KUALA LUMPUR – Extra-ordinary is the apt word to describe the first week session of the third term of the 14th Parliament, which convened for only half-a-day everyday as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Almost everyday over the week, announcements and reminders on the standard operating procedures (SOP) were made in the Dewan Rakyat to ensure that all measures are taken to keep members of the house and its staff safe and free of COVID-19.
Since the first day, the Parliament session was held for only three hours, from 10 am to 1 pm, everyday, from Monday to Thursday, unlike normally, when it would end at 5.30 am the earliest.
The decision was made at an emergency meeting which was attended by Dewan Rakyat Speaker Datuk Azhar Azizan Harun and party chief Whips at 10.30 am last Monday to discuss the Dewan Rakyat Order of Business Coordination Meeting Following Spread of COVID-19 to ensure the sitting would not infringe the rights of the members of Parliament.
It was also made after several Dewan Negara officers were tested positive for COVID-19, apart from members of the house being in a closed area, thus increasing the risk of the infection.
Although the Parliament session lasted only three hours everyday, the daily order of the meeting proceeded normally, with ministers’ or deputy ministers responding to questions from the parliamentary members during the question and answer session, followed by the tabling of motions and bills for the first and second reading, as well as debates and winding-up of the debate by the government.
During the session on Wednesday, Azhar informed members of the house and its staff on the need for them to undergo the COVID-19 screening test every two weeks and that the notification on the matter will be issued to them by the Parliament administration from time to time.
He also reminded the MPs to avoid socialising or attend public gatherings and crowded places and to always comply with the prescribed SOP.
Azhar also said that the Parliament building will be ordered to close should there be positive cases of COVID-19 infection.
For the Parliament session from Nov 9 to Dec 15, only 80 MPs – 41 from the government and 39 from the opposition and Independents – are allowed to attend, with the sitting only from 10 am to 2 pm and the number of days allotted for the Third Meeting can be increased by another two days, namely on Dec 16 and 17, if necessary.
However, for the tabling of Budget 2021 by Finance Minister Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz last Friday, all MPs were allowed entry to the Dewan Rakyat following an application by Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
Anwar made the application just before Tengku Zafrul began tabling the budget at about 4.20 pm.
The application was supported by all MPs across the divide, including Datuk Seri Bung Moktar Radin (BN-Kinabatangan), Datuk Seri Tajuddin Abdul Rahman (BN-Pasir Salak) and Lim Guan Eng (PH-Bagan).
The COVID-19 pandemic also dominated the questions by Members of Parliament during the oral question and answer session, as well as during the Ministers’ Question Time.
Meanwhile, several bills were tabled for the first reading this week, namely the Malaysian Space Board Bill 2020, Occupational Safety and Health (Amendment) Bill 2020 and the Factories and Machinery (Repeal) Bill 2020, while the Cooperatives (Amendment) Bill 2020, was tabled for the second reading and debated.
The first week of the Parliament session also witnessed the appointment of 12 government and opposition MPs as members of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), following the appointment of Wong Kah Woh (DAP-Ipoh Timor) and Datuk Azizah Mohd Dun (Bersatu-Beaufort) as the committee chairman and vice-chairman, respectively, on Aug 27.