Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Should PAC not be dancing with the wolves?

Should PAC not be dancing with the wolves?
by A Kadir Jasin

EITHER the people at Bernama had misreported or the people at the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the Parliament had fallen off their rockers.

The national news agency, on Feb. 26, reported that the PAC had called on the government “to set up a Cabinet committee to monitor decisions taken by government-linked companies (GLCs), including Khazanah Nasional.”

This would enable the government to "oversee" the running of these firms, said committee chairman Datuk Shahrir Abdul Samad.The Johor Baru Barisan Nasaional MP said there was now a dire need for setting up such a committee as it could not only monitor the performance of these GLCs, but also define their role in nation building.

My question to the multi-party PAC is: Isn’t monitoring the decisions taken by government-linked companies (GLCs), including Khazanah Nasional, part and parcel of the responsibility of the Cabinet?

Is PAC saying that the Cabinet, which is the highest executive body in the land, has not been monitoring the decisions of the GLCs?

If the latter is the case, does it not amount to the Cabinet failing in its responsibility to the people?

Isn’t the GLCs decisions in their finality are also the decisions of the Cabinet? More so when they are major decisions like the sale of government assets.

Is Shahrir suggesting that in the specific case of the merger between the privately-owned ECM Libra Berhad and the government-owned Avenue Capital Resources Berhad the Cabinet was not involved?

Why is the usually outspoken Shahrir so coy when explaining the controversial merger or has Bernama misrepresented facts.

According to the national news agency, the following is Shahrir’s explanation of the issue, which was supposed to be the key item on the committee’s agenda:

He said on the merger between ECM Libra and Avenue Capital, the Finance Minister had explained that there was nothing unusual about the deal since it had obtained clearance from the Securities Commission (SC).

"To say we are satisfied (with the explanation given) is not right since the PAC consists of representatives of various political parties. We all have a different degree of satisfaction. The government feels that since the SC had no objection and the majority of shareholders of the two companies wanted to merge, then the merger should take place without any interference," Shahrir added.

To be specific, it was not the Finance Minister who appeared before the committee to explain the merger but the Second Finance Minister, Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop.

Has Shahrir changed? Is he, like the majority of elected representatives these days, is dancing around the mulberry bush and leading us up the garden path instead of seeking the truth?

Has the case of the smaller privately-owned ECM Libra buying the larger Government-owned Avenue Capital “cheaply” ceased to be a questionable deal because “the Finance Minister had explained that there was nothing unusual about the deal since it had obtained clearance from the Securities Commission (SC)?”

Does it mean that everything is fine or should be fine about the deal simply because the SC has no objection? Could it not have erred in its decision to allow the merger to go through?

It had erred. And in the case of the sale of Pantai Holdings Berhad to Singapore-based Parkway Holdings Limited in 2005 it erred badly.

That oversight forced Khazanah Nasional to fork out RM394 million to re-acquire the Pantai Holdings’ privatized assets (Fomema and Pantai Medivest) when Parkway paid only RM312 million to become controlling shareholder of the hospital company.

And is Shahrir and his PAC colleagues aware that on Jan. 17 the SC had also stated that it had no objection to the plan by Kuok Group to transfer the domicile of its plantation company, PPB Group Berhad, from Malaysia to Singapore?

The question is do we need another Cabinet committee? Is it not the duty of the Cabinet, and more specifically the Ministry of Finance, to scrutinize such a matter as the ECM-Avenue merger since it involved government assets?

What about Bank Negara? What was its opinion on the merger? Or is Bank Negara so free and its leadership so independent that no mention was made of its role in the merger?

Or is Shahrir, like a lot of pembesar (dignitaries) these days, has to thread carefully when dealing with matters that affect the favoured and the powerful like those involved in the ECM-Avenue merger?

It is disappointing that Shahrir and his committee should divert public attention away from the core issue by telling the Cabinet what it should and should not do.

What Shahrir’s audience would like to hear is not his lecturing of the Cabinet. What they want to hear is the PAC ruling on the merger between ECM and Avenue.

Could it be that Shahrir and his PAC colleagues have not been keeping pace with Cabinet affairs?

Are they not aware that there are today more than 30 Cabinet Committees? How many more such committees do we need?

What are our 30-odd ministers doing that so many committees have to be set up?

Could this administration by committees be the real reason for the deterioration of the public delivery system? Too much bureaucracy and passing the buck. So in the ECM-Avenue case, blame it on the SC.

With vast parliamentary powers given to them, Shahrir and his PAC colleagues should be dancing with the wolves instead of dancing around the mulberry bush and leading the people up the garden path.

The people want answers and not more excuses.


Following are members of PAC and their party affiliation

Chairman: Dato' Shahrir bin Abdul Samad (BN)
Vice-Chairman: Dr. Tan Seng Giaw (DAP)
Tan Sri K.S Nijhar (BN)
Dato' Hj. Mohd. Sarit bin Yusoh (BN)
Dato' Dr. Tan Kee Kwong (BN)
Datuk Wilfred Madius Tangau (BN)
Jimmy Donald (BN)
Dato' Lim Bee Kau (BN)
Datuk Ir. Hasni bin Haji Mohammad (BN)
Dato' Ismail Sabri bin Yaakob (BN)
Wong Nai Chee (BN)
M. Kula Segaran (DAP)
Dato' Kamarudin bin Jaffar (PAS)
Datin Seri Dr. Wan Azizah binti Wan Ismail (PKR)

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