Penang govt shocked at payment of RM22m to Datuk Seri to cover-up alleged corruption in undersea tunnel project.


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Mystery Datuk Seri in RM19m probe 

 

Under remand: MACC officers escorting the Datuk Seri away after obtaining a six-day remand order from the magistrate’s court in Putrajaya – Mohd Sahar Misni/The Star

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GEORGE TOWN: The Penang state government is shocked at claims that RM22mil was paid to two individuals to cover up investigations into alleged corruption in Penang’s undersea tunnel project – and wants the developer consortium Zenith Construction Sdn Bhd (CZC) to come clean on the matter.

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said the state government was shocked by news that CZC allegedly paid RM19mil to an unnamed businessman and RM3mil to Baling MP Datuk Seri Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim.

“This is something we had no knowledge of,” he said.

Lim was referring to the remand of a high-profile “Datuk Seri” for allegedly receiving RM19mil to close the corruption probe into the controversial RM6.34bil Penang undersea tunnel project.

An online news portal, quoting sources, has also reported that CZC has issued a demand letter on Feb 24 to Abdul Azeez.

The portal also reported that CZC was planning to sue Abdul Azeez and the businessman for allegedly failing to execute their tasks. – The Star

Related stories:

 Accounts frozen, house and cars seized

Pricey seizure: The luxury vehicles,
(clockwise from top left) a Toyota Vellfire, a Mercedes-Benz, a Land
Rover and a Hyundai Starex, seized from the Datuk Seri.

 

Abdul Azeez: I’m a victim of name-dropping – Nation

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Malaysia to end cronyism?


https://youtu.be/vmqElJnDURI

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KUALA LUMPUR: The Government has vowed to end “crony capitalists” whose wealth came at the cost of ordinary Malaysians, said Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

The Prime Minister said lessons had been learnt from past mistakes in planning Malaysia’s economic transformation, after confronting many “legacy issues” along the way.

“Some of the country’s development under a former leader came with an unnecessary price tag, in the form of a class of crony capitalists,” he said in his keynote address at Invest Malaysia 2018 yesterday.

Citing public transport as an example, Najib said massive overhauls had to be done to rectify the issue.

“For decades, public transport was neglected. It was incoherent, with different owners, different systems and certainly no integration

“One man’s obsession with the idea of a national car – which is now being turned around under international joint ownership – led to Malaysia lacking an efficient public transport system.

“This was a serious obstacle to achieve high-income status and for Kuala Lumpur to be a world-class capital,” he said.

Although no name was mentioned throughout his speech, it was an apparent dig at former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Najib also said that during this time, the Government had signed independent power producer concessions that were lopsided.

“Consumers had to pay far more for energy than they should have, even for energy they were not using.

“This was a real burden to the people, so we renegotiated these concessions – and determined that in the future, we would not allow private companies to earn excessively at the expense of ordinary Malaysians,” he said.

Najib also pointed out that the ringgit had been pegged against the US dollar for “far too long”.

“Investors and global markets lost confidence in us, and it took a long time to win that back. That was a very heavy cost to the country,” he said, stressing that the Government would never repeat that measure.

He also spoke on the challenges at state-owned institutions, such as 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), which were amplified and used as a tool to suggest that Malaysia’s economy was collapsing.

“I’m not going to brush over this issue. There were indeed failings at the company, there were lapses of governance. There was a valid cause for concern.

“This is why I ordered one of the most comprehensive and detailed investigations in Malaysia’s corporate history, one that involved multiple lawful authorities, including a bipartisan parliamentary body.

“Their findings were taken on board and the company’s board was dissolved, its management team changed and its operations reviewed,” he said.

On another note, Najib rubbished claims that Malaysia was welcoming foreign direct investments (FDIs) by selling out the nation’s sovereignty.

“My Government will never sacrifice an inch of our sovereignty,” he said, adding that while RM63bil in FDI stock came from China and Hong Kong, there was more from Japan at RM70bil.

“You don’t hear anyone warning that we are selling our country to the Japanese.

“Of course not. They are most welcome here. So are investors from Africa, the Americas, China, the European Union, India, Saudi Arabia and around the world,” he said.

Malaysia continues to improve in three key areas

Moving forward: Najib attending the Invest Malaysia 2018 launch together with (from left) Bursa Malaysia Bhd CEO Datuk Seri Tajuddin Atan, Treasury secretary-general Tan Sri Dr Mohd Irwan Serigar Abdullah, Chief Secretary Tan Sri Dr Ali Hamsa, Finance Minister II Datuk Seri Johari Abdul Ghani, Bursa Malaysia chairman Tan Sri Amirsham Abdul Aziz and Malayan Banking Bhd chairman Datuk Mohaiyani Shamsudin in Kuala Lumpur.

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia will continue to develop three key areas – transparency, accountability and efficiency – to attract more investments, said Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

The Prime Minister observed that the country’s excellent economic and financial fundamentals had greatly benefitted local and foreign investors, providing them with stability, strength and certainty.

