A-G’s report in the spotlight again

KUALA LUMPUR: The government’s move to debate the Audit Report 2021, which highlighted irregularities during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, led to a hullabaloo in the august House.

The Opposition protested the decision and did not show up during the debate. Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law and Institutional Reform) Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said said she was “baffled” by the Opposition’s refusal to debate the motion.

“I cannot accept, understand and am even baffled when they refused to debate the report.

“MPs represent the voices of the people who raise issues related to the report.

“Are we going to deny the people’s voices as their representatives, or do we just leave it to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) which has fewer than 20 MPs to represent the people?” the Pengerang MP said during her winding-up speech on the debate at the Lower House yesterday.

Azalina said the debate on the audit report would only point out the findings of the Auditor-General (A-G) when the country was affected by the lockdowns implemented to contain the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.

“Are the frontbenchers, backbenchers and the Opposition unable to discuss the report at all because the money spent was not our money or our parents’ money?

“We are just debating the 2021 audit report because Parliament was closed (suspended) by the government which was under their administration then,” she said, referring to the current Opposition coalition.

As part of its parliamentary reforms, the Pakatan Harapan government wants to allow more annual reports from the government to be debated in the Dewan Rakyat, and this includes the A-G’s audit report.

Dewan Rakyat Speaker Tan Sri Johari Abdul said he received feedback from many government officials, as well as the public, asking for the audit report to be debated in Parliament.

He said the points mentioned by the PAC in its inquiry and report had not been released to the public.

Earlier during the proceedings, the Opposition refused to debate the audit report, claiming it was against Parliament’s Standing Orders and the Federal Constitution.

In his winding-up speech, Deputy Finance Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Maslan said the government would consider the suggestions proposed by government MPs present during the debate.

He added that the government would also study Selayang MP William Leong’s proposal that the Finance Ministry not approve any budget allocation to agencies that did not make improvements based on the findings of the A-G’s annual reports.

“Any aspects that were highlighted in the report must be corrected,” Ahmad said.

The Pontian MP cited as an example how the Finance Ministry took action to correct issues highlighted in the Auditor-General’ Report, specifically over the Customs Department.

“The Customs Department is also cleaning up its procedures and rules on tax collection, where the report stated up to RM72.32mil in custom duties were not collected for car ownership taxes, among others.

“Of the total, RM146,824.89 was from the inaccurate calculation of excise duties, with the department taking immediate action to rectify the matter,” he added.

Meanwhile at a press conference earlier, Bangi MP Syahredzan Johan said it was disappointing to see the absence of Opposition MPs, adding that he saw many walking outside the Dewan Rakyat while proceedings continued.

He said it was inaccurate for the Opposition to say that debating the report was going against the Federal Constitution, as cited by Datuk Seri Takiyuddin Hassan (PN-Kota Baru) who quoted Article 107.

“Article 107 states that the Auditor-General shall submit his reports to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, who shall cause them to be laid before the House of Representatives,” said Syahredzan.

“If we follow this, the reports only have to be presented and there is no need to debate them.

“Despite that, if the government decides to allow the debate to continue, it does not go against the Constitution.

“If the government wants to take a further step and debate this, the Opposition should support it and not boycott the session,” he added.

Tebrau MP Jimmy Puah said there were no provisions in the Federal Constitution or Dewan Rakyat Standing Orders stating that such reports could not be debated.

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