[View of Legislative Council from my old office on the 17th Floor of MOF Building]
The Legislative Council session continues this afternoon. It will still be my minister's turn to be grilled - 5 departments will be covered - Land, Survey, Town and Country Planning, Environment and Parks and Public Works Department. After all the ministries are done by Monday, we still have the National Development budget of which about $4 billion out of the $7.2 billion are carried out by our PWD and Housing Departments, probably around Tuesday or Wednesday. We roughly knew what questions to anticipate and thus are relatively quite prepared to answer most of them. Of course, the fail safe answer if one cannot answer a question is to thank the Yang Berhormat for such a penetrating question and we will look into it and we will come back to him in due course.
I have attended the Leg Co session since 2006 supporting my ministers and was involved in the 2004 debates supporting my then PS at the Prime Minister's Office who was one of the appointed members debating the amended constitution. I would have to say I am quite familiar with the parliamentary style with Politics as a subsidiary subject when I did my degree in England. I also studied American politics and its Congress system as part of my Masters course in USA.
The BBC 'Yes, Prime Minister' and the 'Yes Minister' television series in the 1980s are very good. Even though the focus is on the constant tension between the elected ministers (Hacker the Minister) and the entrenched civil servant (Sir Humphrey the Permanent Secretary), the series also talked about the political system in particular the parliamentary system. I would suggest you get hold of the books. I am not sure whether the British Council in Brunei have the videos. I remembered I used to go to the British Council library when I was a student in Singapore to listen and watch tapes there.
I remembered when I visited the Queensland Parliament in Brisbane in 2005, the tour guide was telling us about how the ministers being grilled by the other members of the parliament. The ministers would have to stall most questions and he would anxiously be anticipating his civil servants to provide the answers in the background. Our ministers prep for the Legislative Council meetings. We helped them by providing answers to questions that we think will be asked. This is made easier by the written questions in the open session. But we do have to anticipate the unexpected ones in the committee session as what is going on now. I helped compiled the Finance Minister II's questions and answers which is a few inches thick and he can field any questions being asked. Even today you can tell which minister is prepared and which less so compared to his colleagues.
The Brunei Times editorial about the policy debates in the Legislative Council is an interesting read especially about the 'thin line that divides grandstanding and asserting one's opinion in an effort to get results that will improve the lot of many." The editorial goes on to say that "both can be either refreshing or off-putting to people who have been used to keeping public discussions to a level that does not verge on the impolite. And if you've been keeping yourself abreast with the goings-on at the Legislative Council meeting, it's not hard to notice that its members and the ministers have been on a collision course far too many times than they were in previous sessions." I would suggest you read the editorial, not because I am a contributor to BT but it is a good summary of what's happening in the Council.
Like it or not, even though we are miles away from the British parliamentary system or the American Congress, the Legislative Council does place the government and civil servants on alert. We are aware that the non-government Legislative Council members can be demagoguery or populist but they do bring the voice of the public. After three years, some of the members, we noticed are now very well versed and well prepared and are also very eloquent in voicing their opinions and questions. It augurs well for the future.