“We will continue to make our country even more business- and market-friendly, which means we are always working to improve transparency, accountability and efficiency.

“The Securities Commission, Bursa Malaysia, Bank Negara Malaysia and the Finance Ministry have continuously introduced and supported measures to increase the dynamism of our capital market.

“Towards this objective, I can assure you that we can expect further measures in the near future,” he said in his keynote address at Invest Malaysia 2018 here yesterday.

The two-day annual event is jointly organised by Bursa Malaysia Bhd and Maybank. A total of 61 local companies, with a combined market capitalisation of RM767.6bil were featured in the event.

The Prime Minister also cited figures that justified the confidence in Malaysia shown by investors and global institutions.

“Our total trade grew strongly by 20.8% between January and November last year, while in November alone, gross exports reached double-digit growth of 14.4%, with the highest receipts ever recorded, at RM83.5bil.

“Last year, foreign net fund inflow recorded a positive RM10.8bil, the highest since 2012, while corporate bond and new sukuk issuance reached RM111.2bil for 11 months of the year, close to 30% higher than the whole of 2016,” he said.

Najib also observed that Malaysia has enjoyed years of strong growth, with figures that most developed economies “could only dream of”, even during times of economic uncertainty.

“In fact, last year Malaysia exceeded all expectations, with the World Bank having to revise its estimate for our growth upwards not once, not twice, but three times – to 5.8%,” he said.

Najib added the World Economic Global Competitiveness index for 2017 and 2018 rate Malaysia very highly out of 137 countries.

The country is ranked third for Strength of Investor Protection, fifth for Pay and Productivity, fifth for the low Burden of Government Regulation and 14th for the Quality of Education System.

“The International Monetary Fund has also praised our sound macroeconomic policy responses in the face of significant headwinds and risks.

“The World Bank also recently confirmed that it believes Malaysia is on track, and that we are expected to achieve high-income status in the next few years,” he said.

Source: The Staronline

 

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Penang undersea tunnel project scrutinized by the Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission (MACC)


In troubled waters: An artist’s impression showing where the tunnel project will start on the island.

 

 

Land swap under MACC scrutiny

PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian-Anti Corruption Commission (MACC) probe into the controversial Penang undersea tunnel is focused on land swaps that were made for the feasibility and detailed design study which has yet to be completed.

Sources said investigators are scouring documents involving two plots of land – Lot 702 and Lot 713 in Bandar Tanjung Pinang – with a size of 1.48ha and 2.31ha respectively.

The value of Lot 702 is around RM135mil while Lot 713 is around RM160mil.

It is learnt that both parcels of land have since been mortgaged to banks to obtain financing. The state government has also authorised planning permission on both parcels of lands.

“The state government paid the consultant for the feasibility studies by means of two land swaps. The cost for the feasibility study is around RM305mil.

“It has become an issue on why the study cost was inflated so much when it should have been an estimated RM60mil,” sources said, adding that determining the inflation and the reason behind it were among the challenges faced by the investigating team.

The sources also said that the graft-busters have their sights targeted on “somebody” who has been enjoying kickbacks and entertainment from the deal.

The feasibility and detailed design study is for the 7.2km undersea tunnel connecting Gurney Drive on the island to Bagan Ajam in Seberang Perai.

It is part of the RM6.3bil mega project comprising a 10.53km North Coastal Paired Road (NCPR) from Tanjung Bungah to Teluk Bahang, the 5.7km Air Itam–Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway bypass and the 4.075km Gurney Drive–Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway bypass.

Yesterday, the investigating team also questioned four officers from several state government agencies on the land swaps.

Sources added that the anti-graft agency also raided a property agency office in Penang and carted various documents away. It is learnt the chief executive officer of the company was not around during the raid.

MACC deputy chief commissioner Datuk Seri Azam Baki said his investigating team has yet to call in any witnesses for the case as they are still conducting a thorough study on the seized documents.

He added that the officers would still be obtaining more documents from the companies involved and also from the state government.

 

Two bosses of construction firms held for six days as MACC investigates project

Datuks’ remanded in tunnel probe

Taken away: Officers escorting one of the men out of the courthouse in Putrajaya.

MACC digs deeper

A swap involving two parcels of land worth close to RM300mil is in the spotlight as the MACC intensifies investigations into claims of corruption in Penang’s undersea tunnel project and several accompanying highway projects. Two ‘Datuks’ have been remanded and several key officials in companies and agencies involved in the project have been questioned. But Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng says the project will go on.

GEORGE TOWN: Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng says the undersea tunnel project, now the subject of a corruption investigation, will proceed unless there is a court order to stop it.

He said he was baffled by yet another investigation into the project as the Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission (MACC) had been conducting an investigation into the RM6.3bil mega project comprising the tunnel and three other highways since 2016.

“What are they investigating now? Is it because of the looming general election?

“The project was awarded via an open tender overseen by international accounting firm KPMG.

“Still, I have instructed everyone involved to give their full cooperation to the MACC in its investigation as we have nothing to hide,” said Lim at a press conference at Komtar yesterday.

