KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 6 — Opposition MPs, led by Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, today engaged in a heated argument with Dewan Rakyat Speaker Datuk Seri Azhar Azizan Harun over whether the revelations from the Pandora Papers should be debated in Parliament.

Anwar, at the start of the ministerial winding-up session, stood up and proposed a debate on the matter, telling Azhar that he had already submitted a motion on October 8, under Standing Order 18 (1).

He described the issue as “critical”, adding that “nations which are more responsible” had already announced investigations into the billions in funds stashed in offshore accounts by the world’s elite.

“This, I feel, must be debated here. We do not want to punish anyone. We do not intend to punish those mentioned. They can offer their explanations. But if hundreds of millions of ringgit are hidden in accounts in offshore companies, and we do not give the space to those mentioned or the government to probe them, this country will fail.

“And I ask the prime minister, who wants to preserve political stability, who wants to preserve transparency, who wants to guarantee the economic sustainability of the nation, how can we remain silent when hundreds of billions of ringgit are brought out of the country undetected and illegally from our country? This involves many names,” he said, adding that he is not just referring to those linked to the current government but also from Pakatan Harapan (PH).

The Port Dickson MP lamented that if so much money is hidden in tax havens and the government does nothing, it would be an embarrassment to MPs, while also calling for bipartisan efforts to address the issue.

He said that he is willing to risk losing his political popularity among influential figures and donors, in demanding that the issue is addressed in Parliament.

Azhar, in rejecting the motion, mentioned that it must satisfy three criteria: that it is of public importance, urgent and on a specific topic.

He then proposed that the matter be brought to the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) or even a Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI).

“Another way, in my view, is we have nine PSCs now, and one is on the economy, which covers the Ministry of Finance. I feel it is more apt if this matter is brought to that PSC and other related PSCs for an in-depth look, and over a longer period, than this Lower House.

“Hence, I am forced to reject your motion YB. Another pertinent matter with regards to this motion is, as we know, these Pandora Papers are newspaper reports based on information leaks from several agencies. As of now, what we know about these Pandora Papers is from newspaper reports, online reports and such.

“So according to 23 (1) (i), Opposition Leader, a query that is asked by an MP cannot be posed on whether what was reported in the newspapers is true or not. If I read this together with 18(7)(C), that too is another Standing Order limitation that I have. I admit this matter is important, but I am limited by the Standing Orders,” he said, suggesting to Anwar that he use other avenues available to pursue his matter.

But Anwar shot back, saying Azhar might not have “followed” reports of former finance minister Tun Daim Zainuddin confirming the Pandora Papers leak after it revealed his wealth.

The Port Dickson MP added that Finance Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz and PKR's Selayang MP William Leong had both admitted to past involvement with the offshore accounts.

Anwar said that he is unable to accept Azhar's refusal on a technical ground when so much funds, involving influential names, had gone out of the country.

“This problem has been going on since 2012. We raised this in the 2012 Global Financial Integrity Report. There was no investigation, 2015 Panama Papers, no investigation; 2021 when we raised the Pandora Papers and said 'let's verify first with other channels'. I want to say, let us start with this channel first, then we can bring it to the PSC,” he said, adding that the matter involves the nation's honour and security.

Kulim-Bandar Baharu MP Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution Ismail also disagreed with Azhar's ruling, pointing to the case of 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

Saifuddin pointed out that when Anwar had raised 1MDB before it became a global scandal, the then Speaker had also rejected debate in Parliament on similar grounds.

“Now we are met with another huge crisis. So, we ask that these Standing Orders, they are there but these are not static but dynamic. It needs the wisdom of the Speaker to make rulings. That's what we ask. Actually the word won't end if the space is given to debate and the government answers,” Saifuddin said.

Azhar again pointed to the business order of the day and the importance of abiding by the parliamentary Standing Orders, which incensed Anwar.

“So, you mean RM900 billion exiting the nation is not an urgent matter? What's wrong with you, Honourable Speaker? I heard your debate on 1MDB before you became the Speaker. Please be consistent. This is the country's money, the people's money!” Anwar said.

Sungai Buloh MP R. Sivarasa asked if Standing Order 18(1) would be limited to issues concerning fire and flood issues, pointing out that Azhar had allowed an emergency motion on a fire incident raised by Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii.

“Not only fire issues must be expedited. You allowed it yesterday, thank you very much,” Sivarasa said, before his microphone was muted.

Azhar reiterated his earlier explanation to Anwar.

He admitted the issue is important, but said there were other matters just as important and said there were other avenues to discuss the Pandora Papers.

The Pandora Papers is the largest trove of leaked offshore data in history with documents coming from offshore service providers operating in Anguilla, Belize, Singapore, Switzerland, Panama, Barbados, Cyprus, Dubai, the Bahamas, the British Virgin Islands, Seychelles and Vietnam.

The files were leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which has not revealed its source. The ICIJ gave 600 journalists around the world remote access to the leaked data.