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Monday, August 29, 2016

Why is affirmative action foundation Naam selling vanity car plates?


"Patriot", "Perfect", "NAAM"... these are some of the vanity plates in circulation today for which the Road Transport Department (RTD) has received criticism.
This is because the rights to sell these plates were traded away by the department, through direct negotiations, without the customary open tender process.
Following the outcry of the "Patriot" car registration numbers last year, the controversy of RTD's outsourcing of vanity plates has come up again.
Under the spotlight this time is Yayasan Naam's "NAAM" plate numbers, which some say is a repeat of the Patriot controversy.
Like the Patriot plates that were issued by RTD to Umno-linked Yayasan Patriot Negara Malaysia (YPN), the rights of the NAAM plates were also given to another politically-connected entity.
Yayasan Naam, or the National Affirmative Action Movement Foundation (Naam), was established on March 1, 2014, by Deputy Youth Minister and MIC leader M Saravanan, with the aim of uplifting the economic status and employment rate of Indian youths.
According to its website, Saravanan is the chairperson, and its six board of trustee members are:
1. Krishnan Letchumanan, former MIC Telok Kemang MP;
2. Selva Mookiah, former MIC legal counsel;
3. Mohamed Haniffa, Masha University executive chairperson;
4. Krishnan Maniam, Universiti Malaya’s Indian Studies Department associate professor;
5. Saseedharan Menon, lawyer; and
6. Madhu Marimuthu, chartered accountant.
A check with the Companies Commission showed that Naam is registered as a berhad or public limited company, consisting of two directors: Saravanan and Mathuraiveran Marimuthu, who is an MIC central working committee member.
Chili-hot controversy
Earlier in March, this foundation came under fire after receiving nearly RM20 million from the government for a chili planting programme that apparently did not result in as many sprouts of the hot-tasting vegetable as hoped for.
In lambasting Naam over the matter, DAP Serdang MP Ong Kian Ming questionedhow a foundation headed by a deputy minister, could receive government funding from a ministry, since it presented a conflict of interest.
And in just a few months later, this foundation is embroiled in another controversy, this time about the equally hot-tasting matter of car plate sales.
Naam paid RM1 million to RTD for the rights to the "NAAM" series of car plates, and then the foundation engaged Anan Motor, a private company, to sell it.
According to the company's website, these are the plates listed by their price in descending order: Platinum, Golden, Silver, Perdana, Exclusive, Demand.
The most expensive is "NAAM1”, which has a reserve price of RM500,000. The reserve price for numbers such as 2, 3, 4, 8, 9 is RM300,000, whereas 5, 6, 7, start at RM200,000.
As for the rest, most stand at RM500, but can also range up to RM65,000.
The proceeds are to be used in Naam's operating expenditure; the foundation to bear the cost of sales, if there is any.
Who runs Anan Motor?
Anan Motor is a sole proprietorship; the person-in-charge is Ananthan M Raman, who is the CEO in several companies under the Naza group. He recently set up Anan Motor for the purpose of selling the vanity plates.
Naam was awarded the rights after a formal application process to RTD, Ananthan told Malaysiakini when contacted.
"And like Yayasan Patriot... we paid RTD about RM1 million.
"It's based on an application with concrete reasons. The foundation has to explain why it is selling these car plates… (Only) on special occasions, RTD will approve," he said, adding that NAAM will bear the cost and profit from the sales.
The objective of selling these numbers is to get funds to run Yayasan Naam, said Ananthan, explaining that according to Naam's deal with the RTD, the rights to sell "NAAM" plates will expire by Dec 31, 2017, though the department can decide whether to extend it.
The company has received at least 50 requests from customers even though the bidding officially starts on Sept 1.
The website showed that a few Golden plates such as "NAAM11", "NAAM13", with reserve prices of RM65,000, have already been sold.
RTD confirms "NAAM" plates award
When contacted, RTD chief Nadzri Siron confirmed that Yayasan Naam was awarded the rights to sell the "NAAM" series car plates after it paid RM1 million.
"They paid RM1 million to RTD. They have to manage the numbers and their sale to the public," he said.
Asked what were the conditions set between RTD and NAAM, Nadzri said he needed to check the details before commenting.
"It depends on the request. The ministry will decide whether to approve or not," he said.
Old script, new actors
However, NAAM's vanity plate controversy is not an isolated case.
Last month, Perfect China Co Ltd was approved by RTD to raise funds for the Table Tennis Association of Malaysia (TTAM) by selling 100 limited "PERFECT" car plates.
It aimed to raise RM5 million to build a new clubhouse.
Last year, YPN also bought the rights to the "Patriot" vanity vehicle plate with RM1 million, in the name of promoting patriotism.
The ‘Patriot 1’ car number plate went for a sky-high bid of RM1,308,000, the most expensive number plate in the country to date.
Most YPN members are from one family and it is headed by Brig-Gen (Rtd) Husainay Hasim, who was Umno executive secretary when former prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was Umno president.
It had raised concerns that YPN which is run like a "family business" may involve "cronyism", leading to a number of opposition figures urging the Transport Ministry to retract the contract and urged MACC to probe the foundation.
A check with its website showed that YPN did organise the "Patriot cares"programme and "Towards 2020 Patriots" poster design competition, but jt is uncertain if YPN had organised other activities.
The Transport Ministry's outsourcing of vanity plates raised a series of concerns, as many questioned the conditions for approving such projects, why are there no open tenders, would it be another cash cow for cronies, and how can the public monitor these special issue plates award?

More so, it is highly inappropriate for any organisation that is headed by a deputy or full minister, to receive this kind of special dispensation from RTD in order to sell number plates that are 'unique' and possibly highly sought after, Ong toldMalaysiakini when contacted.
He pointed out this is especially a concern when such exemptions are not given to other non-politically aligned NGOs, which may want to use similar means to raise money for charity.

"What is next? Would an NGO, whose patron is the prime minister's wife, be allowed to sell number plates with the word PERMATA, the initiative which she founded, which focuses on children's education?" he asked.
Ong urged RTD to issue clear guidelines on who can apply for these special numbers and introduce best practices for the selling of these numbers so that it can get the best pricing for it.
"The existing practice of issuing these special numbers on an ad hoc basis that is not transparent opens up many avenues for arbitrary decision making and corruption," he said. -Mkini

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