Caretaker PM can’t write off debts, say ex-MPs, Bersih chief

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Writing of hundreds of millions tantamount to ‘abusing state resources’ by using tax monies to ‘fish for votes’ among Felcra settlers and Risda smallholders.

Caretaker Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob does not have the power to write off debts amounting to hundreds of millions of ringgit owed by Felcra settlers, say former opposition MPs.

Earlier today, Ismail announced that Putrajaya had agreed in principle to waive some RM223.8 million in debts owed by Felcra settlers.

In a Bernama report, he said the cancellation of the Felcra settlers’ debts had to be brought to the Cabinet for approval, adding that he hoped this could be done after the 15th general election (GE15).

He also said the government will spend RM191 million on monsoon season aid for 232,319 Rubber Industry Smallholders Development Authority (Risda) smallholders, with each smallholder to receive some RM600 in November and December.

M Kula Segaran, who represented Ipoh Barat in the previous Parliament, pointed out that a caretaker prime minister cannot make policy decisions unless the Cabinet had approved them and Parliament had been notified before its dissolution.

“When he (Ismail) has done all these processes, then he can make these announcements,” the DAP vice-chairman told FMT.

“Otherwise, this is a corruptive act since he is inducing those who have got these benefits to vote for the government of the day,” added the former human resources minister.

Fahmi Fadzil, the former Lembah Pantai MP, echoed Kula’s comments that Ismail should not be making such announcements given his caretaker status.

He also pointed out that last Monday’s statement by Chief Secretary Zuki Ali clearly detailed the limited functions of a caretaker Cabinet.

After Parliament was dissolved last Monday, Zuki said the Cabinet did not have the powers to make any policy decisions. Instead, it could only continue to implement decisions already made before Parliament was dissolved.

Fahmi said Putrajaya must now provide some clarification on whether these policies for Felcra settlers and Risda smallholders had been decided upon before the dissolution of Parliament.

The PKR information chief also said it was key to ascertain the source of funds for these measures, adding that he was of the view that Ismail, who was seeking re-election in Bera, was abusing his position to canvas for votes.

He also urged the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) to clarify whether such announcements would be tantamount to bribery.

“I think MACC must explain its stand,” he said, adding that Ismail should desist from making further similar policy statements and announcements since he was not the “full prime minister” any longer.

Thomas Fann, the chairman of electoral reform group Bersih, said Ismail’s announcement was tantamount to “abusing state resources” by using tax monies to “fish for votes” among Felcra settlers and Risda smallholders.

“But sadly, the current laws do not criminalise the act of abusing state resources during elections. It is just unethical to have an advantage over the opposition who have no such resources,” he said.

He also said the chief secretary did not have any power to halt such practices.

Meanwhile, National Felda Settlers’ Children Association (Anak) adviser Mazlan Aliman brushed off Ismail’s announcements as “merely election promises and vote-buying rhetoric”.

He also said these allocations could not be channelled to the settlers and smallholders since Parliament had been dissolved.

“For me, Ismail has abused his power and MACC should investigate,” Mazlan said. – FMT