The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0) is alarmed that Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has unilaterally decided that ex-Umno MP Ronald Kiandee can remain as chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) even though he has now joined Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia and become part of the ruling coalition.
Bersih 2.0 noted that the excuse given by the prime minister for this manifesto U-turn is that the promise to have a member of the opposition as chair is “only policy, and not institutionalised or part of the Constitution”.
We wish to remind Mahathir that the reason why the Pakatan Harapan (PH) manifesto had it as a promise in the first place was so that the dignity of Parliament should be restored and that it should not be a mere rubber stamp to the executive branch of government.
The backbenchers and opposition members of Parliament should strongly condemn this move to undermine their role of providing checks and balances on the cabinet.
The PAC’s mandate is to review all public accounts and to examine the auditor general’s reports. It has the power to investigate all the government’s business by calling cabinet ministers and heads of government agencies to explain any concerns they or the public might have.
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Having an opposition member as chair will ensure that the ruling party cannot exert undue influence over the agenda of the PAC. Lessons should have been learnt from the 1MDB debacle about the importance of a bipartisan PAC that is not chaired by a member of the ruling party.
Furthermore, Kiandee’s statement – that he will not resign as the prime minister has made it clear he does not have to and that he will follow Mahathir’s wishes – shows clearly he is not suitable to chair the PAC.
For the prime minister to say that because this promise was not institutionalised and therefore can be overridden raises more serious concerns about his commitment to structural institutional reforms.
Soon after taking power last year, the prime minister administratively released key institutions like the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, the Electoral Commission, Human Rights Commission of Malaysia and the National Audit Department from the control of the Prime Minister’s Department. Will he or future prime ministers reverse this move because their independence was not “institutionalised”?
Bersih 2.0 calls on the prime minister and the PH government to honour all their manifesto promises and to immediately amend legislation in order to institutionalise the independence of these key public institutions so that they can effectively guard against abuses by the executive and protect the public interest.
If the prime minister does not reverse his decision to retain Kiandee as chair of PAC, not only would the credibility of the PH government be at stake but the dignity of Parliament as well.
Mahathir’s legacy to the nation should be that he came out of retirement to restore the independence of public institutions and not to perpetuate their subservience to the prime minister of the day.
Bersih 2.0 steering committee