KUALA LUMPUR: Issues deemed sensitive were debated freely in the Dewan Rakyat during the premiership of Dr Mahathir Mohamad unlike under current Prime Minister Najib Razak, says former minister Syed Hamid Albar.
He also said questions that censured the government were answered by government leaders, either during the debates or question time.
Hamid, who was in charge of parliamentary affairs from 1990 to 1995, said all questions submitted were answered by the government, although some answers did not satisfy the opposition.
“As examples, the Bumiputra Malaysia Finance (BMF) and the foreign exchange (forex) trading issues. All were debated. The government would either table or distribute the answers,” he told FMT.
He said the BMF and forex controversies were debated in the Dewan Rakyat because the huge financial losses posed a threat to the Malaysian economy.
The BMF scandal in early 1980s shook the nation after the finance company’s Hong Kong branch gave out loans to dodgy companies that included a unit of Carrian Holdings Ltd.
Hundreds of millions of dollars were lost after the Carrian group sank under the weight of its debts in the largest bankruptcy in Hong Kong’s history.
An auditor of Bank Bumiputra, the parent company of BMF, sent to the then British colony to investigate the dubious deals was murdered. Subsequently, the government had to bail out Bank Bumiputra with the injection of billions of ringgit.
Opposition MP Johari Abdul (PKR-Sungai Petani), who used to head the National Civics Bureau (BTN) under the prime minister’s department, also did not recall any sensitive issues being avoided in the Dewan Rakyat’s debates during Mahathir’s time.
“There were sensitive issues such as the forex scandal and BMF. They were brought up in Parliament and debated,” he said.
Johari said Mahathir never placed controversial issues or scandals under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) before they were debated in the Dewan Rakyat.
“Whatever you may say about Dr Mahathir, he didn’t do that. But, now, the report by the Auditor-General (on 1MDB) is deemed sensitive and placed under OSA (in March 2016),” he added.
Ministers and their deputies were also often accused of providing evasive answers to questions and avoiding answering questions on sensitive issues, such as 1MDB and the goods and services tax (GST).
Amanah’s Sepang MP Mohamed Hanipa Maidin said he was tired of questions concerning 1MDB being ignored by the ministers responsible.
“Many times (the questions were not answered). For instance, I asked for the account number belonging to the prime minister said to have received a sum of money but got no answer,” he said.
“Questions that we call kampung development committee (JKKK) questions, like street lights, traffic congestion, clogged drains, are answered but not those on 1MDB.”