Over the past few weeks, you may have noticed several weird things popping up in the news. Nurul Izzah and several others resigned from something called the PAC, Mahathir got called a dictator yet again, some people hopped parties, and Azmin Ali threw some shade to… no one in particular.
They’re all actually part of the same story, so if you see all these headlines coming at you but cannot brain the whole thing, we’ve got you, fam! It’s kind of a complex issue, so we’ll start with a very basic question at the heart of the whole shebang…
What the heck is the PAC, and why are people resigning from it?
The PAC is short for the Public Accounts Committee, and very simply they’re a bunch of parliament members (MPs) whose job is to look over the government’s accounts. You can find a more formal definition of their function here, but in essence they’re watchdogs of the government’s spending, making sure that nothing fishy is going on.
The government appoints the members at the beginning of each Parliament, and because of their function, they have to have both members of the ruling coalition and the opposition. More often than not, countries with PACs appoint a member of the opposition as the chairman of this committee, because as our own history had shown us back during the 1MDB days, having a ruling coalition member leading a body that’s supposed to sniff out the gomen’s funny business did not work too well.
Despite that, historically the chairman and his/her deputy for our PAC had always been from the ruling coalition (which we’ll refer to as the ‘gomen’ from now on) for the past 13 Parliaments, although in recent years the deputy had been from the opposition.
The Pakatan Harapan (PH) vowed to change that if they ever get into power, and if you are to riffle through their manifesto you’ll find a tiny paragraph under Promise 16 (page 57) that promised to reserve the post of the PAC chairman for an opposition MP.
So after Pakatan won, they appointed Datuk Seri Ronald Kiandee, then a BN MP for Beluran to be the new PAC chairman, making it the first time in history Malaysia’s PAC had been chaired by the Opposition. The deputy is Wong Kah Woh from DAP, part of Pakatan, so for a while things are sort of ideal.
Then in December last year, Kiandee, along with a bunch of Sabah politicians left Umno. Kiandee became an independent MP until March this year, when he (along with five other ex-Umno MPs) got into the Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM), which you might recall as Mahathir’s party and part of the gomen.
So in case you blinked and missed what happened, Ronald bippity-boppity-booed and went from being an opposition MP to a gomen one, effectively making both the chairman and deputy of the PAC to be from the gomen.
Ah, crap. That sort of puts the whole manifesto promise to pot. Welp, nothing to do about it but pick a new chairman, right? Unfortunately…
Mahathir went ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, and Nurul Izzah went ಠ_ಠ
After Kiandi’s switch in mid-March, lawmakers from both sides had called for Kiandee to quit being the PAC’s chairman. The opposition lawmakers had proposed for Noraini Ahmad (Umno-Parit Sulong), one of the PAC’s members, to replace him. However, despite the outcry, Mahathir had asked for Kiandee to remain as the PAC’s chair for now, saying that Pakatan’s promise to let the opposition head the PAC is “only policy, and not institutionalized or part of the constitution”.
As you can probably guess, this did not go well with a lot of people. The electoral watchdog Bersih 2.0, for one, is concerned that Mahathir’s statement hinted at his lack of seriousness in institutional reforms.
“For the Prime Minister to say that because this promise was not institutionalized and therefore can be overridden raises more serious concerns about his commitment to structural institutional reforms,” – Bersih 2.0, as reported as Malay Mail.
Nurul Izzah, who had made a few statements in the past by resigning from her other posts, made a statement here as well and resigned from being a PAC member faster than you can say “accountability of the executive in Malaysia Baru”. She had also mentioned that this will be her last term as a lawmaker.
Shortly after the resignation, she was interviewed by Singapore’s The Straits Times where she supposedly referred to Mahathir as a ‘dictator’, which kicked up another outcry and bout of drama, with Azmin Ali throwing shade on Twitter, most likely about the whole affair.
“This country needs doers who are prepared to tough it out all the way, not cry babies. Whatever it takes, we must make it work. If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.” – Azmin Ali on his Twitter, to no one in particular.
Getting back to the PAC dilemma, last Monday the Deputy Speaker Nga Kor Ming had said that the Parliament will allow the PAC to finish its pending cases first before selecting a new chairman, leading to three more PAC members announcing their resignation: Datuk Seri Ahmad Hamzah (BN-Jasin), Datuk Noraini Ahmad (the candidate from earlier) and Datuk Takiyuddin Hassan (PAS-Kota Bharu). Although they have yet to send in their resignation letters, they were absent from the PAC’s latest meeting last Thursday.
However, as it turned out, PAS’s Takiyuddin later clarified that he didn’t actually want to resign from the PAC, so just the two BN MPs lo. Initially, the PAC members are split between 8 from the gomen and 4 from the opposition, but after the resignations, the score now is gomen 7, opposition 2. The Dewan Rakyat opposition leader, Ismail Sabri Yaakob, had commented on this development by saying that PH is now in control of the PAC.
“It seems there are more PH representatives in PAC, including both the chairman and deputy chairman. This means PH is in full control of a committee that is meant to provide a check and balance.” – Ismail Sabri Yaakob, as reported by FMT.
Ismail had went on to say that the opposition members will only rejoin PAC after an opposition MP is selected as its chairman, but Mahathir remained chill. When asked what he thinks about the opposition PAC members quitting, he practically said ‘ikut suka diorang lah‘.
Such wisdom, but the PAC kind of still have plenty of work to do, so…
Can the PAC still function with all this drama?
As of last week, the PAC is still in the middle of some investigations, but it would seem that the drama and lost members will not hamper its function. On concerns of whether it can still conduct investigations and hearings in a fair and unbiased manner, Wong Kah Woh, the deputy chairman, had said that they can still have meetings as long as there is enough quorum, which means at least three people including the chairman (Standing Order 83(3) of the Dewan Rakyat).
With two opposition members still in the PAC, it’s possible to have a balanced quorum, so that supposedly takes case of the fairness part as well.
“Why question if it’s unfair? A meeting (of the PAC) only needs a quorum of the chairman plus three members. We never have a full quorum anyway,” – Ronald Kiandee, as reported by the Malaysian Insight.
As for the issue with the gomen checking the gomen, Dr Ko Chung Sen, Kepayang’s state assemblyperson, had said that it may be more appropriate to appoint an opposition chairman after the cases from the previous administration have been cleared, or two years after any change of government. Nga Kor Ming, the Dewan Rakyat Deputy Speaker from before, felt that Kiandee should be given time to complete his work on the committee before being replaced, as the PAC is hearing many cases at the moment.
While Dr M had said that the government will consider appointing an opposition member to chair the PAC sometime in the future, for now it would seem that Kiandee will remain the chairman. Despite everything being seemingly tied up in a neat bow…
The PAC issue highlighted a problem with democracy and principle
Back in November last year, Dr M had said that the Pakatan government holds firm to three principles: serving the people, upholding the democratic system, and practicing separation of the administerial and judicial powers.
“It is the democratic system which gives the people the power to choose a government and it is with this power that we give ourselves in service to the people. In a democratic system, we have rules that we have to respect. The previous administration did not respect these rules. We want laws that benefit the people and discard laws which are oppressive.” – Dr Mahathir, as reported by NST.
We’re not sure if the democracy referred to back then is limited to the election process, but it shouldn’t be that way. As far as we can tell, the only solid reason Kiandee is still the PAC’s chairman for now is the directive from Dr M asking him to stay there until a suitable candidate is found, despite protests by other members of the PAC. With three resignations so far and possibly more in the future, the decision of whether or not to replace Kiandee with an opposition MP should be at least worth a discussion, which PKR president Anwar Ibrahim had suggested.
The PAC issue also highlighted another cause of concern when it comes to principles. While Anwar had said that the PAC issue can’t be sidestepped as it had been specifically stated in Pakatan’s manifesto, he had also said that the issue with it is purely political and moral, and probably won’t take billions of ringgit to fix. So they will address it, but maybe not now.
“It is a matter of a quick political decision whether we think the position taken by PH in this manifesto is worth reconsidering due to present circumstances, or just proceed. My personal view is that we can proceed (with current PAC chairman). It’s not a complex issue at all.”- Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, as reported by Malay Mail.
Between Anwar saying that it’s a small issue caused by the manifesto pledges being ‘too clear’, and Dr M’s earlier statement saying the promises in the manifesto are not ‘institutionalized or part of the constitution’, some may see this issue as the prelude to some worrying questions.
Sure, the promise behind who gets to be PAC chairman is but a tiny paragraph in the manifesto, but where does one draw the line on which promises are important enough to keep? Who decides on where the line should be? How will it be decided?
Perhaps some of these questions may be answered if the meeting Anwar suggested earlier ever comes to be. As for when that will be…