Noh Omar is Wrong. Public Hearing is First Step Towards Accountability and Transparency

Press Statement by Member of Parliament Klang Charles Santiago in Klang on30th Sept 2009

I am writing in response to Datuk Noh Omar’s statement and others who have indicated that Selcat should conduct its inquiry behind closed doors in Sinar Harian dated 26 -27 Sept, 2009.

Suggestions by the Deputy Chairman of UMNO Selangor liaison committee on the Select Committee for Competency, Accountability and Transparency (Selcat) exposes poor understanding of the notion o f accountability and transparency. It shows the senior politician has little knowledge of best practices in parliamentary or assembly procedure albeit his fourth term as parliamentarian.

The example cited by Noh Omar that Selcat should imitate the close door hearing of Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) would only give rise to worsening of trust among people in the affairs of the state

In promoting the concept of competency, accountability and transparency of state administration, the Selangor state assembly has set up Selcat to scrutinize corruption and abuse of power within the state administration.

The committee had successfully exposed the alleged illegal transfer of RM9.9 million fund with Balkis and RM1.7 million spent by former Selangor Chief Minister Mohd Khir Toyo to visit two Disneyland theme parks in the United States and France.

It was the close door hearing practice by PAC that hindered the public’s right to truth and information on Scorpene submarines, 12 Cougar EC725 helicopters and PKFZ scandal inquiries.

The PKFZ issue was put before the PAC many years ago and only resulted in the committee spinning a fine web of conspiracy to hoodwink the people.

Open committee hearing is a norm for legislative branch of most democracies.

In US, the house committee procedure clearly states that hearings shall be open unless a majority votes (by record vote) to close them for certain specified reasons, including national security or personal privacy reasons, and witnesses should be required to present advance copies of their written statements.

The procedure stresses that the hearing must also be open to coverage by electronic and print media so that information can be easily accessed by people. All the resolutions of inquiry addressed to the heads of executive departments shall be reported to the House within 14 legislative days after introduction.

In the United Kingdom, House of Commons’s guide for witnesses states that giving oral evidence to parliament is generally a public process. The proceedings are transcribed, press may be present, the proceedings are carried live by webcast on the internet and may also be broadcast on radio or television, unless the witness has particular reasons as to why the evidence should be private.

This raises the question as to why in Malaysia, proceedings before the committee must be kept closed and away from public scrutiny? It is people’s right to know how - assemblymen spend public funds, the land office regulates and manages peoples’ money and the professionalism and competency of civil servants in ensuring that funds go to target groups.

Non-transparency is a breeding ground for corruption. It has earned Malaysia the 47th place in the 2008 corruption perceptions index which puts the country on par with nations such as Cape Verde, Costa Rica, Hungary and Jordan.

The ruling UMNO-led Barisan Nasional government has been trying to destroy all possible checks and balance mechanism and instead have replaced them with window dressing agencies.

Malaysians voted for the Pakatan Rakyat at the last general election in a hope for change and reforms within the government. Therefore, I would like to suggest the Selangor state government re-educates the civil servants, assemblymen, and members of the executive on the role and jurisdiction of the assembly.

The Selangor state assembly should also draft an explicit procedure about committee hearing, witness’s rights, committee’s report and communication between assembly and the executive as part of the reforms promised by the Pakatan Rakyat. This could be an effort towards deepening public accountability and transparency in the state.

Charles Santiago

Member of Parliament, Klang

Vice Chairman of Selangor DAP

016 626 7797

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