Blazing the trail – Hannah Yeoh

In the 13th general election, Selangor created history and record on two counts. 14 women were elected as state assemblymen (ADUN), the most ever in any state assemblies throughout the land. And Hannah Yeoh, Subang Jaya ADUN became the first ever woman speaker for any legislative body in Malaysia. The Rocket hears her thoughts on the historic appointment and what’s in store for the Selangor state assembly this term. Report by T.K Tan. Photo by Wira Andika.


Thoughts on the appointment as first woman speaker in Malaysia
I am honoured that DAP gave me this chance to be appointed as a speaker of the DUN. It speaks well of the party that gives opportunity to young people to grow in politics and assume such important position.

DAP secretary general Lim Guan Eng and former speaker Teng Chang Kim have told me that I was not chosen for this position because I am a woman but its due to the experience I have garnered here and also for my capabilities.

Before I assumed this post, I was having butterflies in my stomach, wondering if someone as young as I could control the proceedings. I am glad my first sitting as a speaker went well. I just need to apply the rules equitably to both sides of the divide. It’s when the rules are not applied judiciously that’s when the problem begins. So far both the BN and PR ADUNs have been complying to the regulations well.

I was mindful of the role that an opposition should play, so I strove to ensure that they were given more time to query the state government.

Did you feel your gender played a part in your appointment as speaker?
Even though I am the first woman speaker, I don’t feel pressured because of my gender. But I feel challenged because of my age. In terms of experience and maturity, that’s something the party cannot provide for you. Experience has to be acquired and maturity comes with age. It’s something I have had to work on it.

None withstanding DAP’s stated aim to upheld al to have women quota, I am appreciative of the chance to be put on equal footing to compete with the men for this position.

Being a young speaker, I have received a lot of support and guidance from the senior leaders. The structure of support for young reps like me is very good.

Former speaker Teng Chang Khim has taken this position to something many Malaysians have never seen before. How do you see yourself filling the role?
Teng has performed very well as a speaker. I don’t see a need to compete or outshine him; I look up to him as my mentor in this position. He was instrumental in guiding me in the previous term in the various select committee roles. I see myself as his student; a student doesn’t go out to do better than teacher.

He has blazed the trail. I am a firm believer in not reinventing the wheel; whatever good that he has done I will continue to work at it.

What do you see your challenges as the new speaker?
Selangor DUN needs more independence to conduct its proceedings and operation administration. Selangor is a rich state; however when it comes to the legislative assembly, it doesn’t have a separate budget. Everything has to go through the Menteri Besar and exco cabinet.

Teng had proposed and pushed for the Selangor Legislative Assembly Service Commission Enactment (SELESA) to be passed in the previous term. However it was not approved by the exco committee then. In this term as Teng is part of the exco committee, I believed it would gain more acceptance this time round.

The bill defines the function and role of the executive and legislative branches of government in the state, including clearer roles and functions of the legislative assembly through the state assembly, executive council through the Mentri Besar and state exco members and judiciary under the Federal Constitution.

My role is to ensure it is tabled and passed in this term. This would bring us a step closer to the realisation of the separation of powers in the governance of this state.

Why the need to have a separate budget for the DUN?
Malaysia has been focusing on acquiring the hardware and not the software. Many Malaysians see the legislative arm as naturally separate from the executive arm. However separation of powers has to be in form and in substance. For the DUN, that entails a separate budget and separate teams of researchers and staffs running the DUN.

In many DUNs and in the parliament, the executive arm has unprecedented influence on the legislative arm. Since 2008 Selangor has led the country in this separation of power concept. Pakatan has formed nine select committees PR to look into the running of the government departments and also the Selangor Competency, Accountability and Transparency (SELCAT) Committee which inquire into the public accountability issues in which even the exco is called for questioning.

Despite us offering the Publics Account Committee (PAC) chairmanship to the BN ADUNs, they have refused it. However, they have been attending the PAC and select committees of which they are invited to, which is a good sign. As an opposition member of the DUN they are expected to play check and balance role effectively; we hope they would use such opportunities availed to them to do so.

What other areas are up for improvement?
Last term, Teng had set the groundwork and undertaken much improvement. My task this term is to ensure the select committees function and perform well and act as the check and balance that it should function as.

Next up would be the accessibility of the information of the laws and proceedings related to the DUN. I would also like to make the DUN proceedings to be more accessible to the public. We need to let the public be more aware of it and to access it. The DUN website too needs to be enhanced.

Another matter that was raised and fought for by Teng in the previous term was the allocation of funds for the ADUNs to hire researchers for their work. This is to enable them to do their job as elected representative well.

Space is limited for the ADUNs and select committees. However to have the space for them we would need to be an entirely new building. That would have to require executive and legislative consent.

One of the hot button issues that were raised recently in the DUN sessions was regarding the allocation of the Malaysian Road Record Information System (MARIS) funds.

Annually, the Selangor state government would receive a certain amount of this fund from the federal government and disburse the funds to each local council (LC) for maintenance of the roads in the LC’s area. However many ADUNs are unhappy as many of the LCs in their areas have decried the lack of funds to resurface the roads in their area. The PAC is now looking into the LC’s accounts

How can the DUN helped improved Selangor’s administration?
One, on the part of the ADUNs is to highlight and raise up the issues that arises in their constituencies, in the day to day running of the services of the LCs.

Secondly, the ADUNs to more vigorously scrutinise the state’s budget. For too long the DUN in Selangor and in many states and the parliament have acted no more than as a rubber stamp of the executive’s budget. In Selangor now, we want the ADUNs to engage more in scrutinising the budget, instead of just having the government agencies present it with no further queries and debate. I hope the ADUNs have more say in the budget.

Generally in Selangor, unlike in the parliament we give longer time period for the ADUNs to scrutinise and debate the budget. Yes, there are fewer ADUNs compare with MPs in the parliament; but we try to give them adequate time to scrutinise and debate the budget.

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