The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is to be lauded for tabling its report in Parliament on the Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ) after a lengthy investigation.
The report has even recommended probing former Transport Minister Chan Kong Choy and former PKFZ general Manager O C Phang for possible breach of trust under section 14(1) of the Financial Procedure Act 1957.
The PAC is a committee of ruling and opposition Members of Parliament appointed through the Parliamentary Committee of Selection. Their main task is to examine public expenditure by government ministries and departments, to check excesses and ensure proper use of funds through performance audit.
In recent decades, their main task has been to go through the Auditor General’s Annual Report and investigate into the irregularities revealed therein. But they also have powers to probe into any public scandal from time to time when they see fit.
In the past, the Auditor General’s Report and the PAC investigations received little media attention. With the awesome BN majority in Parliament before 2008, and an Umno MP as the PAC chairman, the opposition did not have enough clout to push for probing the controversial cases of abuse of public funds.
A historical PAC breakthrough
The political tsunami on March 8 last year has changed the political equation of the country. The voters of Malaysia have voted for change, towards more transparency, accountability and good governance. The greater number of opposition MPs in the PAC also has more clout than their predecessors in the past, to push their agenda forward in the PAC.
At the moment, the PAC chairman is still a senior Umno MP, who probably has more say on the PAC agenda.
The opposition DAP has been calling for a senior opposition MP to chair the PAC for decades. In the United Kingdom, the PAC chairman has always been an opposition MP since the inception of the committee in 1861. This has become the tradition in many Commonwealth parliaments.
So far, the BN government has resisted this call for reform as one of the measures to make the Malaysian Parliament more effective, saying that an opposition PAC chairman might turn the important parliamentary committee into an instrument of political witch hunt against political foes of the opposition.
For a political institution like the PAC to function at full capacity, both the ruling BN and the opposition Pakatan Rakyat MPs have to work hand in hand and in full trust of one another for the common good of the nation together.
Unfortunately, the spirit of bipartisanship in parliament has yet to be fully born, given the acrimonious confrontation between these two giant political players in the House all the time. This is the historical learning curve that a relatively young democracy like Malaysia has to go through over time before a fully mature democracy can develop.
Already, the tabling of a report on their PKFZ hearing and their recommendations for official probe is a kind of breakthrough for the history of the PAC. The recommendations cannot please everyone, but even the fact that they are recommending probe into possible criminal breach of trust by a former minister is evidence that this watch dog body is baring its teeth.
The pressure is for the government now to take action, or risk the accusations that the Parliament is a mere stamping pad for the ruling BN coalition.
Every cent must be accounted for
In another development, the PAC has announced it will probe into the RM1.43 billion cost overruns in the Rawang Ipoh 179km double rail project next. That would cause many sleepless nights for more than a few individuals involved at the highest level of decision making in that project.
All the development and administrative costs incurred by the government come from the tax-payers’ money. When individual government officials begin to spend that huge sum of money, they must be reminded that every cent of that money must be accounted for.
The chief task of both the PAC and the Auditor General’s Office is precisely that: to provide the check and balance needed to eradicate rampant corruption in public life, and wastage and abuse of public funds by officials entrusted with the responsibility of serving the people.
That the PAC is more effective and more visible nowadays is an indication that the political sky in Malaysia has changed for the better. People are more demanding and more knowledgeable about politics.
The civil society, of which the Malaysian Mirror is also a part, must also educate the voters that democracy means far more than voting in the general election once every four or five years. It means building the democratic institutions like the PAC and the Auditor General’s chamber.
Well done PAC, on the PKFZ job!