DEAR Yang Berhormat, I remember going to school almost every day because my mum would give a lecture on how school attendance mattered, whether or not you learn.
When I was in Form Six, I even received a certificate at the end of the year for having a 99.9 per cent attendance in class, which was a big deal because the school appreciated the attendance of students, especially those who made an effort to come.
This was one of the traits we learnt at home and in school.
Things changed a little during university, where I would sometimes skip a few classes due to student council commitments, but that didn’t mean I never attended classes at all.
I definitely made an effort to attend them. Attendance contributes to our final results.
The fear of not getting these extra marks from attendance is constantly there nagging at us.
Why am I saying this? This is because a few of our members of parliament (MPs) recently said attendance in Parliament is not a big issue.
As a Malaysian citizen, I feel that the presence of an MP in Parliament is important as I would like to see him talk about issues and address problems in his constituency in Parliament.
It is the responsibility of each MP to represent the voice of the voters in Parliament as it is the national legislative body of the Malaysian government.
Besides, Parliament is not only a place for debates, it is an institution where laws are passed, amended and repealed.
Parliament sessions also examine government policies, approve government expenditure and taxes tabled in a budget. Such is the importance of Parliament, and here we have some of our MPs who are ignorant about their role as parliamentarians.
I believe that every single person has been taught about the importance of attendance from our school days right up to university, and as we become adults, attendance at work is also important.
Imagine employees telling their employers that their attendance at work doesn’t matter at all and they would like to show up at work whenever they want. There will definitely be chaos.
I understand that some MPs have their own commitments either as a minister or deputy minister, and some might even have commitments in their constituencies, but that does not mean that they can neglect their representation or responsibility to attend Parliament sessions regularly.
The practice of the previous government, which may have not looked at attendance in Parliament as a priority, should be changed in this new era of “Malaysia Baru” and the current MPs from the government coalition shouldn’t repeat the mistakes of the past.
The MPs should be reminded that the people are indeed watching their every move and some are even watching the Parliament session every day just to make sure that their MPs are representing their voices.
MPs should be a good example to our young, especially to those who are in school. Imagine a situation where students would one day turn around and actually say that their school attendance is no longer a priority because even our MPs are not prioritising their attendance in Parliament. So, why should they even bother?
Remember that the political culture in Malaysia has changed since the historic election in May as the political awareness among citizens, especially youths, has increased significantly.
This complacency about attendance in Parliament could be resolved via a new law that should be implemented stating the minimum number of days that an MP should be present while Parliament is in session, present a show cause letter if they are absent and pay a hefty fine if they are unable to justify their absence.
Most parliaments impose some formal “Rules of Attendance”, either at plenary sittings and committee meetings. Some countries have incorporated the “Rules of Attendance” in their constitution or legislation, or usually in the Standing Orders of Parliament.
In many countries, the rule of “Compulsory Attendance” by members is enforced. According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, compulsory attendance is not enforced in countries like the United Kingdom and absence from plenary sittings and committee meetings entails no penalty or action on the MPs.
However, the attendance in the “Opposed Private Bill Committee” is compulsory. Besides the UK, even the United States Congress does not take formal attendance.
But two countries following the British parliamentary tradition, Canada and Australia, have introduced the rule of “Compulsory Attendance”.
Members who fail to attend parliamentary sessions without a “valid reason” would face a penalty. In addition to Canada and Australia, the Rules of Procedure of the German Bundestag also require its members to participate in the assembly’s proceedings.
France, Germany, Spain, Hungary, Jordan, Poland and South Koreaare among many other countries with “Rules of Attendance” for members in their assembly.
The same “Rules of Attendance” should be applied in our parliament system so that our MPs would be accountable and be more responsible.
Research Assistant, Centre for ASEAN Regionalism (CARUM)/Asia-Europe Institute, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur