Thursday, December 17, 2009

MACC can question witnesses after office hours

PUTRAJAYA: The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) can interrogate witnesses beyond office hours, the Court of Appeal ruled on Thursday.

Court of Appeal Judge Justice Hasan Lah, who sat together with judges Justice Ahmad Maarop and Justice Syed Ahmad Helmy Syed Ahmad, said the decision was unanimous.

Last month, High Court judge Justice Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof had declared in a landmark ruling that witnesses could only be questioned by MACC from 8.30am to 5.30pm each day.

The ruling was made following a lawsuit brought by Kajang municipal councillor Tan Boon Wah challenging MACC's interrogation procedures.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Health Minister’s wife at MACC, statement on car gift

PUTRAJAYA, Dec 15 — The Health Minister’s wife, Datin Seri Lee Su Loo, came to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) headquarters here today to give her statement over the gift of a RM600,000 car for her, allegedly from a company.

It is understood that Lee arrived at the MACC office at about 10am and left four hours later.

MACC director of investigations Datuk Mohd Shukri Abdull, when contacted, confirmed the matter but declined to elaborate.

A letter published on the Internet on Oct 14 alleged that Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai had given his wife a Toyota Alphard that cost almost RM600,000 as a birthday present in January.

According to the letter, the car was sponsored by a company which won tenders for the ministry’s projects. — Bernama

Najib failed to walk the talk on Chinese schools

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 15 — It was pointless for Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to sing praises of independent Chinese schools if he’s not backing it up with concrete action, DAP stalwart Lim Kit Siang said today.

Lim told a press conference in Parliament that while Najib proudly declared the independently-financed schools as “national assets”, he has not indicated the federal government’s willingness to “institutionalise support” for them.

The Ipoh Timur MP also said Najib was silent when it comes to recognising the United Examination Certificate, the independent schools’ version of the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia examinations used for government schools.

Najib made the statement at the Chong Hwa Independent High School’s 90th anniversary dinner last night. It was given front page coverage by the Chinese press today.

“There was neither announcement of recognition of the Unified Examination Certificate which is recognised by reputable universities worldwide or concrete institutionalise government support and funding for the 60 Chinese independent schools (nationwide),” commented Lim on Najib’s statement.

“It will be most regrettable if all this is just for propaganda to score political points without any political will to translate them into government policies and practices,” added the Ipoh Timur MP.

The opposition, especially the DAP, have long decried the lack of support by the government towards independent schools and many of them believe the reasons behind it are racist and political.

Independent Chinese schools on the other hand have been accused by the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN) of being breeding grounds for the opposition but the government denies neglecting them.

Pakatan tones down electoral reforms

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 15 — Pakatan Rakyat (PR) has backtracked on its commitment to electoral reforms as the coalition of three parties tried to seal an agreement on a common policy framework.

The Malaysian Insider understands that the policy framework scheduled to be launched at the PR national convention this weekend will make no commitment to restore local elections, but will merely declare its intention to “strengthen local democracy.”

Such a choice of words was made to appease party leaders who are critical of local government elections and to allow the coalition more options to handle the matter.

According to PR insiders familiar with the policy framework, opposition to local elections by party leaders is not new.

“Some party leaders believe that having local elections will make councillors dependent on the party machinery,” said a PR official who spoke on condition on anonymity.

The opponents of local elections in the federal opposition are also concerned with the “racial composition in major towns”, the administration centre of most local councils.

However, another PR leader denied that the coalition has dropped its commitment to restore the third vote arguing that the framework is merely a blueprint on how PR should move forward and details of policy implementations are not necessary at this point.

“Basically it is a commitment on issues by the three parties, once it has been endorsed, we will come out with the mechanism, on how to handle them,” a PR leader told The Malaysian Insider.

“There is no question of our commitment to local elections... it is a matter of semantics, it is about how we are saying it,” he added.

Since the suspension of local elections in the 1960s, councillors are appointed directly by the state government and this has since turned into a political reward for ruling party officials.

The restoration of local elections is one of the demands made by electoral reforms coalition, Bersih, which PR parties are part of.

In November 2007, the group organised the largest street demonstration in the city in a decade, mobilising some 60,000 protesters to demand for free and fair elections.

