Long way to go before Hudud can be debated as a Private Member’s Bill

(Also published on The Star Online)

Much has been said and speculated with regards to a possible private member’s bill to be brought to parliament by a PAS MP to allow for hudud to be introduced in this country. But not many people realize that the process of getting a private member’s bill to be put, literally, on the table of each MP is a long and arduous one.

Before the most recent parliament sitting, Member of Parliament for Sungai Siput, Dr Jeyakumar, tried to table a Private Member’s Bill entitled the Social Inclusion Act. I seconded that bill in my capacity as the Member of Parliament for Serdang. We submitted the bill and the relevant supporting documents a few weeks before the start of the March Parliamentary sitting. This bill did not even make it to the order paper, which lists all the laws which are to be debated and passed as well as motions by individual MPs.

What is the gist of the Social Inclusion Act, you may be wondering? To keep it simple, this act proposes for the setting up of a Social Inclusion Commission, comprising of members which are nominated by parliament, to have oversight and input over issues and policies which affect social inequality and poverty.

Think of the Social Inclusion Commission as akin to the Human Rights Commission or SUHAKAM except that its sphere of responsibility is in poverty related areas rather than human rights. Since its inception, SUHAKAM has shone the spotlight on various areas of human rights abuses including human trafficking, police violence during the Bersih rallies and land rights of the indigenous people, just to name a few. It is our hope that the Social Inclusion Commission would do the same for poverty related issues.

Given that 80% of households were reported to have received financial aid from BR1M 1.0 because their incomes were too low, the establishment of a Social Inclusion Commission does not seem to be an unreasonable proposal. Why then wasn’t our bill accepted?

We were told that the Social Inclusion Act was not in according with Section 49(2) of the Standing Orders because it violated Article 38 of the Federal Constitution which discusses the role of the Conference of Rulers including the need to consult this body over policy matters affecting Article 153 i.e. the Special position of the Malays and the natives of Sabah and Sarawak. We were quite perplexed since our bill explicitly states that the Social Inclusion Commission must take into consideration Article 153.

Nonetheless, with some minor amendments, we will attempt to table this act again as a Private Members Bill in the next parliamentary sitting in June.

If the Speaker can find reason to reject the Social Inclusion Act because it is not in accordance to the Constitution, then there would be even more reason to reject a hudud Private Members Bill since what it will propose requires a constitutional amendment and also a change in a number of other acts including the Penal Code.

In the unlikely event that a Private Members Bill – either the Social Inclusion Act or the possible hudud bill – gets accepted by the Speaker of the House, it will appear as one of the items in the Order Paper which states the business of the House, in sequence of priority. The business of the government will take priority and appear at the top of the order paper. This includes supplementary budgets and other bills which need to be passed. Only when the government business is completed, then do the motions of individual MPs, from both sides of the house, get attended to.

Since the government business is almost always never completed, the non-government business, including debating Private Members Bill, will almost always never get attended to.

Of course, the speaker may use his powers to allow for the hudud bill to be given priority of government business so that it can be debated in the House. But this will be a dangerous move for two reasons. Firstly, it will set a precedent for the future for other Private Members Bill or motions by individual MPs to be debated over and above government business. Secondly, and more importantly, voting for this bill may threaten to split the House according to religious and racial lines, which is a situation which the BN would want to avoid among its own ranks.

One thing is for sure. If, in the unlikely event that the hudud bill is debated, Karpal Singh would have delivered an impassioned and impeccable speech in support of constitutional principles, of human rights and principles of justice, and would have stood his ground in firmly rejecting the hudud. While he may no longer be with us physically, we in the DAP will always carry his spirit and his unyielding stance to protect the primacy of the secular constitution in our hearts and in our voting in parliament.