Malaysia's Parliament sitting hours shortened after Senate staff member contracts Covid-19

Malaysia's Parliament was adjourned following concerns over risk of exposure to Covid-19, after a Senate staff member was found to be infected.
Malaysia's Parliament was adjourned following concerns over risk of exposure to Covid-19, after a Senate staff member was found to be infected.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's Parliament, which started sitting on Monday (Nov 2) ahead of a crucial federal budget, was adjourned after only three hours following concerns over risk of exposure to the coronavirus, and will likely shorten its daily sitting for the rest of the week except Friday when the budget is tabled.

The timings of the rest of the sitting will be decided later.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Takiyuddin Hassan moved a motion under Standing Order 12(1) to shorten Monday's sitting, after revealing that a staff member of the Senate, which shares the same building as Members of Parliament, had contracted Covid-19.

"There is also a chance of exposure to a particular Senate member, and also the family, because this staff worked very closely with the member of the Senate," Datuk Seri Takiyuddin told Parliament in moving the motion.

Parliament normally sits between 10am to 5.30pm.

Mr Takiyuddin assured opposition MPs that the shortened hours will likely only apply to the rest of this week, except on Friday when the federal budget is tabled, and will not affect the time that will be allocated for MPs to debate and discuss the budget next week.

Mr Takiyuddin said that the shortened hours for the week was agreed upon by the Parliamentary whips of every party during a crucial meeting on Monday morning, minutes after Parliament started sitting.

"It is the advice of the Health Ministry that the risk of transmission is very high for us. Several decisions were taken during the meeting, and I will allow the respective whips to explain them to the party MPs," Mr Takiyuddin said.

The motion was passed by a voice vote supervised by House Speaker Azhar Azizan Harun around noon.

The infected staff member is the younger sister of Senator Ras Adiba Radzi, who confirmed the news in a statement later in the day.

MPs from Democratic Action Party (DAP) requested that the government find alternative ways to ensure that the budget debates and the space given to MPs to discuss Bills are not restricted.

Kulai MP Teo Nie Ching asked that the sitting be extended by another week to make up for any lost time due to shortened hours, while Ipoh Barat MP Kulasegaran Murugeson urged the Parliament to conduct a virtual sitting instead.

The Parliament is currently scheduled to sit for 26 days between Nov 2 and Dec 15, during which Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin will present the first ever federal budget under his premiership.

The budget is expected to be a unity budget, with confidence and supply arrangements being negotiated with opposition parties, following calls by Malaysian King Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah for MPs to come together and ensure the budget's passage.

Mr Muhyiddin holds a razor thin two-seat majority in Parliament, and broader support from MPs would ensure a much smoother passage for the Bill to be passed.

Aside from the Budget, the Parliament is also due to discuss several government Bills- such as amendments to the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which increases penalties for employers who fail to ensure the safety, health and welfare of employees. 

The Independent Police Conduct Commission Bill 2020 is also due to be tabled for a second reading in the current sitting. 

There are also 27 motions by different lawmakers moving for a confidence and no-confidence vote on the leadership of Mr Muhyiddin.

Out of this, 25 MPs had filed a no-confidence motion, while another two had filed a confidence motion.

However, these motions are unlikely to be read or debated in Parliament, as the government bills and the budget will be prioritised throughout the sitting period.