Friday, January 9, 2015

Monkey business in Malaysia's Sarawak State Assembly

9 Jan 2015

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A lot of monkey business was transacted in the Sarawak State Assembly on 11 November 2014. Thirty pages of theHansard record for the day are dedicated to the discussion of the Composition of Membership Bill, 2014. This Bill increases the number of representatives in the Sarawak state assembly from 71 to 82.

I read the discussion in order to understand the rationale for the increase.

Essentially, the Barisan Nasional Proponents of the Bill said:

(1) We have the right to ask the EC to review the number of Assemblypersons every eight years. The number has been raised three times since the first sitting of 48 Assemblypersons in 1969. In 1985 it was increased to 56 (another speaker said 52); in 1995 it was increased to 62; and in 2005 it was increased to 71. So now we will raise it to 82. (2) We need to increase the number of representatives because the number of citizens and the number of voters has increased. (3) The EC should add constituencies in the interior and in the rural areas.”

Essentially, Opponents of the Bill said:

(1) What’s the rationale for 11? Why not 7 or 17? (2) Since the growth in population and voters is in the urban areas [presumably including movement of citizens from rural to urban areas], shouldn’t the increase, if any, be in urban areas? (3) What’s adding 11 seats going to cost in terms of increased expenses and dilution of ‘voice’ of each Assemblyperson during the rare sittings of the Assembly?

There was a lot of repetition of the criteria the EC must use when conducting a delineation exercise.

Essentially the Federal Constitution lays down four principles for delineating constituencies: (1) It must be relatively convenient for voters to vote on voting day; (2) there must be sufficient administrative infrastructure to carry out the voting; (3) constituencies must be “approximately equal” in numbers of voters, with due allowance for convenience and administrative infrastructure; (4) ties between local communities must be maintained.

The Speaker said abiding by the Constitution when doing delineation is the responsibility of the EC and therefore not to be debated in the Assembly. This cut off talk of malapportionment and gerrymandering, two facets of delineation in which our EC has demonstrated excellence.

The government did not present the additional cost which would be incurred by having 11 more Assemblypersons. One ‘opposition’ speaker estimated that the increase in cost is about RM 3 million per year. Another ‘opposition’ speaker said Assemblypersons already do too little and suggested more frequent and longer meetings of the Assembly.

“Monkey business” means doing activity which has questionable value.

The BN assemblypersons did monkey business when they proposed to increase spending without quantifying the benefits. They did monkey business when they said the decision to increase was driven by increase in population, and then willed the increase to be implemented in rural and interior areas. They did monkey business when they said “we must keep increasing the number of seats” and never touched on the question “how many seats would be too many?”

People who engage in monkey business are deceivers. The State Assembly of Sarawak appears to have more people doing monkey business than any other Malaysian Assembly.

It's clear why the Assembly rarely sits: less sittings means less display of monkey business.


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