Malaysia's Speaker of Parliament has barred opposition lawmaker Tony Pua from grilling 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) boss Arul Kanda Kandasamy live on national television, insisting it would prejudice investigations into the troubled state investor by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), of which Mr Pua is a member.
Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia said in Parliament yesterday that Mr Pua "needs to resign from PAC or should abstain from hearings on 1MDB" if he wanted to question Mr Arul on TV, to avoid eroding PAC's credibility by playing both prosecutor and investigator.
Mr Pua, the Democratic Action Party's national publicity secretary, is a staunch critic of 1MDB, whose struggles with a RM42 billion (S$13.8 billion) debt pile has resulted in mounting calls for Prime Minister Najib Razak's resignation.
Mr Pandikar also said Mr Arul should abstain from being the main witness in the PAC probe - which will involve interviews with the 1MDB president and his two predecessors - if he were to debate Mr Pua. He warned that a live debate would be a breach of parliamentary standing orders involving ongoing investigations under a select committee.
"Considering that the issues which Pua and Arul wish to debate are still the subject of PAC's investigations, any statements or remarks they make during the debate can be considered premature," Mr Pandikar said.
READY TO RESIGN
If the government wants to proceed with the debate, I will not involve myself in this matter and I will step down as Speaker.
TAN SRI PANDIKAR AMIN MULIA, Malaysia's Speaker of Parliament, on his firm belief that his ruling is correct
However, he did not clarify if Mr Arul could face off against a different opponent, as proposed by the opposition, saying he "will not answer hypothetical questions".
Mr Pandikar threatened to resign his post if the debate went ahead. "If the government wants to proceed with the debate, I will not involve myself in this matter and I will step down as Speaker," he said.
Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak, who had offered to air the debate on state broadcaster RTM on Friday night, told The Straits Times "we can't do it without Arul, he is the CEO".
"In my view, there is no problem. We should be transparent. But the Speaker has made a ruling," said Datuk Seri Salleh, who himself was Speaker of the legislative assembly in his home state of Sabah until July.
Mr Pua responded that he had no choice but to abide by Mr Pandikar's ruling as the PAC probe was more important than a TV debate. But he said he saw no reason why he should be banned from the debate under Parliament's rules.
Following the Speaker's decision, PAC chairman Hasan Arifin said this meant that Mr Pua should also abstain from speaking about 1MDB outside of the panel's proceedings, a statement which the opposition said was "absurd".
"It appears to be just a matter of time before 1MDB joins the select group of subjects where mere criticism will be criminalised and construed as an act of sedition," said opposition stalwart Lim Kit Siang.