The Malaysian Bar is disturbed by the media statement by the Dewan Rakyat Speaker Pandikar Amin Haji Mulia of 30 July 2015 stating that the proceedings of the Public Accounts Committee must be postponed.
The Speaker’s reasoning was that the PAC can only meet after a new chairman has been appointed. His statement came after four members of the PAC, including the chairman, had been appointed to government positions in the recent Cabinet reshuffle announced by the Prime Minister on 28 July 2015.
According to Standing Order 77(4) of the Dewan Rakyat, a minister (which includes a deputy minister) cannot be the chairman or a member of the PAC.
As such, Nur Jazlan Mohamed, the chairman, is ineligible by virtue of his recent appointment as deputy minister of home affairs; so too are Wilfred Madius Tangau (now the minister of science, technology and innovation), Mas Ermieyati Samsudin (now the deputy minister of tourism and culture), and Reezal Merican Naina Merican (now the deputy minister of foreign affairs), who were members of the PAC.
The Speaker has misconstrued the Standing Orders. Standing Order 82(1) states that any Select Committee (such as the PAC) shall, “so far as practicable”, reflect the balance between the parties within the Dewan Rakyat.
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Thus, the provision clearly does not prohibit a Select Committee, which is not reflective of the composition of the Dewan Rakyat, from functioning. The PAC still has nine members, four from the Barisan Nasional and five from the Opposition. The fact that the PAC is still composed of members from both sides of the aisle is sufficient to allow it to continue.
Further, Standing Order 77(3) states that a Select Committee cannot meet in “the absence of the Chairman or Vice-Chairman due to illness or for any other reason whatsoever”. In the present case, while there is no longer a chairman of the PAC, a vice-chairman remains. Therefore, Standing Order 77(3) is not contravened, and the PAC can still function.
Standing Order 83(3) states that the quorum for a Select Committee to meet is three members, including the chairman. However, the reference to “chairman” in this Standing Order must refer to a chairman of the meeting, and not necessarily the chairman of the Select Committee himself or herself.
This is because Standing Order 77(3) states that in the absence of the chairman or vice-chairman, the remaining members can still proceed to meet so long as they elect a chairman from among their number to preside over the committee’s meeting.
Therefore, there is no necessity for the chairman of the PAC himself or herself to be present at a PAC meeting in order for it to proceed. If the vice-chairman is present, he or she is fully able to act as chairman of the meeting, and the quorum requirement would be satisfied.
It is also to be noted that Standing Order 83(7) states that in the event of “the death or unavoidable absence of a member” of the Select Committee, the Committee of Selection of the Dewan Rakyat “may…nominate another member of the [Dewan Rakyat]” to fill that vacancy, and that this nomination shall be announced to the Dewan Rakyat at its next meeting.
Again, the Standing Order does not suggest that the work of the Select Committee should cease pending that vacancy being filled.
It is therefore the spirit underlying the Standing Orders, that a Select Committee should be able to continue to function, notwithstanding any vacancies.
It cannot be that the important work of Parliament could be brought to a grinding halt whenever there is a vacancy. If this were the case, the work of Parliament could easily be frustrated by merely engineering one or more vacancies in any Select Committee in order to prevent it from functioning.
The proceedings of the PAC — which have already been scheduled for the week starting on 4 August, as well as later this month and in September 2015 — to hear from both past and present 1MDB executives, auditors and other persons connected with this affair, must therefore proceed, and any absence by the summoned witnesses from these proceedings would be contempt of Parliament.
The imbroglio surrounding 1MDB is a serious matter. There is already much public disquiet that the investigations by the Special Task Force are being hindered or impaired, including by various actions directed at members of the Special Task Force.
A number of incidents recently lend further credence to the perception of interference into the probe being conducted by the Special Task Force, particularly the abrupt termination of the services of the former attorney general, and the arrest by the police of two individuals — an officer from the Attorney General’s Chambers, and a deputy public prosecutor seconded to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission — as well as the reported raid by the police on the DPP’s home and office in the MACC, and the alleged removal of documentary evidence relating to MACC’s investigations into 1MDB.
In addition, the Inspector General of Police is reported to have said that officials from Bank Negara Malaysia and commercial banks will be called in to assist in investigations.
The Dewan Rakyat, as its name reflects, is the forum where elected representatives of the people convene. The government must be held accountable to Parliament for its conduct.
It is therefore critical that Parliament, and particularly the PAC, must not countenance any delay or interference in their investigation into 1MDB. The proceedings of the PAC must proceed expeditiously.
Steven Thiru is president of the Malaysian Bar.