On Tuesday, graft-busters arrested two “Datuks” involved in the controversial Penang undersea tunnel project to help in investigations into claims of corruption.

The duo, who were picked up in Putrajaya and Penang, have since been remanded for six days to facilitate the probe.

The anti-graft agency raided the offices of four state government agencies – the Penang Public Works Department, Penang State Secretary, Penang Office of Lands and Mines and Penang Valuation and Property Services Department – and three property development and construction companies – Ewein Zenith Sdn Bhd, 555 Capital Sdn Bhd and Consortium Zenith Construction Sdn Bhd’s Penang office.

MACC officers also questioned several officers in charge of the respective agencies and companies. Sources familiar with the investigation said the probe into the undersea tunnel project was also zooming in on land swaps.

Ewein Zenith is a joint-venture vehicle of Ewein Land Sdn Bhd and Consortium Zenith BUCG Sdn Bhd.

The latter is a Malaysia-China joint venture that was awarded the RM6.3bil mega project to build the 7.2km undersea tunnel connecting Gurney Drive on the island to Bagan Ajam in Seberang Prai, a 10.53km North Coastal Paired Road (NCPR) from Tanjung Bungah to Teluk Bahang, the 5.7km Air Itam–Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway bypass and the 4.075km Gurney Drive–Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway bypass.

Consortium Zenith BUCG changed its name to Consortium Zenith Construction Sdn Bhd on Jan 18 last year after the withdrawal of Beijing Urban Construction Group (BUCG).

In a related development, Vertice Bhd (formerly known as Voir Holdings Bhd) said the current investigation by the MACC will not impact the progress of the undersea tunnel project.

It said the project was an integral component of the Penang Transport Master Plan and that the role of Consortium Zenith Construction as the main contractor would remain.

Consortium Zenith Construction is a 13.2% associate company of Vertice. PUTRAJAYA: Two high-ranking bosses of development and construction companies have been remanded for six days as graft investigators continue their probe of the Penang undersea tunnel project. The two “Datuks” were held here and in Penang before being brought to court.

A 59-year-old businessman was brought to a magistrate’s court here at 9.40am yesterday and remanded for six days until Monday to help with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s (MACC) investigation.

Magistrate Fatina Amyra Abdul Jalil allowed MACC prosecutors’ remand application although the Datuk’s lawyer Hamidi Mohd Noh objected, arguing that there was no need for his client to be held.

“I told the court that my client has been cooperative with the MACC.

“I would also like to point out that my client is innocent and his remand is only to assist the investigation,” he told reporters after the proceedings.

The MACC had initially asked for the Datuk to be held for seven days but the magistrate only allowed six days.

He was arrested at the MACC headquarters at around 8.45pm on Tuesday after being called for his statement to be recorded.

In George Town, another Datuk was brought to court for a remand application at 11.40am.

He was handcuffed and wearing MACC’s orange lock-up T-shirt with black pants when he arrived at the courthouse escorted by MACC officers.

The 49-year-old appeared calm and smiled to reporters but did not say anything before he was led inside.

Deputy registrar Muhammad Azam Md Eusoff granted a six-day remand order and the businessman was escorted out of the courthouse about 30 minutes later.

The case is being investigated under Section 16(a)(B) of the MACC Act 2009 for bribery.

It is also believed that one of the Datuks remanded yesterday tested positive for drugs.

On Tuesday, MACC personnel raided the offices of four state government agencies – the Penang Public Works Department, Penang State Secretary, Penang Office of Lands and Mines and Penang Valuation and Property Services Department – and three property development and construction companies believed to be related to the case.

The project involves a plan to bore a 6.5km tunnel below the seabed to connect north Butterworth and the island.

The tunnel is to connect Bagan Ajam, a mature suburb of about 5km from the Butterworth ferry terminal, to the end of Gurney Drive near the Pangkor Road junction on the island.

Connected to the project are three paired roads to be built on the island as a traffic dispersal system to cope with the traffic that the tunnel would bring to Gurney Drive, which is already densely developed.

The three paired roads are from Teluk Bahang to Tanjung Bungah, from Pangkor Road to the Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway – part of this stretch will be underground – and from Air Itam to the expressway near the Penang bridge.

To finance the construction, projected to cost RM6.3bil, the state government is giving payment in kind of 44.5ha of state land to the contractor, Consortium Zenith Construction.

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng told the state assembly in 2014 that the land was valued at RM1,300 per sq ft and the project, ending with the tunnel, is scheduled for completion in 2025.

It was reported last March that RM135mil worth of land had been given to the contractor as payment to fund the feasibility studies and detailed studies.

A public-listed company announced in January 2016 that it had secured an agreement to buy 20.2ha of the land from the contractor over 10 years at RM1,300 per sq ft.

It is believed that the MACC is looking into why the state government allowed the contractor to presell state land despite delays in the project construction.

More to be called up for questioning

GEORGE TOWN: Investigations into allegations of corruption in the proposed Penang Undersea Tunnel project are expected to deepen with more people likely to be called up for questioning.

