PETALING JAYA: The Dewan Rakyat Speaker has the prerogative to allow proceedings to be publicly aired and it is not true that Parliamentary Standing Orders do not allow open proceedings, says Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chairman Wong Kah Woh.
Dewan Rakyat Speaker Tan Sri Azhar Azizan Harun had told The Star on Sunday (Jan 16) that the upcoming Wednesday (Jan 19) meeting to discuss the share trading controversy involving Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) chief commissioner Tan Sri Azam Baki would not be open to the public.
According to Azhar, this was because Parliamentary Standing Orders did not allow open proceedings, as well as disclosure of witnesses, witness statements and contents of the proceedings until a report has been presented in the Dewan Rakyat.
In a statement Monday (Jan 17), Wong claimed that as Speaker, Azhar has the prerogative to suspend Parliamentary Standing Orders by referring the matter to MPs in the House, according to Standing Order 90(2).
"With the suspension of Standing Order 85, any Parliamentary committee proceedings can be aired online and be opened to the public," he said.
Standing Order 90(2) reads that a question on suspending any Standing Orders of the House can be proposed with the consent of the Speaker.
Standing Order 85 states that evidence submitted before any Parliamentary Select Committee should not be made public until a report on the matter has been tabled to the House.
Wong also took Azhar to task for saying that closed-door proceedings would ensure cooperation from those involved.
"Firstly, all witnesses are duty-bound to give full cooperation to the Committee and shall answer all questions raised during the proceedings.
"Secondly, any person who gives false answers has not only committed contempt of the House, but is also liable for an offence under Section 193 of the Penal Code as provided for in Section 20 of the Houses of Parliament (Privileges and Powers) Act 1952.
"Thirdly, all the notes of proceedings are recorded in the Hansard and will be published together with the Committee’s report," said Wong.
While closed-door proceedings do not guarantee a witness' honesty, Wong said it also did not mean that witnesses can avoid telling the truth.
"It makes no difference (to) the content of the testimony, whether or not the proceeding is closed or open," he claimed.
Wong said the aim of setting up Parliamentary Select Committees for various matters was a serious move towards reforming Parliament.
"Parliamentary reforms will not be complete if we still hold closed-door proceedings.
"The Parliamentary Standing Order Committee in 2019 has made the decision for all Parliamentary Committees’ proceedings be made public, and the hardware requirements for live proceedings are all ready and in place on the Malaysia Parliament TV Channel," he added.
Wong also asked why Azhar, as Speaker, seemed reluctant to have open proceedings.
"It is the public’s right to know that matters. It is an important issue that involves a top-ranked officer (and) the integrity of MACC.
"It is time for the Speaker to ensure that all Parliamentary Committees can function efficiently and effectively to check on the executive," added Wong.
Azam is expected to be questioned by the Parliamentary Select Committee for Agencies under the Prime Minister's Department on his involvement in the share trading controversy on Wednesday (Jan 19).
The meeting will be held at 2pm in Parliament.
In explaining the issue on Jan 5, Azam said his brother had borrowed his trading account to buy shares on the open market and financed the purchases on his own.
It involved substantial amounts of shares in Gets Global Bhd and Excel Force MSC Bhd between 2015 and 2016, when Azam was the MACC director of investigations.
Azam had said he informed his superiors about the transactions in 2015 and that he did not have any interest in the acquired shares. The shares were later transferred to his brother's account.
The same explanation was given to the MACC’s anti-corruption advisory board (ACAB), when he was summoned to explain the matter on Nov 24.
Azam had said that he will not resign amid the controversy, saying the truth will be revealed when the time is right.
Azam also said only the Yang di-Pertuan Agong could decide to relieve him of his position as MACC chief commissioner.