Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary- General and MP for Petaling, Lim Kit Siang, when declaring open the two-day Perak DAP State Political Course at Perak State Hqrs at Jalan Chamberlain, Ipoh on Saturday, Sept. 12, 1981 at 2.30 p.m.
DAP calls on the proceedings of the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee to be open to public and the press to ensure a more effective and responsible examination of government accounts.
There has been considerable publicity recently about the Auditor General’s Reports and the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee. This is all to the good if they contribute to greater government efficiency and accountability of management and expenditure of public funds.
It is still too early to say whether the recent spate of publicity will be followed up with significant changes in the concept of public accountability of government finances, or whether after the recent spate of publicity, government indifference, avoidance of accountability and responsibility to the public would reassert themselves.
The concept of public accountability of the government in the management and expenditure of public funds, could only be deeply entrenched in the Malaysian government system if everyone, from Ministers down to departmental heads, including the Chairman and members of the PAC, are fully conscious and aware of its full meaning, scope and implications.
The way the $23 million Federal government loan to the State Government of Ngeri Sembilan was written off by the Acting Prime Minister, Datuk Musa Hitam, because of the Gula N.S. losses, without a full public accounting of the reason for its loses, again shows inadequate understanding of the principle of public accountability.
The Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee requires a major reform, both in its composition, functions, powers and approach, if it is to play its parliamentary role as the guardian of public finances.
1.Appointment of an Opposition Mp as Chairman of the PAC, to more effectively scrutinize and examine public expenditure, and who is imbued with the independent powers and responsibilities of Parliament to protect public funds as distinct from the Executive, including the Prime Minister, whose role is to spend the public funds. Voted by Parliament.
2. The Public Accounts Committee has been established with four-fold function, namely to examine
(i) the accounts of the Federation and the appropriation of the sums granted by Parliament to meet the public expenditure;
(ii) such accounts of public authorities and other bodies administering public funds as many be laid before House;
(iii) reports of the Auditor-General laid before the House in accordance with Article 107 of the Constitution;
(iv) such other matters as the Committee may think fit, or which may be referred to the Committee by the House.
Up to now, the Public Accounts Committee seem to be stuck with the third function, namely to examine the Auditor-General’s Reports, while he other three functions are completely neglected.
3. At present, there are PAC Members who are sitting on the boards of various government agencies, which could be the subject of examination of the PAC, like Hishamuddin bin Haji Yahaya, who is currently chairman of the controversial Majuternak, Azharul Abidin bin Haji Abdul Rahim, member of the board of Bank Pertanian, Leonard Linggi and Jugah, Chairman of Sarawak Pepper Board. This is most unhealthy. Although it could be argued that when the PAC examines the accounts of government enterprises involving PAC members, the PAC members concerned should excuse himself, this is not satisfactory, for the PAC may have to examine other government departments and enterprises where similar accounting the financial practices are also involved. I would therefore suggest that PAC members like Hishamuddin Haji Yahya, Azharul Abidin and Leonard Linggi should either resign from the PAC, or alternatively resign from the various boards of government enterprises to prevent a conflict of interest.
4. The proceedings of the PAC should be open to he public and the press. As the PAC Proceedings are subsequently published in verbatim, there is no reason for including the public and press for instant reporting. This will also ensure a more effective and responsible examination of government accounts by the PAC.
5. There is a great need for the PAC to understand its powers, functions and responsibilities. Recently, according to the press, the PAC spent two days agonizing over the $962,000 losses incurred by the Federal government in 1977 because of the inflated prices quoted for instant mee for the armed forces in Sabah and Sarawak, where a packet of instant mee was quoted at $3.90 and $4.90 when the average contract price in Peninsular Malaysia was 14 cents a packet.
The press reported today a statement by the PAC Chairman, Datuk Lee Boon Peng, that the PAC was summoning the NBI officer who was investigating the ‘instant mee’ scandal since 1978 for his progress report. The impression I get is that if the NBI officer should inform the PAC that investigations are still proceeding, the PAC would leave the matter in the hands of the NBI.
This will be a complete misreading of the duties, functions and powers of the PAC. Regardless of the state of investigations of the NBI into the ‘instant mee’ scandal, the PAC must independently proceed with the examination of the ‘instant mee’ scandal and submit its report to Parliament. The PAC cannot hold its investigations in abeyance pending the outcome of the NBI investigations in abeyance pending the outcome of the PAC examinations. Both have separate duties, responsibilities and functions which must proceed independently of each other.
6. The PAC’s reports should be speeded up for presentation to Parliament. I understand that the PAC’s report on the Auditor- General’a Report on 1975 and 1976 accounts of the Federal Government are ready and with the printers. If the government printers could not print the PAC reports for 1975 and 1976 in time, then the PAC should have the PAC does not suffer from the same government delays which it is designed to put a stop to.
The time has come for a major Parliamentary debate and review on the functions, responsibilities and powers of the PAC, and its performances to date.
For this purpose, I have submitted a motion to Parliament for the forthcoming budget meeting fro Oct. 12 to Dec. 8 to have a wide-ranging debate on the PAC and the entire question of parliamentary check on financial mismanagement and malpractices.
The motion I had submitted to parliament is as follows:
‘THAT THIS HOUSE
NOTHING THE Report of the Public Accounts Committee on the auditor-General’s Report on the Federal Government Accounts for the year 1974;
NOTHING that the PAC’s Report on the Auditor-General’s Report on the Federal Government Accounts for the year 1975 and 1976 have not been tabled in Dewan Rakyat;
NOTHING that the latest report of the Auditor-General on Federal Government Accounts is for the year 1977, four years late;
NOTHING THAT no progress has been made to settle a long catalogue of outstanding matters raised in the auditor-General’s Report going way back to 1970 from previous audit investigations;
NOTHING that a long list of the PAC’s recommendations arising from its examination of the 1966, 1967, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973 and 1974 Audit Reports have not been fully implemented or dealt with by Executive Action;
RESOLVES that the Auditor-general should be given all assistance by all Federal Ministries and department to enable him to audit and submit up-to-date reports on the Federal Government Accounts;
RESOLVES that the Executive should take immediate action to settle all outstanding matters raised in all previous Audit Report and also to implement the PAC’s recommendations, and to submit a report to Parliament at the next meeting on the progress of complying with this resolution.”
This is an important resolution, and I hope the Government would allow time for a full-scale debate. I will write to the Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, when he returns from leave in Spain and Portugal to get his agreement to give ample time for a full-scale parliamentary debate on this motion.