A source in the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) said the focus was on the feasibility and detailed design study, which had been paid for but not completed.

“We will call in more people involved in the project to assist in investigations into the study,” the source said.

He declined to comment on whether more arrests would follow after two “Datuks” were remanded for six days yesterday to help in the investigations.

The two were remanded in George Town and Putrajaya for investigations into the corruption allegations.

The MACC source declined to share details on evidence collected that led to the remand of the two Datuks yesterday but confirmed that it was about the delayed feasibility study and detailed designs.

The feasibility, detailed design studies and environmental impact assessment was reported to cost RM305mil with RM220mil already paid. Since 2015, NGOs, government agencies, political parties and state assemblymen had asked about the payment and studies, only to be met with replies they considered unsatisfactory.

Last July, the Works Ministry and Board of Engineers Malaysia (BEM) repeatedly asserted that Penang significantly overpaid, by four times, design fees involving three roads.

Barisan Nasional strategic communications director Datuk Seri Abdul Rahman Dahlan sought the professional opinion of BEM, and it was reported that BEM replied that the detailed design costs were four times higher than the maximum allowed under the gazetted scale of fees based on the total project cost.

Last August, the state government declared that the feasibility studies would be ready by September.

In October, however, Works Minister Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof said his ministry “had not seen a single page” of it.

Source: By mazwin nik anis, royce tan, arnold loh, r. sekaran, simon khoo The Staronline

 

MACC to make more arrests – Penang undersea tunnel project

More arrests are likely in the investigations into claims of corruption in Penang’s RM6.3bil project involving an undersea tunnel and three highways after MACC officers raided 12 more places and took statements from a dozen witnesses. They are looking into an agreement on payments to the concessionaires but Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng says there was no wrongdoing and that not a single sen has been paid for the undersea tunnel project.

PETALING JAYA: Investigators looking into the allegation of corruption in the Penang undersea tunnel project are said to be thoroughly looking through the papers related to the contract for the feasibility study for the undersea tunnel.

“The agreement looks suspicious and the feasibility study for the mega project does not exceed RM305mil as announced by the state government,” sources said.

“The state government might have made a payment which is way different than the real value of the study,” they said.

On Thursday, The Star reported that the graft-busters were zooming in on the land swaps of two plots of land in Bandar Tanjung Pinang.

The sources also say that the reclaimed land for the land swaps were of high value for development. It is believed that the state JKR has set the value for the study and that allegations of misappropriation were raised when the value that was paid far exceeded the initial value.

To finance the construction of the tunnel and three paired roads on the island, projected to cost RM6.3bil, the state government is giving payment in kind of 44.5ha of state land to the contractor, Consortium Zenith Construction.

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng had told the state assembly in 2014 that the land was valued at RM1,300 per sq ft and the project, ending with the tunnel, is scheduled for completion in 2025.

It was reported last March that RM135mil worth of land had been given to the contractor as payment to fund the feasibility studies and detailed studies. However, the study has not been completed although the land has been handed over.

A public- listed company announced in January 2016 that it had secured an agreement to buy 20.2ha of the land from the contractor over 10 years at RM1,300 per sq ft.

It is believed that the MACC is looking into why the state government allowed the contractor to presell state land despite delays in the project construction and the study.

Source: The Star Malaysia reports by MAZWIN NIK ANIS and INTAN AMALINA MOHD ALI

Related stories:

MACC probe shifts to bidding process – Nation | The Star Online

MACC looking at how RM305mil was paid – Nation | The Star Online

MACC focussing on Penang tunnel project studies, sources say …

Lim: Not a single sen paid for Penang undersea tunnel project …

No money paid for project, says Lim – Nation

 12 spots raided in tunnel probe 

Guan Eng: Project will go on unless there’s a court order to stop

Vertice, Ewein shares down following Penang arrests – Business News

Ewein MD remanded by MACC – theSundaily

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Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) – Tunnel project rocked, Directors arrested in graft probe


 

 

 

Stalled ambition: A view of the Gurney Drive seafront, which is meant to be connected to Bagan Ajam in Seberang Prai under the Penang undersea tunnel project.
The RM6.3bil undersea tunnel project in Penang is on rocky ground with the MACC going on a day-long swoop on companies and state government agencies involved. A high-ranking Datuk in one of the companies has been detained to help in investigations into allegations of corruption in the long-delayed mega project and feasibility studies.

PETALING JAYA: Graft-busters have arrested a Datuk holding a high post in a company involved in the controversial Penang undersea tunnel project to help investigations into corruption claims.

The arrest came after a day-long massive swoop on several offices in Penang, where the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) seized documents related to the RM6.3bil mega project.

The anti-graft agency raided the offices of four state government agencies – the Penang Public Works Department, Penang State Secretary, Penang Office of Lands and Mines and Penang Valuation and Property Services Department – and three property development and construction companies – Ewein Zenith Sdn Bhd, 555 Capital Sdn Bhd and Consortium Zenith Construction Sdn Bhd’s Penang office.

