The government appeared to have been given an escape route to avoid being answerable in Parliament on matters related to the US Department of Justice’s (DOJ) 1MDB-linked civil suit.
This was a concern raised despite Dewan Rakyat speaker Pandikar Amin Mulia’s clarification that there is no blanket ban on questions related to the suit to recover more than US$1 billion in assets allegedly from 1MDB.
Pandikar had at the beginning of this current parliament session rejected 33 questions by opposition lawmakers on the DOJ case on grounds of sub judice.
He also said there is no need for ministers to provide a written reply to the questions submitted.
In response to Puchong MP Gobind Singh Deo who sought a ruling on the matter, Pandikar later said that further questions can be raised during debates of Budget 2017, and the presiding speaker would determine whether the question is considered as sub judice or otherwise.
PAS Pokok Sena MP Mahfuz Omar however said that despite Pandikar’s clarification, the government would use his earlier ruling as an “escape route” from answering all questions related to 1MDB.
“As far as we were made to understand, the sub judice ruling only applies to questions directly related to the ongoing case in the US,” he said.
“There were other questions not directly related to the suit, for instance the ones raised by former second finance minister (Ahmad) Husni Hanadzlah yesterday,” said Mahfuz (photo). who pointed out that the Tambun MP was previously the government’s spokesperson on 1MDB.
“I agree that the speaker’s ruling is one way for the government to avoid answering these questions,” said Mahfuz, adding that the decision was regrettable.
Husni, who spent seven years as a minister, had in his Budget 2017 debate on Monday raised multiple questions related to 1MDB and urged the government to consider several negative outcomes from the entire controversy.
Among others, he had asked why 1MDB was formed, and if any action would be taken against 1MDB’s management for channeling the investment firm’s funds to the “wrong places”.
Husni had resigned from his post in June but only revealed the real reason, due to excessive stress from being tasked to resolve the 1MDB financial scandals, several months later.
Already reluctant to face their critics, the minister in charge could use Pandikar’s ruling to further avoid addressing the issue.
Deputy speaker Ronald Kiandee said that he does not expect any minister to answer any related questions, based on Pandikar’s earlier statement.
“In the first place no questions allowed so no answers expected,” he told Malaysiakini.
When it was pointed out that Pandikar had clarified his stand, the Beluran MP said he agreed that the presiding speaker would determine from the debate if the matters raised were considered as sub judice.
“True. The speaker will determine based on the questions. And ministers’ answers, too.
“Sub judice (deliberation) based on the issue (raised) and not the question,” he said.
‘Gov't duty-bound to answer’
Aside from a legal loophole from the sub judice argument, critics claimed that BN lawmakers would still try to avoid answering questions on 1MDB.
Constitutional expert Abdul Aziz Bari (photo) said that questions asked in Parliament are the only way to make the lawmakers accountable to the people who elected them.
“Even without any restrictions from the speaker, a minister can try to beat around the bush and not answer the questions,” said Abdul Aziz, who also hit out at Pandikar whom he claimed had abused his powers to prevent questions on matters pertaining to national interest.
“When the speaker introduced such restrictions, it is tantamount to an abuse of his powers.
“As a lawyer, he should be ashamed of himself,” said Abdul Aziz.
He further stressed that the government is duty-bound to answer all questions raised by the people via their elected MPs.
“Whether the questions are in written or oral form, the government must answer,” he said.
In reference to Husni’s questions, Petaling Jaya Utara MP Tony Pua had said that 1MDB appeared to be a top secret operation that only Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, who is also the finance minister, have answers to.- Mkini