What is the Public Accounts Committee and can it function without Opposition members?

Malaysia’s first PAC was helmed by Umno’s Abdul Hamid Khan who was appointed on September 12, 1959. ― Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Malaysia’s first PAC was helmed by Umno’s Abdul Hamid Khan who was appointed on September 12, 1959. ― Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

KUALA LUMPUR, March 28 — The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is a parliamentary committee formed to examine reports from the auditor-general (A-G) and scrutinise the government’s finances and money allocated by Parliament for public expenditure.

It is a tradition stemming from the Westminster parliamentary system to follow up on the findings of public audits and the PAC has the power to call ministers, members of the public, civil servants and other officials to the committee for questioning.

The committee will then submit a report of its findings subsequent to a government budget audit where the government must report back to Parliament based on PAC recommendations within a specified period.

Traditionally, in Commonwealth countries, a member of the Opposition heads the PAC.

Malaysia’s first PAC was helmed by Umno’s Abdul Hamid Khan who was appointed on September 12, 1959.

Unlike many other Commonwealth nations, Malaysia never had an Opposition lawmaker leading the PAC until the 14th Parliament, after Pakatan Harapan (PH) took over Putrajaya from Barisan Nasional (BN).

August 7, 2018, was considered a historic day by many when Beluran MP Datuk Seri Ronald Kiandee from BN was appointed as PAC chairman.

Unfortunately, he did not relinquish his post after defecting from BN to join Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) recently, leading to protest resignations from committee members beginning with Permatang Pauh MP Nurul Izzah Anwar (PKR).

BN members Parit Sulong MP Datuk Noraini Ahmad and Jasin MP Datuk Seri Ahmad Hamzah and PAS’ Kota Baru MP Datuk Takiyuddin Hassan also resigned, leaving Betong MP Datuk Robert Lawson Chuat of Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu Sarawak (PBB) as the sole Opposition PAC member.

With barely any Opposition members left in the committee, political pundits and analysts say the government must reconstitute the PAC and invite more members of the Opposition, failing which its credibility will come into question, even though technically it can still function.

“The whole point of the PAC is to take care of public interest. If there’s only one member of the Opposition there, can it do it?” media consultant Terence Fernandez said.

“That was the crux of the PH manifesto when they said the PAC wouldn’t be led by PH. Now that Kiandee has left, they should have looked for someone from BN to chair the PAC.”

The former journalist advocated Rembau MP Khairy Jamaluddin and MCA president Datuk Seri Wee Ka Siong as the next PAC chair from the Opposition.

He pointed out that despite being the last MCA lawmaker in the House, Wee has been a convincing member of the Opposition, making sensible remarks and countering the government’s narratives with facts and figures.

When asked if the mass resignations from the PAC were more negative for the government or the Opposition, Fernandez said it was a message of the Opposition’s lack of confidence in the current committee.

“It is an illustration, a message that they don’t have any confidence in this PAC and that the whole set-up is a farce. So why should they be part of an establishment that is a farce? So they want to force the government of the day to appoint a chief from the ranks of the Opposition,” he explained.

Singapore Institute of International Affairs senior fellow Oh Ei Sun agreed with Fernandez over the need for more Opposition MPs to give credibility to the committee.

However, he warned the Opposition that the public might perceive their mass resignation as childish and that it could actually backfire.

“The Opposition members could resign, but typically over some disputes over the matters investigated and not over overtly political motives.

“Well, if given the chance (to join PAC) and they refuse (out of protest on the PAC chair), and not over any matter perceived to be unfair, then it is only to their own disadvantage,” said Oh.

He pointed out that if the Opposition had resigned in protest over issues such as 1MDB, it would be a slap in the government’s face where the administration will lose credibility.

On the other hand, if it did it simply to spite the government and protest the chairman’s position, the Opposition will lose out while not obtaining public sympathy and support, he said.

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