MACC officers also questioned several officers in charge of the respective agencies and companies since the raids began yesterday morning.

Sources familiar with the investigation said the probe into the undersea tunnel project was also zooming in on land swaps.

Ewein Zenith is a joint-venture vehicle of Ewein Land Sdn Bhd and Consortium Zenith BUCG Sdn Bhd.

The latter is a Malaysia-China joint venture that was awarded the RM6.3bil mega project to build the 7.2km undersea tunnel connecting Gurney Drive on the island to Bagan Ajam in Seberang Prai, a 10.53km North Coastal Paired Road (NCPR) from Tanjung Bungah to Teluk Bahang, the 5.7km Air Itam–Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway bypass and the 4.075km Gurney Drive–Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway bypass.

Consortium Zenith BUCG changed its name to Consortium Zenith Construction Sdn Bhd on Jan 18 last year after the withdrawal of Beijing Urban Construction Group (BUCG).

It is believed that the MACC is looking into why the state government allowed the Penang Tunnel special purpose vehicle (SPV) company to pre-sell state land rights worth RM3bil despite a four-year delay in the construction of roads.

Investigators are also believed to be looking into the RM305mil feasibility and detailed design studies that have yet to be completed, even though a payment of RM220mil was made to the SPV.

On Oct 11 last year, the main contractor of the project announced that there was no urgency to finish the feasibility study for the undersea tunnel, as it was only set to begin in 2023.

The feasibility study of the tunnel started in February 2015 and as of October last year, it was said to be 92.9% complete.

Works Minister Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof has said the delay in submitting the feasibility report to him was very unusual considering that the project was awarded in 2013.

On Friday, Parti Cinta Malaysia (PCM) vice-president Datuk Huan Cheng Guan lodged a report at the MACC headquarters in Putrajaya and handed over documents which he claimed contained new evidence of corruption in the project.

It was Huan’s third report about the matter. He first lodged a police report on July 17 last year, claiming that the project was awarded to an “undercapitalised” company.

He then lodged a report with the MACC on July 21, calling for a corruption probe.

In George Town, a source in the MACC confirmed that they had ­visited the offices of Ewein Zenith, Consor­tium Zenith Construction and 555 Capital, all of which are involved in the Penang undersea tunnel project.

“We went in the morning, shortly after their offices opened,” said the MACC officer.

However, none of the senior management staff were in and only the front office and sales staff were present to attend to them.

State Works Committee chairman Lim Hock Seng said he was not aware of the raids, while Consortium Zenith senior executive director Datuk Zarul Ahmad Mohd Zulkifli could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, state secretary Datuk Seri Farizan Darus said the National Economic Planning Unit on the 25th floor of Komtar was also raided, but declined to give details.

Huan thanked the commission for acting on his report.

“I believe the MACC will carry out its investigation professionally without any fear or favour,” he said.

The MACC is expected to hold a press conference today to explain the spate of raids and provide updates on the investigations.

By royce tan, tan sin chow, r. sekaran, cavina lim The Star

China top paper warns officials against ‘spiritual anaesthesia’, the root of corruptions


The founder of modern China chairman Mao Zedong.

 

BEIJING: China’s top newspaper warned Communist Party officials not to “pray to God and worship Buddha”, because communism is about atheism and superstition is at the root of many corrupt officials who fall from grace.

China officially guarantees freedom of religion for major belief systems like Christianity, Buddhism and Islam, but party members are meant to be atheists and are especially banned from participating in what China calls superstitious practices like visiting soothsayers.

The party’s official People’s Daily yesterday said in a commentary it had not been uncommon over the past few years to see officials taken down for corruption to have also participated in “feudalistic superstitious activities”.

“In fact, some officials often go to monasteries, pray to God and worship Buddha,” it said.

“Some officials are obsessed with rubbing shoulders with masters, fraternising with them as brothers and becoming their lackeys and their money-trees.”

Chinese people, especially the country’s leaders, have a long tradition of putting their faith in soothsaying and geomancy, looking for answers in times of doubt, need and chaos.

The practice has grown more risky amid a sweeping crackdown on deep-seated corruption launched by President Xi Jinping upon assuming power in late 2012, in which dozens of senior officials have been imprisoned.

The People’s Daily pointed to the example of Li Chuncheng, a former deputy party chief in Sichuan who was jailed for 13 years in 2015 for bribery and abuse of power, who it said was an enthusiastic user of the traditional Chinese geomancy practice of feng shui.

“As an official, if you spend all your time fixating on crooked ways, sooner or later you’ll come to grief,” it said.

The People’s Daily said officials must remember Marx’s guiding words that “Communism begins from the outset with atheism”.

“Superstition is thought pollution and spiritual anaesthesia that cannot be underestimated and must be thoroughly purged,” it said. — Reuters

 

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All in a day’s words in politics


 

Some phrases have become jargon for lawmakers. Many have been overused, and in most cases misused, by this category of people.