The coalition’s effort in mobilising support contributed to Barisan Nasional’s (BN) worst electoral performance in Election 2008, which was held just four months later.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

PAC says rail project badly-managed

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 9 — The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has found no embezzlement in the double-tracking project, saying bad management has led to cost over-runs of RM1.14 billion.

The cost over-runs came from variation orders (VO) for the turnkey project without the approval from the Treasury.

“We have called up representatives from Transport Ministry, KTM, consultants including contractors that implemented the project. Our focus from PAC was to why there was a cost overrun of RM1.14 billion or 32.9 per cent higher than the original value of the project just reported in the AG report,”PAC chairman Datuk Azmi Khalid told reporters.

“Based on our findings, the PAC could not detect any misappropriation this time, although this project involves a double tracking project, implementation was not tidy and issues that will be raised to the government is to improve the standard operation procedures, complete the checklist properly, and look to whether the design and build could still be used or not,” he told reporters during a press conference in parliament.

According to this year’s audit report, the government may have to bear part of the RM1.14 billion loss in the RM6 billion double-tracking rail contract between Rawang and Ipoh, as the project was poorly managed.

He added that there were weaknesses in all levels of management in the project.

“The most obvious weakness was the delay in acquiring and utilisation of land. The problem was decision from the city halls which required deliberation and approvals. This has caused the project to be delayed which led to the increase in cost,” he said.

Azmi pointed out that the poor planning has incurred the project with unexpected costs.

“This project has two phases, infrastructure and system. The two have to be planned before hand but what happened was that the two was not planned before hand.

“Again there were requirements that were not seen in the earlier part because when you introduce new items it will cost more money. Delayed contracts also cost money to the contractors and suppliers. So there is money everywhere,” he said.

He also revealed that the VO in the double-tracking had cost RM588 million.

“We found that there was a VO of about RM588 million that was approved but not paid by the government and that also caused delay. The contractors have done their work but not yet paid,” he said.

The Rawang to Ipoh (southern) double-tracking and electrification project was completed in 2008, while the Ipoh to Padang Besar portion was proposed in 2002 as a continuation of the existing tracks.

In 2003, former Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi announced that the government had decided to postpone the project, which drew heavy criticism from his predecessor Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

However, the project was revived when then Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak announced that the Cabinet Committee on Public Transport had decided to revive the shelved northern section double-tracking project in 2007.

The Rawang to Ipoh (southern) double-tracking and electrification project was completed in 2008 while the Ipoh to Padang Besar portion was proposed in 2002 as a continuation of the existing tracks.

The project was awarded to Gamuda Berhad and MMC Corporation Berhad. The major stakeholders of Gamuda and MMC are Raja Datuk Seri Eleena Sultan Azlan Shah and Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary respectively

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Nazri finds another backer in tiff with Dr M

PETALING JAYA, Dec 8 — Gerakan President Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon has supported Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz’s stand that the National Civics Bureau (BTN) should be revamped to be in accordance with the spirit and principles of 1 Malaysia.

Koh who is also the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of Unity and Performance Management, came forward to defend his colleague Nazri.

“The prime minister is aware and this (revamps) was discussed,” he said.

Koh said the thrust of 1 Malaysia as enunciated by the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak encompasses acceptance and appreciation of diversity.

“The principle of nationhood according to our constitution and Rukun Negara, as well as justice and fairness for all.

“As 1 Malaysia is clearly all-inclusive, there is no room for any form of racism, extremism and hatred,” said Koh in a statement released today.

He added this principle should be the basis for the training programme to guide the attitude and behaviour of all members of the civil service and university students.

Surprised by the remarks from the Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Koh said that the former prime minister may not be aware of the latest slant in the BTN courses.

Koh himself participated in one such course with other political and corporate leaders in the mid-90s, presided personally by Dr Mahathir.

“The content of the courses emphasised on unity and understanding as well as the need to handle all issues with great care and sensitivity.

“However, recent feedback from participants since last year showed that the BTN course has diverted from its earlier version.

“Participants, including JPA scholars, felt very upset and disheartened,” he said and added that the need to revamp is based on such feedback.

The BTN runs compulsory courses for civil servants and undergraduates and has been accused of promoting hatred and racism by Pakatan Rakyat (PR) leaders.

