THIS  International Day of Parliamentarism  is an opportunity to celebrate  parliaments, as the cornerstone  of  democracy, and as an institution which hasbeen deliberately founded to advance, enhance,and safeguard the rakyat .COVID-19 has increased  the  need  for  a  strong  and  effective  parliament. The  adoption  of  emergency ordinances and  government-mandated restrictions have resulted in great confusion and lack of clarity, as people attempt to navigate the new normal.

While the pandemic has unveiled the gaps and flaws in  our systems, it has granted us the opportunity to strategise and strengthen  economic,  societal,  and  infrastructural  resilience,  effectiveness and  responsiveness. The  inactivity  from  the Dewan  Rakyat  has proved a wasted opportunity to address society’s needs at a time when existing  mechanisms  and structures have failed to do so. 

COVID-19  has  severely  disrupted  the  lives  of  the rakyat and  illustrated  the  importance  of  a  functioning democracy, especially  during  a  crisis.  It  is  not  merely  the  responsibility  of  the  Dewan  Rakyat  or  Dewan  Negara,  but  it  is  for  all  the bipartisan parliamentary committees to work together in efforts t ocushion the socioeconomic fallout and overcome the ill-effects of the pandemic. Instead of idly languishing in a time of crisis, Parliament should be empowered to function at its fullest.

The  pandemic  has  forced well-established  parliamentary  procedures to  a  staggering  halt. This is  a critical  time  for parliamentary democracy as people are losing trust in political institutions and democracy itself is facing challenges from populist  and  nationalist  movements. It  is  imperative  for  parliament  to  be  strong,  accountable,and  representative  for democracy to thrive.

The Way Forward

1.Trust, Collaboration & Inclusivity

The  International  Day  of  Parliamentarism calls  for  a  review  of  the  progress  and  advancements  made  by  Parliament  in ensuring Malaysia’s development and adaptation to the ever-evolving societal needsand digital technologies. The rakyat’s trust in political institutions, including that of Parliament itself has been undermined by prominent scandals, allegations of corruption  and  breaches  or  abuse  of  power.  Hence, creating  greater  impetus for  the  establishment  of appropriate safeguards and check and balances to create an efficient system of justice that promotes the stances in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 16-Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.

Amidst  this public  health and socioeconomic  crisis,  it  is crucial for  Parliament  to  build the  trust  of  the  people  and  to  be independent and impartial while operating in the interest of the country. Governance and integrity are the fundamental pillars  ensuring  a  strong  and  effective Parliament.  We  need  to  fully  understand  the  needs  of  the  people,  implement sustainable growth,and ensure that the system is fair and equitable.

The  youth  are  immensely  under-represented  in  political  decision-making  which  would  affect  their  future.  A  youth perspective is essential as these perspectives, ideas and talents are fundamental to address and tackle many of the obstacles faced  by ou rsociety. Democracies  are  stronger  if  parliaments  are  representative  of  all  groups  and  voices  in  society. Collaboration and  cooperation between political  parties  across  the  spectrum is  essential  for  a  holistic  government approach in ensuring effective policy making and implementation.

Parliament  should  institutefuture-proof  legislation in parallel with technology,  risk,and  regulatory developments. Democratising access  to  opportunity  and  harnessing  the  power  of  technology  will  alleviate  the injustices plaguing  the society during this socioeconomic fallout.

2. Accelerating adaptability through regulatory transformation

Future-proof and robust regulatory frameworks must be fortified to ensure that th erakyat is not thrown into a frenzy and abruptly  forced  to  adapt  and  manage  the  socioeconomic  fallout  of  a  crisis  without  any understandable roadmap  or direction.  Parliament  should view  the  disruption  caused  by  the  pandemic  as  a catalyst  for  regulatory  transformation as opposed to a hindrance. Agile  policy making should encompass  regulations,  policies,  systems,  infrastructure,  resources,and contingency  plans  to anticipate and enable quick responses to crises like pandemics. A data-driven, and human-centric civil service would enable us to build future-readiness, develop inclusive policies and deploy responsive services to address and alleviate inequalities.

3. Data-driven policymaking

Technology  has  the  ability  to  increase  productivity,  reduce  management  costs,  unlock  insights  from  data,  and  create greater efficiency across government –this will require digital transformation across people, process, and technology.

To achieve this,policymakers, and policy making have to evolve in tandem with technology advancement. For example, to achieve the government’s aim to enable cashless payments for all government services by 2022, we will need to transform systems and processes, train people, and shift mindsets.

The  elimination  of  data  silos  would  enable  greater collaboration  and  coordination  between  government  agencies  and ministries. Shared intelligence across organizations, government entities and private institutions would enable data to be converted into actionable insights. This would improve the response time to pandemics, crises, and everyday issues.

*SERI  is  a  non-partisan  think-tank  dedicated  to  the  promotion  of  evidence-based  policies  that  address  issues  of  inequality.

**The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of Astro AWANI.