 

Ten most incredible remarks by our (or any other) politicians:

 

1. Playing politics – One politician accusing another politician of “playing politics”. If politicians are not playing politics, then what are they supposed to be doing? We expect politicians to, well, play politics and to engage in politicking. That’s their job and that’s the skill they’ve honed. Can we imagine, say, a footballer accusing another of the same act – “he is only playing football.” It’s bizarre when politicians point fingers at their counterparts for playing politics, often with negative connotations, as it amounts to accusing their reflection in the mirror.

2. Serving the people and country – Every politician in any given country says the same thing. They are supposedly only interested in serving the people, the country, religion, race, pets, families and everything they can think of – except themselves! And we are expected to believe that that’s their noble cause and that they don’t have any ulterior ambitions. Yet, they will spend their entire time and resources kicking, back-stabbing, bad-mouthing and clawing their way to the top! Of course, we will duly be told that they can serve the people “better and effectively” the higher they reach, all in the name of the people’s benefit, of course.

3. I will “take note” of the proposal – Which means the politician will do nothing. In fact, if your staff or colleague spouts
the same phrase, it only amounts to the person not deserving a pay rise. Lazy bones syndrome? Highly likely! It’s almost an expression of inertness. Amazingly, it has now become the standard “tactical response” used by politicians to answer fellow Members of Parliament on the opposite bench during Question Time.

4. I “will study” the proposal – This gives the above a run for its money.

The same disinterested, non-committal reply, aka, “I am doing nothing about it”. This merely amounts to, “We will form a sub-committee/a committee/a task force/action committee to study the matter and a report will be submitted to another committee, which will then deliberate the findings.” In short – nothing happens for a while, or probably in the end, nothing happens at all.

5. “I have been misquoted by the press” – This means the politician has screwed up by putting his foot in his mouth (foot-in-mouth disease?), and the only way to get out of the mess, is well, to deny having said it all together.

And if he did say it, then blame the media for taking it “out of context”. And in their minds, this equals: the media has an ulterior motive; the media is biased; the media has an agenda; the media creates fake news.

Well, if the media produces audio or visual evidence to prove the politician’s folly with the said contentious remarks, then the standard operating procedure would likely be “well, I did say it, but I did not mean it THAT way,” or “you did not quite understand what I said”.

6. Fake news – It has frighteningly and sneakily crept its way into Malaysian politics from the United States, President Donald Trump its greatest purveyor. The fake news accusation is a good tactical move to defend illogical/embarrassing situations created by politicians, and used to near perfection by Trump.

It is just as handy for scatterbrain politicians.

7. Trust me – When a politician requests this faith, you know you should believe in your own instincts and scurry in the opposite direction. But it has to be the most overused and, consequently, misused phrase by politicians everywhere, perhaps perfected by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who doesn’t even have to worry about standing for elections!

8. Dementia – It’s a disease all politicians should contract if they wish to survive long in the merciless business of politics. You are expected to lose your memory of past actions against your opponents, if it means, you are now required to swallow your indignation to forge a new political partnership.

“What? I took action against you? Did I? It can’t be, it’s someone else who did it. Not me. If I did, well, I hope to pardon you soon.” Sound familiar?

9. The opposition is only interested in toppling us – Well, that’s exactly their job scope, isn’t it … to take over from the present administration? If they are not interested in toppling existing governments, then aren’t they wasting their time in the opposite side of the camp?

10. There are no permanent enemies, only common interests – In Malaysia, our politicians have turned this into a near artform, hopping in and out of bed so much so voters end up losing track of the number of strange bedfellows.

Let’s not even get into the pillows and strange dreams, or nightmares that have been created for getting in the same sack. One day, a party is accusing another of being an “infidel”, and the next, it is actually working with “infidels”. Almost predictably, after that, it is seen to be friendly with the same party that it has been crossing swords with for decades.

Meanwhile, divorces are announced for the break up with the infidels, yet, the desire to stay in the same house remains, because, well, the rakyat needs to be served.

That’s not all, and this one is even more incredulous – a leader once threw his opponents into the slammer for all kinds of offences, ranging from threatening internal security to sexual perversion, but in the very next instance, touted his once greatest enemy as the leader-in-waiting and probably gave him a BFF status on his FB. Of course, our voters are expected to subscribe to all of this and believe it’s for their own good.

On The Beat by Wong Chun Wai

Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist in Penang, and has served The Star for over 27 years in various capacities and roles. He is now the group’s managing director/chief executive officer and formerly the group chief editor.

On The Beat made its debut on Feb 23 1997 and Chun Wai has penned the column weekly without a break, except for the occasional press holiday when the paper was not published. In May 2011, a compilation of selected articles of On The Beat was published as a book and launched in conjunction with his 50th birthday. Chun Wai also comments on current issues in The Star.

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Recalling Bank Negara’s massive forex losses in 1990s


The government is moving ahead to investigate whether there were any wrongdoings in the massive foreign exchange losses suffered by Bank Negara some 25 years ago. Many people today may not have a good recollection of what happened, while many others probably had no knowledge of it until it became news again recently as the sitting government took aim at this nasty episode under Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s rule.

