KUALA LUMPUR - A key watchdog committee in Malaysia's Parliament is in turmoil after several members resigned to protest a decision by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to retain a lawmaker as its chairman after he defected from Umno to a Pakatan Harapan (PH) party.
PH, which came to power 10 months ago, had promised in its election manifesto that the chairman of the bipartisan Public Accounts Commitee (PAC) would be an opposition MP, to ensure all government spending will be probed without fear.
Datuk Ronald Kiandee, who was from Umno, quit the opposition party in December.
He recently defected to Tun Mahathir's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, one of the four PH parties.
PM Mahathir, instead of asking Mr Kiandee to step down and replacing him with an opposition MP, has insisted that the lawmaker could remain in his PAC post for the time being.
"It's alright. If they want to resign, they can do so. It's their own business," Tun Mahathir told reporters on Monday (March 25), when told about the resignations.
Dr Mahathir said on Saturday, when asked why Mr Kiandee was staying on as PAC chief: "This is not a legal matter, it is a promise made by Pakatan Harapan. We can do it anytime (to drop him), we will stick to our promise.
"It is not necessary the moment something happens you drop everything."
The watchdog committee, which has the right to call for probes into any government spending, had 12 members.
Eight were from ruling alliance PH, and the rest from opposition parties - two from Barisan Nasional (BN), and one each from Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) and Sarawak's Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu.
PAC chairman Mr Kiandee was from Umno, a member of the BN opposition coalition.
PH lawmaker Nurul Izzah Anwar, who is from Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), quit PAC on Saturday (March 23) to protest against Dr Mahathir's decision.
On Monday (March 25), the two BN lawmakers in the PAC quit together with the PAS representative.
"We will not remain in the PAC until the government gives the chairman position to the opposition," Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri, the official parliamentary opposition leader, told a news conference.
"The whole point of appointing a chairman from the opposition is so that there is a more effective check and balance," he said.
The PAC chairman was always from BN, when it was Malaysia's governing coalition.
The PAC controversy added to accusations by critics that the Mahathir-led PH administration has been slow to fulfill its election promises.