Friday, October 31, 2008

PAC Chairman Azmi Khalid should withdraw from the PAC inquiry into Eurocopter deal

By : Lim Kit Siang, DAP Parliamentary Leader

Datuk Azmi Khalid, the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), should personally withdraw from the PAC inquiry into the RM2.3 billion 12 Cougar EC725 Eurocopter deal because of his “close proximity” to the Executive as two-term member of the Cabinet until seven months ago.

Azmi’s background as a two-term Cabinet Minister under Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi would be important considerations to the Prime Minister why Azmi is regarded as politically suitable, stable, reliable and trustworthy candidate as PAC Chairman although from the perspective of established parliamentary conventions in mature democracies, these same factors would be regarded as precisely the reason why he is not suitable or qualified for the post.

In fact, in mature and developed parliamentary democracies, the Chairman of PAC is invariably from a senior Opposition MP, and not an MP from the administration, let alone a person who had just been a two-term Minister under the Prime Minister-of-the-day.Credibility is greatly stretched for anyone to believe that a two-term Minister would be prepared to be very zealous to conduct a no-holds-barred PAC investigation into any major government irregularity or impropriety like the RM2.3 billion 12 Cougar EC725 Eurocopter deal – especially as Azmi was a Minister in the original Cabinet decision of 18th July 2007 to phase out the Nuri fleet of helicopters after the latest Nuri helicopter crash the week before.

As the maxim goes, justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done. Any hint of conflict-of-interest whether arising from “close proximity” as a two-term Cabinet Member of the Prime Minister-of-the-day or other reasons should be avoided at all costs.Azmi Khalid should therefore withdraw from any PAC inquiry into the RM2.3 billion Cougar EC725 Eurocopter deal, and the full responsibility for conducting the helicopter investigation should devolve to the Deputy PAC Chairman Dr. Tan Seng Giaw (DAP – Kepong).

Two weeks ago, after the Parliamentary Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and I queried the propriety and integrity of the Cougar EC725 helicopter deal in Parliament, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said that he would probe allegations that there were irregularities in the multi-billion ringgit defence procurement.

The silence of Abdullah, who is also Defence Minister, in the past fortnight on this issue has been deafening.Abdullah had also said that the Anti-Corruption Agency will also look into the helicopter deal.Has this been done?

The PAC investigation into the RM2.3 billion Cougar EC725 Eurocopter helicopter deal cannot be used as an excuse for Abdullah as the Defence Minister to avoid giving a proper reply to the issues raised by Pakatan Rakyat MPs on the deal during the budget debate.

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