I was a reporter with Reuters then and had covered the losses that surfaced when the central bank released its annual reports for 1992 and 1993 in March 1993 and March 1994, respectively. I recall that those losses first puzzled me and others because bank officials did not come forward to talk about them at the press conference nor was the information contained in the press release. They were, however, disclosed in the last few pages of the 1992 report on the bank’s financial statement, which normally do not attract attention, as reporters would focus on the earlier parts that touched on the performance of the economy and banking sector.

But that year, we took a cursory look at those back pages and spotted something odd. Bank Negara’s financial statement showed its Other Reserves had plunged from RM10.1 billion in 1991 to RM743 million in 1992, or a loss of RM9.3 billion. There was also a Contingent Liability of RM2.7 billion.

When we asked about this, I recall that both then Bank Negara governor, the late Tan Sri Jaafar Hussein, and his deputy, Tan Sri Dr Lin See Yan, said it was nothing serious, as they were mere paper losses that could be recovered later. We were not convinced, but we were unable to challenge them, as we did not under stand the manner in which Bank Negara presented its accounts.

The next day, however, the market was abuzz with talk that the bank had lost billions in foreign exchange transactions and I remember writing stories on this for the next week or so. But nothing more came of it, although opposition MPs led by Lim Kit Siang continued to press the Ministry of Finance and Bank Negara for answers.

The matter really blew up a year later when Bank Negara tabled its 1993 report and disclosed another forex loss of RM5.7 billion. Here is what Jaafar said:

“In the Bank’s 1993 accounts, a net deficiency in foreign exchange transactions of RM5.7 billion is reported, an amount which will be written off against the Bank’s future profits. This loss reflected errors in judgment involving commitments made with the best intentions to protect the national interest prior to the publication of the Bank’s 1992 accounts towards the end of March 1993. As these forward transactions were unwound, losses unfolded in the course of 1993. In this regard, global developments over the past year had not been easy for the Bank; indeed, they made it increasingly difficult for the Bank to unwind these positions without some losses. For the most part, time was not on the Bank’s side. Nevertheless, this exercise is now complete — there is at this time no more contingent liabi lity on the Bank’s forward foreign exchange transactions on this account. An unfortunate chapter in the Bank’s history is now closed.”

Jaafar took responsibility for what happened and resigned, as did the bank official directly responsible for its foreign exchange operations, Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop.

How did Bank Negara lose the billions?

Jaafar said the losses were owing to commitments made to protect the nation’s interests. He was referring to the bank’s operations in the global forex market to manage the country’s foreign reserves and, obviously, something went wrong in a big way.

Forex traders and journalists who covered financial markets in the late 1980s knew that Bank Negara had a reputation for taking aggressive positions to influence the value of the ringgit against the major currencies. When the bank is not happy with the direction of the ringgit, up or down, it makes its intentions known by either selling or buying ringgit.

One question I had always asked forex dealers when writing market reports for Reuters was, “Is Negara in the market today?”

Bank Negara has always maintained that its market operations were to prevent volatility and undue speculation. Its critics, on the other hand, said it also did so for profits, which it enjoyed for years.


What went wrong in 1992?

That was the year George Soros and other hedge funds bet heavily against the British pound on the basis that it was overvalued. The Bank of England (BOE) fought back by buying billions of sterling while Soros and gang shorted the battered currency.

As it did not want to deplete too much of its reserves to defend the fixed rate of the pound within the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, BOE capitulated by withdrawing from the ERM on Sept 16, 1992, since called Black Wednesday.

It was widely believed then that Bank Negara had bet on the wrong side of the fight between BOE and the hedge funds. It never thought that central banks could lose against specu lators, but BOE lost and Soros was said to have pocketed at least US$1 billion.

Bank Negara has never confirmed nor denied that this was indeed what happened but the evidence, although circumstantial, points to this as the reason for the loss of RM9.3 billion in its 1992 accounts and the subse quent loss of another RM5.7 billion in 1993, bringing its total loss to RM15 billion.

Was the loss more than RM15~30 bil?

Former Bank Negara assistant governor Datuk Abdul Murad Khalid was reported as saying recently that the losses were actually US$10 billion. That would work out to RM25 billion at the then exchange rate of RM2.50 to a dollar. Murad also alleged that there were no proper investigations into the matter.

Following his allegations, the Cabinet has now set up a task force led by former chief secretary to the government, Tan Sri Sidek Hassan, to investigate whether there were wrongdoings that caused the losses, whether there was a cover-up on the size of the losses, and whether Parliament was misled.

So, who should the task force call up as part of its probe? I am guessing the following:

  1. Tun Mahathir, who was the prime minister then;
  2. Tun Daim Zainuddin, who was the minister of finance from 1984 to 1991 when Bank Negara was active in the forex market;
  3. Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who was the minister of finance when the losses surfaced in 1992 and 1993;
  4. Dr Lin, who was deputy governor of the central bank then;
  5. Tan Sri Ahmad Don, who succeeded Jaafar as governor;
  6. Murad, who made the allegations; and
  7. Nor Mohamed, who was head of forex operations.


