By Wong Chen
As I write this article, the second Parliament sitting for 2022 is ongoing. We have another week of legislative work ahead. So far, this sitting has been incredible and historic, with some highs and some lows.
The SOSMA’s extension for 5 years was a definite low. However top of the list in terms of positive achievement is the historic passing of the anti-hopping law (AHL). I will take a good portion of this article to recount the road to this incredible constitutional achievement.
Recall the Sheraton Move that toppled the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government in February 2020. There were two parts to the Sheraton Move; the first was Bersatu leaving PH and the second, Azmin Ali leading some MPs to leave Keadilan and PH.
Granted that a political party such as Bersatu, cannot be stopped from leaving any coalition by any AHL, but had such a law existed in 2018, it would have prevented Dr Mahathir (who only won 13 seats in GE14) from enticing another 13 UMNO MPs to immediately hop to Bersatu. In my view, that first group hop essentially sealed the fate of PH because it transformed Bersatu into a much stronger “kingmaker” party. Back then, PH ministers were too euphoric to even sense the plot. As for the Azmin Ali’s move to betray Keadilan and PH, had we had AHL, it would have stopped his plot completely.
Based on the negative experiences suffered by UMNO BN in 2018 when they lost MPs to Dr Mahathir, and the pains of PH losing Putrajaya after the Sheraton Move in 2020; the majority of MPs started to form a firm conviction that hopping betrays voters and greatly destabilises politics. When PH and the then newly formed Ismail Sabri government signed the MoU in September 2021, the AHL was top of the agenda of reforms sought by PH.
I played an inadvertent role in that MoU. I was initially asked by Keadilan to support YB William Leong at the PH committee on the MoU. Due to a chain of events and circumstances, the task to lead PH in the drafting of the MoU fell to me. My legal background is corporate law and also information technology law and truth be told, I used a Service Level Agreement (SLA) format as the foundation for the MoU! Hence in the final MoU, we had the inclusions of crucial reform milestones and a steering committee; in a typical SLA, these clauses will be the ones dealing with iterations of an operating system and the engineers committee to monitor and develop it.
My second role in the development and progress of the AHL was less formal and took a much longer time.
The law minister, YB Wan Junaidi (GPS) and I have been good friends for almost a decade despite being from opposite sides. We first worked together on climate change matters in my first term of 2013 to 2018, back when I was the Kelana Jaya MP and he was the Environment Minister in charge of climate change.
Over the course of ten months or so after the signing of the MoU, I had multiple informal meetings with him, always checking up on the status of the AHL drafting. I assured the minister and also the Keadilan leadership that there is sufficient honour and political will for AHL. I took an optimistic pro-active approach that the law will pass, whereas so many more were very sceptical.
But the path was definitely not easy and when the AHL failed to meet our MoU milestone in the March 2022 sitting, it was a severe blow to the promoters. Prior to that disappointing sitting, I was sent by YB Saifuddin Nasution as the secretary general of Keadilan, with a full mandate to seal the deal and approve the draft AHL. When it did not materialise in March, we went back to the drawing board on a new draft. From that point in April 2022, my participation in the AHL more or less became minimal.
There are many heroes of the AHL. From the government side, YB Wan Junaidi and team deserve my full respect and gratitude. From the PH side, my colleagues in the MoU team and the steering committee did an excellent job. Still, there are many unsung heroes in the AHL, especially from the NGOs and also academics who championed the cause. I want to personally single out Maha Balakrishnan for her professional opinions and advice on AHL.
I am proud to have helped a little in the AHL process and can only properly account for what I saw and did. On the flip side, there are those that claim credit now but were negative and did nothing. That’s politics for you.
The last issue I want to discuss here, is on the status of the USJ1 Klinik Kesihatan. As you may recall, the project was included in RMK12, and was slated to start work in late 2021. The project has been stalled since.
My last interaction with the health minister in Parliament, confirmed that the project is being re-designed into a government style public-private clinic. The model used is that of the Universiti Malaya Specialist Centre. However, this re-design also meant an increase from the original budget. The irony is that the same budget increase was then used as an excuse not to start the project! My understanding is that nothing much will happen in the near term, until we get into a full economic recovery phase from Covid-19 or after GE15.