Senior government officers should be compelled to testify before Parliamentary Select Committees when “invited” to do so, says Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said.
The Pengerang MP said there are currently no rules in Parliament’s Standing Orders to summon government officers for this purpose.
“There is a large lacuna in the Standing Orders with regard to the matter, on whether letters issued by the committees are merely invitations or subpoenas.
“Many officers do not feel compelled to attend as there is no clear (indication) to do so.
“The officers may attend the hearings out of respect based on the invitation by the committee,” she said when debating the motion of thanks on the Royal Address in the Dewan Rakyat on Monday (March 7).
Azalina raised the issue in connection to a recent clarification by Dewan Rakyat Speaker Tan Sri Azhar Azizan Harun on a letter sent to MACC chief commissioner Tan Sri Azam Baki, inviting him to appear before the Special Select Committee on Agencies under the Prime Minister’s Department.
The committee had sent a letter to Azam to attend a hearing in January related to the purchase of shares by his brother linked to his account.
However, the meeting did not materialise.
Azhar said he did not agree with Azam’s refusal to attend the hearing because the latter had explained that it was merely an invitation and not a subpoena.
Azalina urged Parliament to address this loophole.
Standing Order 83(2) does not mention that an individual needs to be subpoenaed to appear before the committee, but merely states that a letter is sent to invite the person to do so.
Azalina noted that any amendments to the Standing Orders should also take into account what government officers are able to divulge when appearing before a parliamentary committee.
She said this is crucial as officers are bound by oath under the Official Secrets Act not to divulge classified information including the possibility of sub judice with regard to ongoing court cases.
“This is important so that MPs on the committee will be able to know what questions can be asked,” she said.
She noted that parliaments in Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada have guidelines on what sort of official questions could be posed to witnesses who appear before their committees.
Azalina, who is a former Dewan Rakyat deputy speaker, also suggested that portfolios under the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry should be separated.
She noted that issues affecting women and children should come under their own portfolio while the community portfolio should be under the National Unity Ministry. – The Star