The PR-led Selangor government recently imposed a ban on its civil servants and students within its state-run educational institutions from attending BTN courses, while Penang — another PR- governed state — is said to be considering similar action.

But the hawks in Umno, through Malay-based dailies like Berita Harian and Utusan Malaysia, have moved to defend BTN and attacked its critics as “traitors” who are trying to politicise the issue.

On Sunday Mingguan Malaysia urged the government not to “bow down” to the opposition on BTN.

Nazri had said that BTN training modules would be revamped to better reflect the 1 Malaysia concept introduced by Najib.

However, Dr Mahathir has been defending the BTN courses, saying that the criticism against them has been exaggerated.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Negri MB’s RM10m tip of hot money iceberg

KUALA LUMPUR Dec 4 — When aides to the Negri Sembilan mentri besar sent RM10 million to London via a money changer recently, they were just following in the footsteps of many who have sought the hawala system to move ill-gotten gains and wealth to more secure locations.

Apart from flouting exchange laws and possibly the Anti-Money Laundering Act, the trail of money outside the country betrays a lack of confidence in the future of Malaysia as they are basically transferring funds outside the country through underground channels.

Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) is unlikely to charge any of them because the list contains a number of prominent Malaysians, including top businessmen, chiefs of some government-linked companies (GLCs), politicians and several ordinary people either sending money for their children's needs abroad or just plain distrustful of Malaysia's future.

And the list is too long as BNM has discovered that these well-heeled tycoons, cutting across all racial lines, and the rest have been using the network of Indian-Muslim money changers across the world to remit millions of ringgit every month to offshore accounts.

The only thing BNM has done is to cancel the licences of the money changers, with some 40 licences taken back this year.

The case came out in the open when Batu MP Chua Tian Chang revealed that Negri Sembilan MB Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan had used Salamath Ali money changers in KLCC Suria to send RM10 million to London. The money changer lost its licence and its shoplot is now closed, ostensibly for renovations.

Several Indian-Muslim money changers and opposition leaders say Mohamad's transfer is just one of many transacted daily to move millions of ringgit to "safe havens" abroad, potentially depriving the nation of capital and breaking local laws in the process.

Chua, who is also PKR strategy chief, told The Malaysian Insider he has access to a list of high-profile personalities who used the money changer transfer services, also known as hawala as practised in India.

He claimed among them is a senior minister's wife who allegedly had money transferred to her overseas and a major GLC chief who apparently moved £3.2 million (RM18 million) worth of funds to London.

But Chua said that he will not reveal the names until he is "absolutely sure".

“This is only the tip of the iceberg," Chua said. "Millions of dollars are going out and I think it is affecting the economy."

Money changers say however that authorities should not focus on the hawala system but rather on why some politicians have access to so much money and moving it abroad.

"We are just doing a service and the commission is very little," said a prominent money changer in central Kuala Lumpur.

Others added that it will be difficult to prove that the money has moved as transactions are in cash and politicians will not appear in person at the money changer but send runners to do the deed.

In Mohamad's case, he blamed the RM10 million transfer on an aide who chose Salamath Ali Money Changer, which later had its licence revoked on Oct 26 for contravening Section 30 of the Money-Changing Act 1998 which states that no licensee may remit or transfer funds outside Malaysia.

The hawala system has been described as a "subsystem" of the conventional banking system. It is run on trust where money given to a money changer in one country will be paid out by a money changer in another with just one phone call.

This network of money changers will settle outstanding debts later using coded chits or notes via their own clearinghouse system which could involve contra of funds, exchange of jewellery or even runners moving bags of cash.

The use of hawala in Malaysia grew after capital controls were imposed in the wake of the 1998 Asian financial crisis where the movement of large sums of money to locations outside Malaysia required Bank Negara's approval.

Some individuals also prefer it as it is cheaper and faster than using conventional banks and leaves no trail.

The United Nations had promised to eradicate hawala as a potential conduit for financing global terrorism and crime and Bank Negara has been quietly working to ensure the integrity of the local banking system particularly the independent money changing system.

In April this year, Bank Negara revoked the licences of 19 money changers and another 20, including Salamath, in October.

The list of money changers whose licences have been revoked can be found here.
- MalaysianInsider