQT already plays that function.
“It (MQT) is working out to be the Prime Minister’s Question Time as well.
“The prime minister comes every week to answer questions. It may not be called PMQ, but it has elements of it,” he said.
But one feature from the British Parliament that Mohamad Ariff does want to see implemented is the eventual appointment of a speaker from the House – despite his own appointment coming under heavy fire.
The contentiousness of his appointment to the post arose from the Pakatan Harapan promise that the Dewan Rakyat speaker would be chosen from among elected representatives.
While Mohamad Ariff pointed out that the Federal Constitution does allow for an outsider to be made the speaker, he maintained that the manifesto promise should eventually be fulfilled.
“There are pros and cons. If you have an outsider as speaker, then you do not lose an extra vote…and perhaps an outsider can be more impartial too.
“But I tend to agree that, in the long-run and being consistent with the manifesto, we should work along the lines of the British Parliament,” he said. – Malaysiakini