KOTA KINABALU 19/11/2012: Cronyism was among the issues raised during the debate between Barisan Nasional (BN) and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) here yesterday.
In the debate on BN and Pakatan Rakyat Budgets with the theme, “Its Impact on the Rakyat”, BN was represented by Sabah BN secretary Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan and his opponent was PKR Sabah deputy information chief Musli Oli.
Abdul Rahman said he was perplexed as to why the term crony was always mentioned by the opposition when referring to things that were done by Umno.
The Kota Belud member of parliament said that he wanted to explain what the issue was all about but found it difficult to do so as some of those who accused Umno of cronyism had a fixed mindset on the matter.
“But let me ask a question. Is there an Umno company getting projects in Selangor or Penang? (opposition-held states)? You don’t hear Umno or BN accusing the opposition of cronyism,” he said.
He also was of the opinion that the opposition was misleading the people by accusing Umno of cronyism when Bumiputera companies like Sapurakencana Petroleum were awarded projects although it was a public-listed company.
“I don’t understand why it is being said as a crony company but it is a public listed company,” said Abdul Rahman.
Being a listed company in Bursa Malaysia, anybody could buy the shares of Sapurakencana or other companies like Bernas and become its co-owner, he said replying to the issues raised by Musli.
He also referred to a book penned by Musli while he was still in Umno where Musli himself had questioned the allegations of money politics and cronyism whenever Bumiputera companies have been awarded a project and why it was not viewed from the merit perspective.
The debate moderated by University Malaysia Sabah (UMS) Labuan Campus director Associate Professor Ismail Ali was divided into three sections where both Abdul Rahman and Musli took turns to explain about the respective BN and PR budgets before each of them responding and rebutting the issues raised.
Musli raised other points in the Pakatan’s proposed National Budget among them addressing the Cabotage Policy, increase the disposable income of the people, minimum wage of RM1,100, allocation of three per cent of the Budget expenditure to people’s housing projects, reduce price of cars, to award the Approved Permit (AP) via open tender and setting aside RM1 billion as the start-up fund to set up Sabah’s owned petroleum company.
“The Pakatan Rakyat proposed a Welfare State in stages,” he said.
Musli said the Cabotage Policy introduced in 1979 was protectionism in nature but since shippers delivering cargoes to Sabah were returning with empty containers, it was adding to the cost that would be passed down to the consumers in the state.
“This is the vicious circle of poverty economy … we will remain this point forever,” he said and suggested that perhaps the Cabotage Policy could be maintained but with Sabah as the container hub.
In response, Abdul Rahman said the Cabotage Policy was in place to protect the local shipping industry, which is a costly business to run.
He said one cargo vessel might cost up to RM50 million and the bigger ones could be more than RM200 million “so just how many locals could afford it without assistance from the government.”
He said that fully utilising service of foreign-owned vessels could be risky, particularly in time of emergencies and the country might be forced to bow down to the foreign companies in order to ship important goods such as food items from Peninsular Malaysia to Sabah.
Furthermore, it was difficult for the local industry to compete with giant international shipping companies, he said.
Towards this end, Abdul Rahman asked if the higher price of goods in Sabah was really due to the Cabotage Policy since there were other factors such as land transportation charges and facilities in the ports.
According to the information from the Malaysia Shipping Association (MASA), he said in 2009 the freight charges had been reduced but the price of goods in Sabah still remained costly.
Abdul Rahman said Malaysia’s version of Cabotage Policy was relatively relaxed compared to other countries whereby not only the company must be owned by locals, it must be operated and built locally.
As for the high price of cars in Malaysia compared to other countries in the region, he admitted the price was a little bit more but in terms of car ownership cost Malaysia is still much lower.
“It is true the car price is a little bit high but we know that in order to own a car we must pay road tax, insurance as well as fuel and we are much lower (in this aspect) compared to other countries,” he said.
Abdul Rahman said he was also puzzled by the proposal to award the AP through open tender because the process was different from calling open tender for projects where the lowest bidder wins.
In this instance, the highest bidder would win the AP if it an open tender is called and as a result the imported cars would be more expensive, he said.
On economic planning that is to set up an industry based on the strength of the area concerned, Abdul Rahman said based on this concept a hotel was proposed to be built in his constituency but Pakatan leaders came to “instigate the people accusing the government was taking away their land.”
He also criticised the opposition leaders, particularly DAP Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng who came to Kota Belud raising objection to the proposed Tambatuon Dam but upon returning to Peninsular Malaysia, had applied for Federal funding to build a RM1.2 billion dam in Mengkuang 2, Penang which was three times the size of the proposed dam in Kota Belud.
“This is the highest level of hypocrisy,” he said, adding that all the reasons stated by Lim for his government to build the dam were actually the same with the proposed dam in Kota Belud, which had been earmarked as Sabah’s rice granary.
Abdul Rahman also took time to respond to a RM40 million donation to Sabah Umno, which was already cleared by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and Hong Kong Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) but raised by Musli.
“To say that the RM40 million is corruption … we should not bluff ourselves no matter what parties including PKR, DAP and PAS, all are receiving donations from big companies and their supporters,” he said.
Abdul Rahman said Umno had made it a point that if the PKR Youth chief was to raise the matter again it would be lodging a police report for slander.
Musli explained that he was not making an accusation but the issue was raised as a matter of public perception.
Abdul Rahman also corrected Musli on some facts he raised about the case and pointed out that based on the MACC and Hong Kong ICAC findings, the businessman, Michael Chia, was never arrested in Hong Kong and there was no incidence of him carrying a bagful of money at the airport.
“The whole thing was due to the reports by the internet news portal and blogs aligned to the opposition,” he said.
On the new 900-metre road from Wisma Innoprise to the State Legislative Assembly building costing more than RM14 million which Musli questioned whether it is made of gold as it costs so much, Abdul Rahman said that it was because the road was categorised as a Jalan Istiadat (ceremonial road).
As a Jalan Istiadat, which is the official road for the dignitaries, the specifications and the infrastructure like streetlights were a little bit different. The cost was also high because of the slope it is built on, he said.
Abdul Rahman also said the issue of corruption had become the main weapon for the opposition to attack the government and woo support from the people.
When winding up, he said he was glad to note that the debate organised by the Kota Belud Parliamentary 169 Squad had proceeded smoothly without any interference.
“I have been in many debates with other personalities but Sabah is the best,” he said.
Other leaders who attended the debate were Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) deputy president Datuk Almudin Kaida and from the opposition among others, Datuk Kalakau Untol and Datuk Yahya Lampong.