Thursday, August 20, 2015
Arul vs Tony Pua: What is the limit to transparency?
After a short hiatus, Tony Pua emerged after Arul Kanda's TV3 interview to revive a past issue on 1MDB. He had previously accused Arul as lying. Now he seek explanation on the redeemed US$1.1 billion Cayman Fund and challenged him to a debate.
His intention is not to seek explanation but to accuse the Cayman Island fund has disappeared. And, the challenge for a debate is typical politician ploy, in which a corporate man with a task to do like Arul should not waste his time.
Arul replied to tell Tony Pua that he is recycling issues already answered. Tony Pua said it was not and resorted to a name calling "chicken challenge". Arul duly replied to indirectly described him as "monkey" living in a jungle without rules and order.
Essentially, Tony Pua's antic is what Transparency Initiative website here described as "accountability politics" which is "the arena of conflict over whether and how those in power are held publicly responsible for their decisions."
Accountability means ensuring that officials in public, private and voluntary sector organisations are answerable for their actions and that there is redress when duties and commitments are not met.
Part of accountability is the practise of transparency. It means "public officials, civil servants, managers and directors of companies and organisations and board trustees have a duty to act visibly, predictably and understandably to promote participation and accountability".
The bigger question to issues raised by Tony Pua is what is the limit of transparency or how much disclosure is allowable?
In the midst of the much hurrah over Jullian Assange and Wikileaks, there were groups that cherish the leak as necessary to combat corruption.
But when posed with the question as to should government reveal all it's information, there is an agreement to oppose full transparency in order to prevent abuse and from being falliable to anarchy. [Read discussion in Ted.com here]
In areas such as securities, the public right to know come together with public right to not know. As one US conservative think tank in an interview in US News said, "The public has a right, through electing a government, to have some information kept from them and from our enemies."
That is quite clear cut but before our GE 13, DAP and NGO like SUARAM were raising issue on defense spending in which the correct answer would essentially be giving away security and military capability information.
Something of more direct public interest would the demand for more disclosure in the management of the state pension fund in Kentucky last year.
The public demanded for more transparency in the way investment proposals are solicited from fund managers, management fee charged, and banning of third party placement agents.
The argument against such proposal was fund manager would shy away than to disclose their fee and allow proprietary knowledge be made known to the public. Also, those getting state pension would not want their financial details be made known to the public. [Read Kentucky.com here]
The view that the inner mechanics of government is none of the public business was shared by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) in the hiring of consultants to undertake the consolidatation of 11 state agencies into five. [Read here].
If every other government decisions and operational matters need to get public approval or need prior feedback, there is no need to have elected representatives, select capable individuals to head the civil service and in the various structure of government.
Since public has entrusted that responsibility to their elected officials, civil servants and enforcement personnel, there is not need to divulge details and over scrutinise their judgement.
Tony Pua's expectation on Arul to give away the valuation of the unit of sovereign fund held at BSI could be seen in a similar vein. The entity responsible to investigate should be left to deal with the various issues. Making it public encourage discussion but it delays decisions, will not achieve the solution and only complicate matters.
In the private sector, the public right to know has it's limit. The level of disclosure and transparency ends at the point it involves company's proprietary knowledge, confidential information and when the interest of the company is at stake.
Under the Company Act, the only public disclosure requirement is the Audited Accounts. For publicly listed companies, there will be the Annual Report, Quarterly Report, and a bit more disclosure requirement by the Bursa to announced any market sensitive information.
There could be demand for more openness within companies to the staff in order to help them understand the company direction, and promote inclusiveness. The tricky bit is to keep information internal especially in this leaky digital information era [Read FP here].
In the event of some wrongdoing, it is companies' responsibility to report to the authorities and cooperate in the investigation. The enforcement authorities will have access to information, ability to investigate, to prosecute or not and the court to make the judgement.
The public should neither have access nor comment on the investigation for fear it will disrupt or influence investigation. The big publicity on SRC was an example. Three officials seek by investigator disappeared because of the big publicity.
Extensive negative publicity on 1MDB put pressure on investigator or could influence them to decide one way.
It is understandable to expect criticism and doubt on public institutions arising from the removal of certain high officials, investigation on leak seen to divert investigation and disbanding of Special Task Force. Taken also the trust deficit on government and public institution.
However, there are reasons for the existing limitation in transparency. Till there are amendment to the law and policy, that is the how things operate and the expected conduct.
In the meanwhile, the ruling party need to convince the public that there exist the collusion by politicians and public officials to topple the government. Otherwise, the argument that there should be limit to transparency will fall on deaf ears.
As for the doubting public, they should not "mudah lupa" (easily forget) but back their doubt by pursuing an agenda for more disclosure. Otherwise their concern is only politically motivated. Transparency, accountability and disclosure should pursued based on genuine concern and mere political manipulation.
The political motivation behind Tony Pua's statements can only be expected of politician. He is asking questions not for answers but doing public interrogation with changing goalpost. By right, he should appreciate that the current management of 1MDB headed by Arul is tasked to solve the problem of over gearing and mismatch cashflow than to get into political cat fight.
Tony Pua's allegation that the Cayman fund is missing is as close to openly doubting MACC's conclusion that the RM2.6 billion transfered into Dato Najib's private account is not linked to 1MDB.
As a member of PAC, he should not as he has the PAC platform to do so already. In the PAC session, he could pose the hard questions and enquire for the informations as no information could be withheld.
One could expect that questions and answer in the PAC are intentionally not shared with public as it is not the short easy soundbytes for political mileage.
Tony Pua has the advantage of access to reports like the Interim Auditor General report and the PAC sessions. Since the reports could not be made public, is he trying to disclose without being caught breaking the PAC rule?
Tony Pua's questioning may have the intention to make other accusations against 1MDB but are too afraid to do so.
For one, he may not have the proof to back the conspired allegations. His name turned up in a report of a Fullerton Hotel, Singapore meeting which was attended by Xavier Justo, Clara Rewcastle, and other conspirators on the 1MDB issue.
On Monday, Xavier Justo admitted guilty to charges of blackmailing and extortion. Say the wrong thing and Tony Pua may leave a clue that he has in possession illegally obtained information.
Tony Pua's latest antics is to cast doubt on the explanation given by Dato Rahman Dahlan on Petrosaudi. The argument is even if the investment was a bad decision, 1MDB got back their investment. No money disappeared but it was in fact profitable.
Tony Pua have come close to accuse the BSI account transfered to IPIC has no money in it. He will have to prove it or run the risk of being sued.
He cannot keep posing recycled questions with the hope Arul will erred. There is a system of law and order in Malaysia. It is does not adhere to the law of a jungle filled with monkeys and other wild animals.
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