Wednesday, April 09, 2008

A Sea Of Whys

From TheSun, by R. Nadeswaran

Last year a former colleague who is now a partner in a public relations agency invited me to berbuka puasa with his clients – two senior officials from the Port Klang Free Trade Zone (PKFZ). It appeared strange because the hosts were non-Muslims. After all, they were the same people who refused to speak or respond to a series of articles published in this newspaper on to the biggest financial scandal – even bigger than the BMF scandal of the Eighties, which rocked the nation. During the holy month, they suddenly discovered the need to have a meal with me. My reply was curt and direct – save your money and spend it on orphans or some needy kids.

Two weeks ago, PKFZ was in the news again. This time the mentri besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim suggested that it be sold to the state government for a nominal RM1. Then a strange thing happened. On Friday, I received an e-mail from a stranger seeking my views on the PKFZ. I get scores of such mail every week seeking my views and advice on a wide variety of issues, but this one was different.

The writer identified herself as a consultant from another PR firm which has now got PKFZ on its clients’ list. She wanted my views of the disastrous project that is now costing taxpayers a whopping RM4.6 billion!

Since when did anyone in authority care about opinions? Was any opinion sought from anyone before the Port Klang Authority (LPK) bought the land at RM26 a sq ft when it was sold to a local co-operative at RM3 per sq ft? Was proper valuation done and was the opinion of the Attorney General’s Chambers sought before entering into such a transaction?

Did they consult anyone when they got the Immigration Department to march out a senior expatriate, seconded from the Abu Jabel Free Trade Zone on flimsy claims that he did not possess a valid work permit? Whom did they consult over the cost-overruns and the variation orders?

Was there any consultation before the Transport Ministry issued those letters which the developer used to raise money from banks? Those letters were guarantees of sorts by the government to the financing that the developer sought. Only the Treasury issues such letters after approval from the cabinet. If no consultation or views were necessary as a matter of procedure, do you think anyone cares about one scribe’s views? Or was it a fishing expedition to find how much more dope is going to make the front pages of theSun?

My guess is that people involved in the PKFZ are running helter-skelter in the hope that the ghost which haunted them for the latter part of last year will not be resurrected by TheSun, especially with a new minister who brooks no nonsense. Already, news is out that PKFZ will get a new chairman, but what puzzles everyone is the fact that it will become a white elephant.

As theSun reported yesterday, the term of Datuk O.C. Phang, the general manager of the Port Klang Authority will not be extended for a fourth time. This means she will also have to relinquish her post as chairman of the PKFZ.

Despite assurances in the past by all and sundry that "we have foreigners lining up to set up shop" it is not the case. An advertisement in The Star on Monday (apparently instructions have gone out that PKFZ does not advertise in this newspaper) tells us the stark truth.

Among others, the ad says there is 500,000 sq ft of lettable commercial space, 640 acres "prepared industrial land" with ready infrastructure (whatever that means) and 512 light industrial units. These facts in print are testimony that it not all rosy at the PKFZ.

Since there are no facts or figures as to its current occupancy or its revenues, the traffic to and from that area suggests that there are more PKFZ staff and customs officers than those who are operating out of there.

So, what can the successor to Phang achieve? But before that, who is going to be held responsible for colossal losses? Who will be held for approving all kinds of projects so much so the original cost of about RM1 billion has more than quadrupled.

No one expects a witch-hunt, but let the truth be told. Transport Minister Datuk Ong Tee Keat has made no secret that he is a man who believes in good governance – accountability and transparency at all levels.

He is already on record saying that he will reveal how the RM4.6 billion soft loan was spent. "I wish to inform the rakyat of the true situation – whether it was actually squandered, not squandered, where it has gone to as well as the breakdown of the budget," The Star quoted him as saying.

But can he tell us if the best principles of open tenders, evaluation committees and cost controls were in place or if one person made all the decisions without consultation? Who establishes if the right price was paid for the job or if prices were inflated to enrich a few? How will we know if erasers and pencils were not bought at RM500 a dozen or screw drivers for RM1,000 each? Will heads roll? Will the ACA ask those whose hands are soiled to declare their assets and those of family members or will be a case of tutup satu mata?

Can we expect a complete scrutiny of the books including contracts and non-security sensitive information be placed in the public domain? An interesting point to note is that the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee had already started an inquiry into the affairs of PKFZ but it came to an abrupt end when Parliament was dissolved on Feb 13.

With Phang’s departure, the new man, or woman, is inheriting a project which has been besieged with the problems. Despite attending seminars and exhibitions overseas (on taxpayers’ money) to "sell" the PKFZ, response has been poor. Hence, there is a need for advertisements in local newspapers to attract factories to set up shop, even at severely discounted prices.

What stands on what was part of Pulau Lumut is a monument to the excesses of those in power who couldn’t care less for anyone’s views including those of senior government officials.

By the way, will the views of an ordinary guy who earns his keep by practising journalism make any difference or were the PR people expecting that we are mind readers and tell them (and their clients) on the dangers that lie pitfalls ahead?

R. Nadeswaran argues that no stone should be left unturned to get to the bottom as to how costs of the PKFZ ballooned from just over RM1 billion to RMRM5.6 billion. He can be reached at:
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sickening just to read this...there seems to be so much rot in the system.

9:41 PM GMT+8  
Blogger DIASPORA said...

An independant Judicial Commission should be appointed to delve deeply into this issue which just seems not to go away.

Were top Politicians from a certain political part only involved in this scam? What are the aspects that are being hidden from the Rakyat.

The Transport Minister is apparently going to give his version shortly of the story believed to be facts for the consumption of the Rakyat who will be expected by MCA to accept the story hook, line and sinker.

Let us see if the issue will ever go away. There is too much Public Funds involved to let the matter be thrown into the dustbin of history.

11:22 PM GMT+8  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Instead of protesting in the street over pigs and other silly things,this scandle with such a colossal loss of several billions should be protested.

12:23 AM GMT+8  
Anonymous SM said...

Get those who have been involved on this scandal.
The Govt.& PM has yet to admit to it!
If there is an Independant JC formed, let's hope that it's really independant!
Look what has happened to the Lingam RC's report?!

4:08 PM GMT+8  
Anonymous True Grit said...

All the talking is useless unless mahatir and Diam are put in jail first.
If they are just free rumbling at the top of their voice, what is the use of trying to convince the people anti-this and anti-that???
Everytime AAB or anybody open his mouht anti... it is just a slap in the face; where is the will???
Get down to action first!

12:46 AM GMT+8  

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