At  stake is not so much Nazri’s credibility but the credibility of the pledges by Abdullah since becoming the fifth Prime Minister to deliver to Malaysians a clean, incorruptible, accountable, transparent and trustworthy government which is prepared to hear the truth from the people

Speech (Part 3)
in the debate on the Motion of Thanks for  the Royal Address
by Lim Kit Siang

(Dewan Rakyat, Thursday): Nazri had completely misunderstood the powers and responsibilities of the PAC and its chairman, who definitely has no powers to go into any   Ministry to demand the KSU to open any file, let alone documents and records concerning national security.

The powers and responsibilities  of the Public Accounts Committee are clearly set out in Dewan Rakyat  Standing Order 77, viz. to examine the accounts of the Federal Government and public authorities whose budgets are approved by Parliament and to consider the reports of the Auditor-General concerning the economy, efficiency, effectiveness of government financial management.

Even if hypothetically  there is an Opposition PAC Chairman who is overzealous and tried to exceed the bounds of his authority to unilaterally demand KSUs to open up their files, such request could be refused by the government officer concerned and even overruled by the majority of the PAC who will be Barisan Nasional MPs. 

What is most disturbing about such a ground for rejecting the international best practice and universally-accepted parliamentary convention of having an Opposition to head the PAC  is the animus towards independent, thorough and no-holds-barred investigation against financial abuses and improprieties in the expenditure of public funds –reflecting an attitude explaining  why the Anti-Corruption Agency for instance lacks public confidence in its independence, professionalism and integrity to act against the corrupt without fear or favour. 

I hope Abdullah can see the bigger picture which seems to be lost to Nazri and be prepared to take the first significant step in fulfilling his pledge of a clean, incorruptible and trustworthy government and the restoration of the doctrine of separation of powers between the legislature, executive and the judiciary with the appointment of an Opposition MP to head the PAC. 

Borrowing the words of His Majesty, the success of parliamentary reform and modernization will have a huge bearing on the image of Parliament as well as the strength of democracy. This is because the objective of parliamentary reform and modernization is to have a more effective Parliament to  hold the government to account, be vigilant in its scrutiny of legislation, and articulate in representing the voice, hopes, needs and fears of the people. 

Parliamentary reform and modernization is not and  should not be regarded as  a partisan issue. The standing of all political parties depends on public respect for Parliament.  Nor should this be a matter of conflict between Parliament and Government. Good scrutiny makes for good Government, Ministers and backbenchers alike have a common interest in an effective Parliament. 

I want to express my grave regret that the Cabinet has finally decided against having an Opposition MP to head the Public Accounts Committee, missing the opportunity to send out the clear and unmistakable message to all and sundry that the Executive and the Legislature means business in wanting to ensure a clean, incorruptible, efficient, accountable and trustworthy administration. 

This appears to be another case of one man, Abdullah, versus the system – the Cabinet who are primarily the holdovers from the Mahathir era. 

I understand that Abdullah is sympathetic to the proposal for an Opposition MP to head the Public Accounts Committee, and the idea had the support of a few Cabinet Ministers – but all to no avail as the overwhelming majority of the Cabinet Ministers are fully opposed, the only way to protect the many skeletons in their cupboards! 

Nazri yesterday announced the nomination of former Perak Menteri Besar and MP for Pasir Salak Tan Sri Ramli Ngah Talib for the post of Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, saying that “the post needed an experienced person to carry out scrutiny of the financial reports of government agencies and public bodies”. 

I agree with Nazri that Ramli has vast experience in government financial abuses and  improprieties – but only time will tell whether his vast experience was to “expose” or to “cover up” financial wrongdoings. 

Let me declare loud and clear that the appointment of Ramli as Public Accounts Committee Chairman is not one to inspire confidence that the PAC would be at the cutting edge of a two-prong strategy, to pioneer parliamentary reform and modernization and secondly, to spearhead the campaign for integrity, accountability, transparency, efficiency  and effectiveness of the civil service. 

We are prepared to give Ramli an opportunity to acquit himself in a completely new role, as the government has agreed to the appointment of an Opposition MP as Deputy Chairman of PAC, and we are nominating the six-term DAP MP for Kepong, Dr. Tan Seng Giaw, who was a member of the previous Public Accounts Committee. 

The Public Accounts Committee of the 11th Parliament is under notice that it will be subject to the most intense and constant  scrutiny as to whether it could reform and modernize itself to make the PAC a name to be feared among top public servants and respected by  Malaysians  in upholding financial propriety, integrity and efficiency in the expenditure of public funds.   

Even the attendance record of the PAC members will be subject to parliamentary and public scrutiny!  The first agenda of the new Public Accounts Committee is to consider how it could transform  itself  into a First World PAC and not continue as a Third World PAC,  deciding on completely new and more effective ways carry out its remit as the parliamentary watchdog, even bulldog, and not lapdog, over the management and expenditure of public funds. 

The Public Accounts Committee, for instance,  should conduct all its hearings in public and submit regular reports to Parliament for debate and scrutiny by all MPs. 

May be the new PAC can invite views and inputs by MPs as to how it could carry out a programme of reform and modernization to become a First World Public Accounts Committee, and if invited, I am prepared to appear before the Public Accounts Committee to submit my views and proposals.


* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Member of Parliament for Ipoh Timor & DAP National Chairman