Who is Nor Mohamed?

Nor Mohamed is the man who lost billions for Bank Negara and resigned along with Jaafar in 1993. He then kept a low profile with short spells at RHB Research Institute and Mun Loong Bhd.

In an ironic twist, the man who lost billions for the country was later credited with helping save the ringgit from currency speculators in 1998.

Frustrated by the year-long failure of governments and central banks to fight off speculators, who had devalued Asian currencies (the ringgit plunged to as low as 4.80 to the dollar), Tun Mahathir turned to Nor Mohamed for help. The doctor did not understand how the currency market worked and Nor Mohamed took him through it in great detail. The two men then confidentially devised the plan that shocked the world — the imposition of controls on Sept 1, 1998.

Widely criticised at the time (Ahmad Don and his deputy Datuk Fong Weng Phak resigned in protest), some now say the move helped bring an end to the crisis, as speculators feared other affected countries would do the same.

Nor Mohamed’s star shone again and he later became Minister of Finance 2 under Tun Mahathir and Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. He is now deputy chairman of Khazanah Nasional.

But now, a ghost from his past has been dug up as fodder for the political contest between Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his biggest nemesis, Tun Mahathir. The objective is obvious. Tun Mahathir has attacked Najib incessantly over 1Malaysia Development Bhd. The current administration is fighting back by saying billions were also lost under Tun Mahathir’s watch. Tun Mahathir says there is a 1MDB cover-up and his foes are accusing him of doing the same.


Will the task force unearth anything that is not already known?

The task force needs three months to complete its work, so we will just have to wait for the full picture before we can come to any conclusion that can bring closure to something that happened 25 years ago.

Perhaps, one day, we will be lucky enough to also have the full picture of the affairs of 1MDB. Current Minister of Finance 2 Datuk Seri Johari Abdul Ghani did say this month that no action had been taken against anyone in Malaysia over 1MDB because we have only “half the story” so far.

In that case, should we not have a task force on 1MDB as well so Malaysians can have the full picture?

By: Ho Kay Tat

Ho Kay Tat is publisher and group CEO of The Edge Media Group

This article appears in Issue 772 (March 27) of The Edge Singapore which is on sale now.

RCI can shed more light on forex losses

 Figures could be even greater than what had been disclosed, says STF chairman

KUALA LUMPUR: A Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) can reveal more details on the foreign exchange (forex) losses suffered by Bank Negara (BNM) in the 1980s and 1990s, said Tan Sri Mohd Sidek Hassan.

The chairman of the Special Task Force (STF) to probe the forex losses said the figure was greater than what was disclosed.

However, the STF was unable to scrutinise further due to the limitations that it had, he said in an interview on Friday.

“As a task force, we have limitations. We were established on an administrative basis and not under any legislation.

“As such, the STF had no power to coerce anyone to come forward for any discussion or to give any information,” he said, adding that it only had access to documents that were available to the public, such as BNM’s annual reports and consultations between the central bank and the International Monetary Fund.

“We also cannot compel anyone to come forward. Even if you ask them to come and they don’t want to come, there is no issue about it.

“And even if they came and we questioned them, and they refused to answer, we cannot do anything about it.

“And it was not under oath. Even if they answered, we don’t know if that was the truth.

“So, that is why the RCI is better, although it is safe to say that the STF has reason to believe that the actual loss is different and much more than the figures given earlier,” said Sidek, a former Chief Secretary to the Government.

He added that the RCI could have access to documents relating to the forex losses, for instance from the Finance Ministry or BNM.

On Jan 26, former BNM assistant governor Datuk Abdul Murad Khalid revealed that the central bank suffered US$10bil (RM42.9bil) in forex losses in the early 1990s, much higher than the figure of RM9bil disclosed by BNM.

Subsequently, a seven-member STF headed by Sidek was formed in February.

Sidek, who is Petronas chairman, said the STF focused on the three points in the terms of reference, one of which was conducting preliminary investigations into losses by BNM related to its speculative fo­­reign currency transactions.

It also investigated whether there was any action to cover up the losses and whether the Cabinet and Parliament were misled and it had to submit to the Government recom­mendations for further action, including the establishment of an RCI.

On June 21, the STF submitted its findings, concluding that it found that a prima facie case to merit in-depth investigations by establishing an RCI.

Explaining the process of the investigation, Sidek said 12 people, including former BNM governor Tan Sri Zeti Akhtar Aziz, were interviewed by the STF, and all coopera­ted well.

Among the others who were summoned by the STF were PKR adviser Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang, and former Finance Minister II and BNM assistant governor at the time Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop.

Asked on the need to investigate something that happened about two decades ago, Sidek said though it took place a long time ago, it had been revealed that the losses were huge.

“I feel that the people need an explanation on the matter, and the Government had decided to conduct an investigation.

“Therefore, an RCI is the only way for a complete understanding. If this is not done now, the matter will prolong.

“Five or 10 years from now it will crop up again.

“With a full investigation through an RCI, there could be closure to this,” Sidek said. — Bernama

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