Challenging and exciting times | Selangor Times
Monday
23·04·2018
Issue 118

 

Senedi
Challenging and exciting times
Writer: Gan Pei Ling
Published: Fri, 16 Mar 2012

Haniza Talha, the PKR assemblyperson for Taman Medan, became Selangor’s first female deputy speaker in 2008. She is also the first woman to be appointed as a state assembly’s deputy chair in Malaysia.

In an interview with Selangor Times, the first-term lawmaker spoke candidly about her experience four years down the road and challenges faced in reforming the State Assembly.

She also touched on female representation in the Selangor State Assembly and what else could be done to increase women’s participation in politics.
 
Can you share some of your memorable experiences being a deputy speaker since 2008?
It’s a challenge. I was quite nervous in the beginning because I had no background in law. But the Speaker (Datuk Teng Chang Khim) showed me along the way how the legislature is run in other Commonwealth countries and advanced democracies. I’m more confident now.

I also went to CPA (Commonwealth Parliamentary Association) training in Tanzania in 2009 and later, on my own funds, to Germany in 2011. I met a lot of young people and women involved in the highest level of decision-making.

I think the legislative reforms we’ve done are quite commendable compared to other states.

Due to the lack of political will, we haven’t seen much development in the separation of power between the legislature and executive in Selangor before 2008 and in other states. The executive pays the salary of the legislative staff. In Selangor, the House secretary also serves as the secretary for the executive council currently.

But we’re moving towards the direction of separation of power. We’re in the process of pushing for the establishment of a service commission, so that the legislature can control its own staff and manage its budget.

We’re also educating our lawmakers onthe rights and powers of the legislature. The legislature shouldn’t be a rubber-stamp of the executive. The assemblypersons are independent of the executive. The House is the place to raise and debate matters of the people. They have the right to question the executive council about the laws or amendments tabled.

We’ve increased the days of sittings so that everyone gets to debate. The quality of debate is also better. It’s exciting to witness the positive changes being made.
 
What are some of the challenges the House faced in bringing about the reforms?
There were some parties who were uncomfortable with the transparency and accountability brought by the legislative reforms. Our house committees are now scrutinising the executive, including the GLCs (government-linked companies) and local governments.

For example, there were some who had asked: How can you question the state secretary and the civil servants? There was an uproar when we held a public hearing on the spending of RM500,000 allocation to each Barisan Nasional assemblyperson before the 2008 elections.

(Former Sungai Air Tawar assemblyperson Datuk Abdul Rahman Bakri was sentenced to a six-year jail term and RM400,000 fine by the Shah Alam Sessions Court on Feb 28 for making false claims between Jan 21 and Feb 4, 2008.)

Abdul Rahman had made false claims to obtain the state allocation. We had questioned the civil servants - the district officers and assistant district officers - who disbursed the funds, and called then State Secretary Datuk Ramli (Mahmud) to appear before us.

There were some people who questioned us then: How can you ask them to explain why they disbursed the funds? They were just taking orders.

But should the civil servants have carried out the orders even though it was against the procedures? We want to drive home the message to the civil servants: Nobody is above the law. If you carry out the orders, you’re also responsible. As a public servant, you’ve a responsibility to safeguard the people’s funds. If you think something is wrong, even if it’s the menteri besar, you’ve to advise him accordingly, not follow orders blindly.

There are also some parties who still hold on to the assumption that government cannot make mistakes and if it did, we’ve to cover it up. That’s wrong. No government is invincible but a responsible government will admit and rectify its mistakes.

Take the government of the day to task. The House is the best place for the people’s representatives to question state policies and its implementation. If the policies are not working or not implemented properly, our assemblypersons should raise it in the House so that the state can improve.
 
What other changes in the legislature do you hope to see?
When I went to Germany for training, I was very surprised to learn that the opposition has a budget from the state. Like the backbenchers, they’ve their own meeting rooms in the House and they can sit down with the government of the day to discuss the budget. Both sides work together to develop the country.

I think we should emulate that. Here we’ve a very narrow understanding of the opposition and the roles they can play. We assume they would oppose everything the government has to say. How can they contribute to nation-building if they’re always suppressed and not given space to propose?

The opposition members are also elected by the people. They are the people’s choices. We need to be more democratic and give everybody a chance to voice out.

I hope more young people will join politics. They’re more receptive to reforms and new ideas. They’re not tied down by old culture and history.

Selangor’s women assemblypersons are dedicated and hardworking.

Only eight out of 56 assemblypersons in Selangor are women. All of them come from Pakatan Rakyat. As a female lawmaker, what do you think can be done to increase women representation in politics?

Selangor may only have eight female assemblypersons in the House now, but all of them are very dedicated and hardworking representatives. They’ve shown their capabilities.

And four out of the eight are executive councillors. It’s not accidental. We had pushed for it. It was the first time in Selangor’s history we’ve 40 per cent women representation in the executive council.

One of the steps is to implement a 30 per cent quota to ensure political parties and governments achieve the target to have women in one-third of their decision-making positions as soon as possible.

Besides that, let women join the mainstream party structure, don’t limit them to the women’s wing. We’ve many women in political parties, but some of our political parties still prefer male candidates.

I joined politics because I believe I’m not just a mother and a wife, I can and should do more for the nation.

My family is supportive. Don’t force women to choose between family and career. All of us, men or women, have a role to play in building the nation (through taking part in the political process).

 

 Selangor Times

 

 

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