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Thursday, July 29, 2010

PKA fiasco sparks calls for closer look at MCA under Soi Lek

Wong Choon Mei, Malaysia Chronicle

The transparency of MCA’s new leadership has been called into question by the actions of Transport Minister Kong Cho Ha, who a day ago compelled government agency Port Klang Authority to pay RM222.58 million to bondholders, even though the risk was high that taxpayers might never see their money again.

“This smacks of bad faith and not in line with all promises that the new leadership under Chua Soi Lek has made to resist corruption and work towards a cleaner Malaysia,” PKR strategic director Tian Chua toldMalaysia Chronicle.

“The question is whether Kong is working for the interest of the Ling Liong Sik clique, or is it that Umno has a hidden role and the instruction actually came all the way from Prime Minister Najib Razak. If that is the case, then we know why Tee Keat was removed.”

Back to square one

Tian was referring to Ong Tee Keat, the former MCA president, who was removed as Transport Minister after he lost the party's No. 1 post to Chua in special internal polls held earlier this year.

Never known for its transparency, MCA is now seen as backtracking into its dark era, where previous presidents were perceived to be totally under Umno’s thumb and interested only in amassing personal wealth and power. That impression - whether true or not - finally killed off the party’s popularity and it suffered its worst electoral performance in 2008.

Even this morning, PKA – the overseer of the failed RM12.5 billion Port Klang Free Zone project – had to call off its board meeting following Kong’s order to make payment on the bond. PKA directors had hoped to discuss whether or not they should pay Free Zone Capital, one of 4 special vehicles created to raise the RM4.6 billion debt for Kuala Dimensi in 2007.

PKA blames Kuala Dimensi for the PKFZ’s massive cost overruns that external auditors have warned could have been due to corruption. It is suing Kuala Dimensi for RM1.4 billion. Even Transparency International Malaysia president Paul Low has suggested that an escrow account be set up to hold the funds pending the outcome of ongoing litigation. Otherwise, PKA might not get its money back even if it wins its suits.

But Kuala Dimensi is controlled by influential Bintulu MP Tiong King Sing, whom many in the political circles regard as a “money bag” for the Umno elite.

“It looks like there is an agenda to let the culprits off the hook. The new Transport Minister has refused to continue investigations. This is dangerous because it will facilitate cover ups and I believe we can expect more bail-outs to come soon,” Tian said.

Former Transport Minister surprised at the move

Even Tee Keat has questioned why his colleagues made such a controversial decision. He threw cold water on the government’s argument that failure to pay bondholders would lead to adverse effects on the local bond market.

Tee Keat has in the past often blamed hidden hands for his downfall and even hinted he could be stripped of his Transport Minister’s post if he persisted with investigations into the PKFZ debacle.

The PKFZ is the Malaysian government's biggest port investment. It is also the biggest flop in a long list of failed or ailing government-projects that have been slammed by anti-corruption activists through the years. It began in the early 2000s at an original budget of RM1.8 billion, but has ballooned multiple folds due to glaring mismanagement and alleged graft.

“The payment that was due on June 30 last year; when it was deferred, we saw no crash. But, of course, ultimately after several days the PKA board was told to pay,” Malaysian Insider reported Tee Keat as revealing.

Calls for a closer look at the new MCA president

Past Transport Ministers Ling Liong Sik, also a former MCA president, and Chan Kong Chong, a former deputy MCA president, have been implicated in the project’s failure.

On the Umno side, several third-tiered leaders have been mentioned but many also blame former premier Mahathir Mohamad, his predecessor Abdullah Badawi and Badawi’s son-in-law Khairy Jamaluddin.

The irony is that Soi Lek, the scandal-plagued former Health Minister who took over from Tee Keat, had days ago berated a DAP councilor for allegedly using his boss's letterheads to get contracts amounting to more than RM1 million for his cronies.

Soi Lek insisted that Pakatan took immediate action to protect the people’s interest.

“This shows the hypocrisy in the BN. Soi Lek might think he can deflect attention from PKFZ by zooming in on the letterheads case. But not only is that case a sesame seed by comparison, I really question his intelligence, given his stature as a former minister,” PKR vice president Sivarasa Rasiah told Malaysia Chronicle.

“We would advise that he focuses his attention on the PKFZ and put taxpayers first rather than other people's letterheads. Especially since DAP and the Selangor state government had already announced investigations were ongoing. How can he not know that the audit procedure has to complete before any announcements can be made out of fairness to the accused?”

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