The new Finance Minister, Tengku Zafrul was appointed thanks to his lofty connections not because of his political experience, indeed he is not even an elected MP.
This week the inexperience told as he plunged into a deep political trap that might well have been laid by craftier operators than him. He shows no signs of clawing a way out.
It began in Parliament on Monday. Zafrul’s fellow PN coalition members have grown restless, seeking counter-accusations against those they turfed from office, in order to deflect from the mountains of charges of illegalities laid against themselves for past corruption and misdeeds.
Former Finance Minister, Lim Guan Eng, is their top target and has already become the butt of a swathe of corruption smears, police reports and now dubious charges.
So, on Monday afternoon, Zafrul took the bait to push the accusations further.
Ahmad Maslan MP (himself facing money laundering charges) set up the moment by archly questioning his senior colleague if any Direct Contracts (i.e. not subject to open tender) had been awarded under the PH government?
What an opportunity to show up the reformers who sought to enforce transparency and abolish the scourge of dirty ministerial backhanders – those so-called ‘negotiated’ direct contracts!
Smugly, Finance Minister Zafrul answered that indeed he could report (since he had clearly prepared for this question and reply) that no less than RM6.6 billion worth of Direct Contracts had been awarded across some 101 negotiated contracts during the short period PH held office before the backdoor coup.
Zafrul accused his predecessor Lim Guan Eng of having deceitfully signed them off in contravention of his proclaimed drive for open government.
Ooops – Cornered!
His followers were jubilant as Parliament erupted with heckling MPs. Later cyber-troopers crowed, why did not Sarawak Report expose the RM6.6 billion, instead of just hounding poor, convicted Najib Razak?
But soon the horror dawned. It was not for the likes of Sarawak Report to come up with the details as the former Finance Minister and his political colleagues pointed out, it was for Tengku Zafrul to publish his own report, which he clearly had not properly read himself.
Meanwhile, Lim Guan Eng published his own table of just 12 such ‘negotiated’ projects sponsored by the previous BN government that in total dwarfed his figures at the cost of a staggering RM139 billion!
By the following day. the former Prime Minister and Finance Minister were taunting Zafrul to publish his list in full.
They pointed out that almost 70% of the entire RM6.6 billion related to five so-called legacy projects that had actually been ‘Directly Negotiated’ by his own colleagues under the former BN government. Given they were so vastly inflated, PH had negotiated them down but were unable to discard the contracts owing to the lock-in clauses agreed to by BN!
The largest of these was Phase 2 of the Klang Valley double-tracking project which was signed up to on the last day of the BN government, awarding Dhaya Maju LTAT Sdn Bhd an astronomical RM5.265 billion, which PH pared down to RM4.475 billion.
“Zafrul should be praising the Harapan administration because we saved RM790 million in taxpayers’ money,” said Lim Guan Eng
Who Signed Off Those Contracts?
It then got even more awkward for Zafrul and his colleagues. Laying out his figures from his own administration, the former Finance Minister pointed out that most of the remaining expenditures also related to events that had taken place under the previous government, expenses that needed to be honoured.
Only 5.3 percent of the RM6.6 billion involved “new” directly awarded contracts undertaken by the Harapan government, amounting to RM352 million, Lim said, and half of that amount was for a new solid waste transfer station in Jinjang Utara.
It was not himself, the Finance Minister, who signed off that contract, but the leading PH defector and celebrated sidekick of the chief coup conspirator Azmin Ali, Zuraida Kamaruddin.
So, if there is blame to be levelled it points right back to PN which has clearly attracted the chief personalities who appear to have let the side down for the elected government in more ways than one!
“Perhaps it’s better for the minister, who has refuted claims of being involved in direct awards, to explain what happened,” suggested Lim Guan Eng.
Indeed. He then went on to explain most of the other list of directly awarded contracts, making the point that Harapan’s election pledge was never to do away entirely with direct contracts, which were needed in some specific circumstances such as those he had cited, but to conduct open tenders as widely as possible.
As the unravelling of Zafrul’s ‘masterstroke’ continued, Zuraida herself countered with a line from Najib’s own playbook. She had not known about the RM170 million contract signed off by her department, she said earlier today (having suggested only yesterday that she had been involved in no such contracts from her ministry):
“I would like to emphasise that the projects were approved without my knowledge.”
Oh dear. What more can one say?
Storm Clouds Gather
Faced with the inevitable, the shamed Finance Minister had little option but to release the details of the 101 projects and did so yesterday.
Reporters scoured the figures and doubtless the accused opposition leaders drummed their fingers as they waited for what would further be revealed. They would have known if Zafrul didn’t.
The second-largest figure on the list of covertly negotiated contracts soon leapt out. It was a fat RM270 million contract awarded to Datasonic Technologies Sdn Bhd (DTSB) to supply biodata chips used in Malaysian passports.
The company has only recently hit the headlines as its then CEO has been implicated as one of the crony insiders caught paying ‘donations’ to a bogus foundation run by the present UMNO leader Zahid Hamidi.
Abu Hanifah Noordin broke down in tears as he explained the alleged RM6 million backhander to Zahid, who used the millions ‘donated’ to the foundation on his personal expenses. He has since stepped down as CEO of the company, but not before that plum ‘direct contract’ was handed out under the PH government according to the figures presented by Zafrul.
The recent RM270 million contract under the PH government was also handed out by the Home Ministry, according to the data, meaning that in this case, it is Zahid’s successor who was responsible for the contract, none other than his predecessor as Deputy UMNO leader under Najib, the PH defector and present Prime Minister, Muhyiddin Yassin.
After Transport and Defence, Muhyiddin’s Home Affairs Department issued the highest expenditure on untendered contracts during the PH government.
So, does PN’s ‘PM8′ also find that he cannot remember approving all these contracts or is he willing to offer a full explanation as to why his department signed off a ‘negotiated’ contract with a known crony of the BN government who was already caught up in his predecessor’s corruption charges?
Zafrul started the week as the hero of his party, moving the spotlight on corruption of their own decades of misrule and on to the elected government with a reform agenda, which they turfed from office.
Has it all backfired and created even more question marks over a coalition led by charged and convicted crooks and headed by their former close friend and colleague who defected back to join them? – Sarawak Report