Parliament's Public Accounts Committee chairperson Wong Kah Woh has dismissed Dewan Rakyat Speaker Azhar Azizan Harun's statement on keeping the special proceedings on Wednesday (Jan 19) behind closed doors due to the Parliament's Standing Orders.
Instead, Wong said the people have a right to follow the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) meeting that has been scheduled to discuss MACC chief commissioner Azam Baki's shareholding ownership scandal.
"The speaker is not right. He has the power to initiate the suspension of a Standing Order by referring the same to the House for a decision, pursuant to Standing Order 90(2).
"With the suspension of Standing Order 85, any parliamentary committee proceedings can be aired online and be opened to the public," Wong said in a statement.
"The speaker also said that the closed-door proceedings are meant to ensure complete cooperation from everyone involved. This is totally absurd," stressed the Ipoh Timur MP.
Wong pointed out that all witnesses are duty-bound to give full cooperation to the PSC and should answer all questions raised during any parliamentary committee proceedings.
Further, he said, any person who gives false answers not only commits contempt of the House but is also liable for an offence under Section 193 of the Penal Code, as provided for in Section 20 of the Houses of Parliament (Privileges and Powers) Act 1952.
"Thirdly, all the notes of proceedings are recorded in the form of the Hansard and will be published together with the committee’s report.
"Closed-door proceedings don't automatically guarantee the honesty of a witness and open-proceedings do not mean a witness can then evade telling the truth.
"It makes no difference on the issue of the content of the testimony of the witnesses, whether or not the proceeding is closed or opened," Wong added.
Wong said keeping the PSC meeting behind closed doors will also be a step back for an ongoing move towards parliamentary reforms, including introducing more transparency, but with the exception of proceedings on issues that involve national security.
"Parliamentary reforms will not be complete if we are still holding proceedings behind closed doors," he said.
He noted that the Parliamentary Standing Order Committee had, since 2019, decided that all parliamentary committee proceedings would be made public via the Malaysia Parliament TV Channel.
Given the high level of public interest in Azam's case, Wong questioned Azhar's apparent hesitance to allow for an open proceeding on the PSC meeting on Azam’s shareholding matter.
"It is the public’s right to know that matters. It is an important issue that involves the top-rank officer who has put the integrity of MACC at stake.
"It is time for the speaker of Parliament to ensure that all parliamentary committees can function efficiently and effectively to check on the Executive," he stressed.
On Jan 12, Dewan Rakyat secretary Nizam Mydin Bacha Mydin sent out a notice to members of the PSC on Agencies under the Prime Minister’s Department, calling them for a meeting to discuss Azam's ownership of over two million shares in two public listed companies.
The opposition lawmakers had demanded the matter surrounding Azam's share ownership to be referred to a parliamentary committee as MACC's oversight bodies failed to deal with the matter accordingly.
This was particularly so after MACC Anti-Corruption Advisory Board chairperson Abu Zahar Ujang cleared Azam of any wrongdoing on Jan 5.