The Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee should stop belly aching about dissatisfied about explanations

Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary- General and MP for Petaling, Lim Kit Siang, when declaring open the two-day Penang State DAP Political Course at Hotel Continental, Penang on Saturday, 19th Sept. 1981 at 2.30 p.m.

The Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee should stop belly aching about dissatisfied about explanations by government officials, and summon Ministers to hold them responsible for giving satisfactory explanations to the Auditor-General’s comments.

Since the start of the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee hearings into the Auditor-General’s Report of the 1977 Federal Government Accounts, on 2nd Sept. 1981 the constant feature of the PAC meetings is the daily belly-aching by the PAC Chairman, Datuk Lee Boon Peng, after each day’s sitting about how unsatisfied he was about the explanations offered by government officials to various matters examined by the PAC.

The PAC has been appointed not to belly-ache every day about its failure to get to the bottom of things, but to delve into the various improprieties, irregularities and even fraud of public spending of taxpayers’ money.

For the PAC Chairman to belly-ache once or twice is acceptable, but for him to complain every day in the press about the failure of the PAC to get meaningful answer from the various Ministries is to confess its futility and impotence.

I would call on the PAC Chairman, Datuk Lee Boon Peng, to get on with the work the Dewan Rakyat had entrusted to him, and instead of being made to look life fools by various government officials who are playing the intriguing game of ‘passing the buck’, the PAC should summon the respective Ministers to appear before it and to hold them answerable for a satisfactory explanation of the irregularities, improprieties and malpractices which the PAC had difficulty in getting satisfactory replies from lower officials.

In fact, when the Auditor-General’s Report made its initial nation-wide publicity in the local newspapers, the PAC Chairman, Datuk Lee Boon Peng, made the fierce statement that the PAC was going to have a thorough examination into the Report, and would even summon Ministers to appear before the PAC if necessary.

Clearly, Datuk Lee Boon Peng was only trying to appear a powerful person who could even summon Ministers, without having the courage of doing so. For, after so many days of being stone-walled by government officials from the various Ministries to get satisfactory explanations into the Auditor-General’s Report, the time has come to summon the various Ministers concerned, and to impress on them that they must not only be finally responsible to the PAC for their respective Ministries, but to impress on the Ministers that they must direct their officials to stop playing the game, ‘Pass the Buck’!

This is why other Commonwealth Parliaments have an Opposition Member as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, for with Datuk Lee Boon Peng as Chairman, it is unlikely that he would want to rock the Barisan boat too much. Datuk Lee had to think of his own political future in Barisan too.

There is of course an alternative for Datuk Lee Boon Peng in the face of this stone-walling tactics of government officials and the PAC’s failure to extract satisfactory explanation from the various Ministries- if he dare not take the appropriate stop of summoning the various Ministers concerned. This is for him to resign as PAC Chairman in protest, and highlight the impotence of the PAC to get to bottom of government financial improprieties by causing a full-scale Parliamentary debate on the whole question of the role functions and powers of the PAC in the Dewan Rakyat.

2. Call on Ministers to demonstrate that they understand and accept the principle of Ministerial responsibility for all departmental decisions and actions.

Recently, there was the welcome publicity about the Auditor-General’s Report on the 1977 Federal Government Accounts, revealing that there were unexplained differences of $663 million between the Accountant-General’s books and the departmental records; payments totaling $51.9 million were not supported by payment vouchers or other acceptable evidence to substantiate expenditure; loans given out exceeded the authorized provisions by $55.5 million; and the paying out of $1.07 million where no provisions were made in the estimates, apart from a long list of government improprieties and malpractices.

In some cases, some departmental heads tried to explain and give their side of the story to the press, but through the series of publicity, one breed of people who are most directly involved kept very quite.

I am referring to the Ministers, who has the overall head of each Ministry, is responsible and answerable to Parliament and the people for whatever happened inside it.

For the catalogue of financial irregularities, improprieties and malpractices in each Ministry, the Minister concerned should be responsible- not in the sense that he ordered or directed them, but in accepting overall responsibility for their occurrence for his failure to exercise the care and wisdom which might have prevented their occurrence, or for error of judgement in not taking the necessary precautionary measures.

I had expected the Ministers concerned to come out publicly to accept some degree of responsibility for this deplorable state of affairs as highlighted by the Auditor-General, and their assurance that as Ministers, they would take immediate action to ensure that in future such improprieties and malpractices are minismised if not eliminated altogether.

But not a Federal Minister said a word, as if they are collectively projecting the message that the Ministers are not responsible at all! This is to reject the principle of Ministerial responsibility completely.

I call on the Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, to impress on all Ministers in the next Cabinet meeting that they must understand and be judged by the principle or Ministerial responsibility with regard to their departmental performances, and that they are responsible in providing the leadership to ensure that the improprieties highlighted by the Auditor-General do not recur in their ministries in future.

This attitude of irresponsibility must be stamped out, or it would spread to chairmen of statutory boards, as has happened already. Last week, there was much controversy over the management of the Majuternak, where the NBI was called in to investigate suspicions of corrupt practice, the Auditor-General called in to conduct a special audit of Majuternak accounts when Majuternak cheques totaling some $1.5 million bounced.

But through it all, the Chairman of Majuternak, Datuk Hishamuddin Yahya, was not to be seen and heard from. Having reached a stage where all the works, so to say, are being applied to Majuternak, with NBI, Auditor-General’s Department, swarming over Majuternak, the least Datuk Hishamuddin Yahya could do is to resign as Chairman of Majuternak. This would show that there is understanding and acceptance of the principle of responsibility, whether by a Ministers, Chairman of Statutory Board or for that matter, anyone entrusted with a responsibility which had been bungled up.