I WOULD like to join others in congratulating the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament (PAC) for coming out with its report on 1MDB based on testimonies from key witnesses called before the committee. The transcripts make interesting reading of who said what and raise more questions, which hopefully will be answered when the investigations by the professionals in the National Audit Department are released in the form of a public report.
Whatever the critics may say about the PAC proceedings and its report, the committee is nevertheless a good example of how parliament can play an oversight role on the Government and its agencies.
I am also encouraged to hear that the cabinet has agreed on a number of reforms to strengthen the role of parliament and make it more effective as the people’s watchdog for good governance.
One of the proposed reforms is to allocate one hour for question time every day that parliament is in session during which time the ministers themselves must stand before the house to answer questions raised by the members, like in Australia. This will make ministers directly accountable to parliament.
Another reform is to increase the number of select parliamentary committees which will give MP’s a wider role to play in monitoring the operations of government as well as hold public enquiries on matters of public interest. This will make parliamentarians to be active in performing their duty as elected representatives to ensure good governance to protect the interests of the people against abuse of power by those holding high office.
If such committees were in existence, they could have sprung into action on the bauxite mining controversy in Kuantan, the National Sports Council, the National Feedlot Corporation, the Port Klang FTZ by holding open enquiries to find out the reasons behind the mismanagement and breaches of public trust.
Parliamentary public hearings are also the best way to force open any secrets on licensing that have been a familiar story in logging and mining concessions at the state level.
While a few in high places make the money by exploiting the natural resources, the ordinary people pay for the environmental damage.
Another example is the mystery surrounding the city plan for Kuala Lumpur. During a demonstration recently, attended by residents of Bukit Damansara and Setiakasih, our residents association chairman Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Rahman told the large crowd that the local plan for Kuala Lumpur was completed in 2008 but until today, it has not been gazetted into law.
Despite repeated pressure by the residents here, Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur has not given a satisfactory explanation. If there was a parliamentary select committee on town planning, this would provide an avenue for the residents to call for the minister responsible and the city mayor to testify to the committee why the government is reluctant to gazette the KL city plan. Other key witnesses and whistleblowers may suddenly surface and volunteer to come forward to explain to the committee the real reason behind the reluctance to gazette the city plan.
Parliament has a duty to intervene in a timely manner to save a bad situation from getting worse. In other democracies, select committees and standing committees of parliament are given powers to question ministers on economic policy and financial management, defence and military spending, health and education and indeed, all matters of public concern.
Every bill that government proposes to take to parliament to legislate on, its policy programme must first be debated openly at the committee level through several stages before it is brought up to the full house for voting.
There should also be a committee to provide a consultative process for discussing religious administration, as it is important in Malaysia in upholding the rule of law and human rights in the country.
Malaysia has a constitution which grants equal authority to the three branches of government for ruling the country – the legislative, the judiciary and the executive (the cabinet). It’s a constitutional arrangement aimed at providing checks and balance to prevent abuse of power by any one branch of government.
Therefore, parliament through its select committees have the power to check on the excesses of the government, just as the judiciary has the power to strike out any law made by parliament or implemented by the government, that contravenes the constitution.
It is incumbent upon both parliament and the judiciary to exercise their authority in raising the standard of governance at the highest level, and setting an example for good governance at the lower levels, with the objective of providing a clean and efficient government for the people.
TAN SRI MOHD SHERIFF MOHD KASSIM
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