A witness from a company which also bid for the project but lost claims BUCG enjoyed an advantage over competitors when bidding for the four Penang mega projects.
Lim Guan Eng’s former personal assistant today told the Sessions Court that he (Lim) had at least five meetings with a particular businessman in the past.
Farida Hani Yacob, said the meetings were held at Lim’ office in Komtar before the businessman’s company was awarded the RM6.34 billion Penang undersea tunnel project.
The businessman concerned was Beijing Urban Construction Group (BUCG) managing director Datuk Zarul Ahmad Mohd Zulkifli.
Lim’s corruption trial today started with Farida taking the stand as the sixth prosecution witness.
The 47-year-old said she started working as Lim’s personal assistant from 2009 until 2018 and got to know Zarul in the course of her work.
She said that Zarul had attended at least five meetings in Lim’s office in Komtar but she could not remember the dates.
Meanwhile, another witness from a company which also bid for the project but lost, said though marginal, BUCG still enjoyed an advantage over competitors when bidding for the four Penang mega projects in 2011.
WCT Bhd general manager Ooi Tok Thian, said this was because BUCG was allowed to be present in at least three meetings with the state government discussing the scope of the project even before it was offered through an open tender.
Testifying as the prosecution’s seventh witness in Lim’s trial, he said despite information within these meetings being general and not including project specifications, BUCG’s involvement itself could be deemed as having the upper hand considering how they later tendered the winning proposals for the project.
Ooi said this after he was shown minutes of the meeting between BUCG and Penang state officials during examination in chief by Deputy Public Prosecutor Francine Cheryl Rajendram.
Francine: Based on what you read, is the involvement of BUCG in these meetings and preparation of documents concerning the request for proposal (RFP) with the state government an added advantage to them?
Francine: Can you please explain why.
Ooi: Because of the first-hand information that they would get, and in addition, they are working on it before the RFP was issued and before they called the public for participation.
BUCG is one half of the Consortium Zenith BUCG joint venture that was subsequently awarded the RM6.341 billion project to build three roads and the undersea tunnel in Penang.
Ooi was later subjected to a barrage of questions from Lim’s lead counsel Gobind Singh Deo who tried to get the witness to agree that there was nothing to be gained from the three meetings which were held.
Ooi also explained how WCT had tendered for the project through its joint venture with Korean construction conglomerate Daewoo Group and had passed the pre-qualification marks set by the state government.
He said the tender was submitted after the company got to know about the project through an advertisement which had been placed by the state government.
Ooi said Daewoo had vast experience in the construction industry and had also constructed the 8.3km Busan Geoje bridge tunnel which connects the South Korean city of Busan to Geoje Island.
He said the company only prepared its bid based on information provided in the RFP documents.
Despite the repeated bombardment of questions by Gobind towards Ooi, to the point even that judge Azura Alwi had to interject to ask Gobind to slow down, the WCT employee maintained that there was some form of upper hand enjoyed by the Chinese developers.
He agreed, however, that topics discussed as recorded within the meeting minutes were on general topics about the mega project and did not go into the actual specifications of the project.
Gobind: Your evidence that, yes, they (BUCG) were at meetings, but these meetings involved general discussions, no specifications were discussed, meaning they were not at much of an advantage, you agree?
Ooi: Not really, because they knew there is the intention by the state government to carry out this scope of work, they have the advanced information, and would know the intentions of the state government and the proposed project area.
Gobind: But these are general discussions, something like the state government saying “this is what we are thinking about doing and hope we can do it, and BUCG, because of their previous Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), are to give their ideas on how the RFP document is shaped, agree?
Gobind: These minutes don’t go into details about the specifications which are in the RFP, agree?
Gobind: Looking at those documents and information on it alone, could you build the roads and tunnel just from these documents?
Gobind then suggested to Ooi that given his previous answer, BUCG could not have had a significant advantage in the tendering process, given their involvement in only three meetings, all of which could be seen as them honouring their existing MoU with the state administrators, to which the witness disagreed.
Gobind: If there were no details given, then your analysis that there was an advantage falls to the ground, standing on these documents along?
Ooi: There were still discussions and input from the state government
Gobind: But in this document, they just speak on the need to have meetings and conduct a survey. These were only discussions, and you yourself don’t know if there were actually meetings and a survey was done?
Gobind: So if all of that was not done and these meetings are just about the project scope and left at that, how do they have an advantage?
Ooi: Having discussions on the scope itself there is already an advantage.
Gobind: Can you tell me where there are specifications that would allow you to know details to build the roads and the tunnel?
Ooi: From the location of the project, you can know roughly the alignment of the project proposed tunnel.
To a question from DPP Wan Shahruddin Wan Ladin, Ooi said after the RFP was completed, BUCG was given 93 marks to win the project while WCT Daewoo only managed to get 59 points.
He also noted that state government officials had never visited Daewoo’s project in Korea, unlike a state delegation which had visited China on BUCG’s invitation.
Lim is facing four charges in relation to the undersea tunnel project. He is accused of soliciting a 10 percent cut in profits from the project from Zarul.
He is also accused of seeking RM3.3 million in kickbacks to appoint Zarul’s company to undertake the project, and another two charges of dishonestly misappropriating RM208.7 million worth of state land to two companies.
The trial before judge Azura continues tomorrow.