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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Pakatan leaders: Ling a scapegoat for top Umno leaders


Wong Choon Mei, Malaysia Chronicle

Pakatan Rakyat leaders led by Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim slammed the government’s handling of the Port Klang Free Zone financial debacle, saying it reeked of “cover-ups” at every stage until now when it has gone out of control, former Transport Minister Ling Liong Sik had to be made the scapegoat.

“In this country, the rich can do anything. They can even murder someone and get away with it,” Anwar told a ceramah or political lecture in Bagan Serai.

“Every time we bring up the issue, we were labeled anti-nationalists. And now since they cannot deny it anymore, they have charged Ling Liong Sik.”

Indeed, while Ling has often been accused of corruption throughout his 17-year career as Transport Minister, few believe he can be the mastermind behind the fabulous wastage in the project where external auditors have minced no words in pointing to huge mismanagement and high-level government corruption.

“Face it, the numbers are just too large. Given the power-sharing system in the BN, it is highly unlikely that the Umno elite were not directly involved," PAS MP for Shah Alam Khalid Samad told Malaysia Chronicle.

"This is not to say Ling is not involved, whether he is guilty or not depends on the court. But definitely, there are other BN big fishes involved."

A web of deceit and corruption

The PKFZ is the government’s largest port investment and was mooted in the mid 1990s but only took shape in the early 2000s. A budget of RM1.9 billion was allocated but it has jumped multiple folds due to massive cost overruns. Auditors have warned if a RM4.6 bond raised in 2007 is not revamped, the final bill to taxpayers may hit RM12.5 billion.

Ling was arrested on Thursday and charged with cheating the government by misleading the Cabinet on the land valuation for the PKFZ project. He has pleaded not guilty.

At a parliamentary Public Accounts Committee inquiry held last year, both he and the secretary-general of the Transport Ministry Zaharah Shaari had said the Cabinet was properly apprised of the differing sets of land valuation and it was former premier Mahathir Mohamad who made the final decision.

Ling resigned in early 2003 ahead of Mahathir’s own resignation later that same year. The project was continued by Chan Kong Choy, the former deputy MCA president who took over the Transport portfolio, and former premier Abdullah Badawi, who had succeeded Mahathir.

Neither Mahathir nor Abdullah have made any comments despite's Ling's long-service record in the government.

Although, Umno watchers have told Malaysia Chronicle that more high-profile arrests will be coming in the next few days, few Malaysians believe Prime Minister Najib Razak would really carry out a serious clean-up.

“Najib may have too many skeletons in his own closet and Ling is aware of this. It is hard to believe anything will result from the arrest, because if there are more, there may be a backlash and No. 1 could end up finding himself also convicted,” said Khalid.

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