Hornbill Unleashed

December 18, 2009

Of RM4.90 Maggi Mee packets and the lame PAC

Filed under: Corruption,Politics — Hornbill Unleashed @ 12:01 AM
Tags: , , , ,

By Sim Kwang Yang

NONE

There was much anticipation in the air in Malaysia, as the country awaited the report from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on the Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ) scandal.

When the report was unveiled, the PAC named former transport minister Chan Kong Choy and former Port Klang Authority (PKA) general manager OC Phang as being culprits for possible criminal breach of trust. That kind of bold PAC declaration is quite unprecedented.

PAC also announced that they will look into the RM1,43 billion cost overruns in the Rawang-Ipoh 179km double rail project next.

In past decades, the findings of the Auditor-General’s Report and the sittings of the PAC that examine it have consistently and systematically been ignored by the media and the general public. A landslide majority for the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition has meant that nothing could be revealed much from those two very important institutions.

After the 2008 general elections, the proportion of Pakatan Rakyat MPs to BN MPs tilted to two to three, allowing more opposition representation in the PAC, and providing this committee with more teeth.

PAC is a committee of both government and opposition MPs, appointed by parliament to summon, examine and question the public accounts of the country, to ensure that public funds allocated by parliament for administration and development purposes are correctly and efficiently spent by government ministries, departments and agencies.

PAC has wide quasi-judicial powers to summon documents and witnesses (including ministers) and anyone refusing to attend may be charged with contempt. Potentially, it is a powerful institution within any parliamentary democracy to provide the checks and balances that would crack down on corruption and abuse of public funds.

In the past five or six decades, BN has always enjoyed an overwhelming majority in Parliament, and so the PAC chairperson has always been an Umno man, with the opposition contributing one or two members to the 14-member committee. The PAC agenda has always been dictated by Umno, and so it has been accustomed not to expose the weakness of the BN administration.

RM4.90 for Maggi Mee

In the 1970s, PAC was investigating why the armed forces were buying Maggi Mee at RM4.90 per packet. Later on, the army was exonerated on the grounds that it was a matter of “national security”.

NONEYou could say that the non-performance of the PAC has been one of the reasons why corruption has become an epidemic in public life in the past and at present.

For decades now, the opposition DAP has been calling for a senior opposition MP to be selected as the PAC chair. In the United Kingdom, the PAC chair has always been an opposition MP since the inception of the committee in 1861. This has become the tradition of many parliaments in Commonwealth countries.

The proposal makes sense, but the standard reply from the BN has always been that opposition parties will then use the PAC as a political instrument to embarrass the ruling coalition.

In a mature parliamentary democracy, both the opposition and the ruling parties would have learned to work together for the common interest of the nation. Such a spirit of bipartisanship is clearly lacking in a young and suppressed democracy like Malaysia.

Usually, the main bulk of the work undertaken by PAC is always the examination of the latest Auditor-General’s Report.

Article 106 and 107 of the Federal Constitution and the Audit Act 1957 require that the auditor- general to audit the Federal Government Public Account Statement and activities and submit its report to the King, who will then direct it to be tabled in Parliament.

I was an opposition member of the Malaysian PAC in the 1980s once, and had come to work with these gentlemen from the auditor- general’s office. I can attest to their honesty, their competence, and their tenacity in ridding waste in public administration. That is hardly the common thing to say about servants of the people.

The Auditor General’s Report can be voluminous, highlighting irregularities in many government departments and agencies. The amount misspent can be in the region of tens and even hundreds of millions. Due to time constraints, PAC can only focus on a small number of items, and haul in the officers for questioning.

(Until today, I still wonder why journalists from the alternative media do not go to the parliament and grab a copy of the Auditor-General’s report. There is a gold mine of juicy stories about corruption and abuse of public funds within that can keep the editors happy for weeks!)

The hearing is usually conducted in one of those huge meeting rooms in the Parliament House itself, with a horseshoe shaped table to accommodate the PAC chair at the centre, the auditor-general and his senior assistants by his side, and MPs who are PAC members going down the table. There would be the usual Parliament staff to render various forms of assistance.

At the other end, like accused persons on trial, will be the senior officers from the ministry, department, or government agency being questioned. Sometimes, they would turn up in rather large numbers, bringing with them tons of documents and files as reference or possible evidence.

Extra layer of pressure

Once, we were grilling the general manager of a government agency that was supposed to look after Malaysian workers. The auditor-general had observed that this agency had invested in, and had directly involved itself in, a housing development venture in Pahang. An agency that was holding the people’s money in trust had no business in involving workers’ money in risky private business.

When queried, the GM insisted that his agency had the power to make such a private investment. This is when the senior officer from the Auditor General’s Office beside me cursed quite vehemently under his breath. He had a copy of the act that had enabled the establishment of the agency on the table between us. Highlighted on it, was the provision that clearly forbade the agency in question from making private business investment.

I flung the provision in the act at the poor GM; he must have been the most embarrassed GM in Malaysia on that day.

NONEStill, the PAC then was overloaded with BN members, and all PAC members were bound by the Official Secrets Act. That powerful parliamentary committee never did live up to my expectations, as an institutional check against public waste and corruption, until now.

I have not yet read the latest PAC report on the PKFZ, and so can hardly comment on it. I suspect it will not satisfy everyone. For instance, some people will question why Tiong King Sing and his Kuala Dimensi were not named as possible culprits in the PKFZ fiasco.

As a person who has prayed and laboured for greater democracy for Malaysia, I am not yet ready to dismiss the PAC out of hand like that. The naming of a former full minister and former GM of PKFZ is a bold action, never taken by PAC before.

It does put an extra layer of pressure on the government of the day to get to the bottom of the PKFZ black hole, and so it helps to keep the issue alive. If the cabinet committee set up earlier to probe into the PKFZ scandal comes out with nothing, then it will confirm for Malaysians that the administration is indeed treating Parliament contemptuously, like nothing more than a stamp pad.

The PAC will probably come of age fully only when there is a change of government at the federal level. Will the new Pakatan Rakyat government then be prepared to appoint a senior opposition BN MP as the PAC chair?

This article was first published in Malaysiakini in  2008, and has been edited for Hornbill Unleashed.

2 Comments »

  1. I love noodles and Maggi Mee is great.

    If you have only 1.5 mins life left in you, you could cook Maggee Me in 60 seconds.

    Yeah, love Maggi Mee. And I love mee most of all!

    If ever I get to be ‘turned’ on, maybe then I might not remember the damned noodles!

    Comment by Yanker — December 19, 2009 @ 6:47 PM | Reply

  2. […] has been too much infighting in SUPP and this is the bests chance for DAP to use the momentum of the people behind the party. There should stop this SELFISH THOUGHTS ONCE […]

    Pingback by DAP Voon “Driven to serve” « Audie61’s Weblog — December 18, 2009 @ 5:43 PM | Reply


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