Malaysians have the right to know whether taxpayers’ funds have been spent for the benefit of the people, Mustafa K Anuar writes.
The value of transparency and accountability in governance could not have been more emphasised by Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz’s recent disclosure of 101 projects approved through direct negotiations.
He reportedly told Parliament last month the previous Pakatan Harapan government approved the 101 projects to the tune of RM6.6bn, which sparked a ruckus among lawmakers as the opposition was put in a bad light as a result.
Upon insistence of parliamentarians from both sides of the divide, Zafrul released details of the contracts, which make for an interesting and intriguing read as they, in turn, prompt more questions.
The disclosure invited censure from the opposition as they pointed out PH was responsible for only 5.3% of the total projects, while the rest came from those approved by the previous Barisan Nasional government. In other words, they said, the list was misleading.
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For instance, former deputy international trade and industry minister Ong Kian Ming reminded Zafrul that four of the nine direct-negotiation contracts were clinched before PH came to power in 2018.
Similarly, Malaysians were told by the opposition that the RM4.4bn Klang Valley double-track project (second phase), also known as KVDT2, was awarded by BN before PH took over. And yet, Zafrul included it in the 101 list.
PH eventually renegotiated with the contractor to reduce the quantum by 15% from RM5.3bn billion to RM4.5bn.
The sudden disclosure also took certain Perikatan Nasional ministers, particularly those who were in the PH cabinet, by surprise.
In particular, Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin said she was unaware of two contracts awarded through direct negotiation by her ministry when she was with the PH government. One contract valued at RM170m was meant for a solid waste-disposal station at Taman Beringin, Jinjang Utara, Kuala Lumpur.
She insists these projects were approved without her knowledge, despite photographs supposedly of her visiting the site of the proposed Taman Beringin station some time last year, which had been making the rounds on social media. These photographs were apparently taken from her Facebook account.
It begs the question, as certain lawmakers had already asked, how a project of such high value could possibly be approved without her knowledge.
Accusing her of sleeping on the job regarding this project, as a few did, would be an unfair assessment of a politician who supposedly is adept at making political moves she considers appropriate and opportune.
Another issue that is perplexing to ordinary Malaysians is about the book (or possibly some copies), A Better World Volume 5: Actions and Commitments to the Sustainable Development Goals, that was bought by the Economic Affairs Ministry, then headed by Azmin Ali, via direct negotiation – RM21,023 was spent for a book that could be accessed online free of charge.
Another question has also been raised by certain inquisitive social media users pertaining to the purchase of ink/toners for printers by the Ministry of Transport. Does it require direct negotiations at all?
Indeed, the disclosure and the ensuing questions above show the importance of transparency and accountability in government as the contracts involved taxpayers’ money.
It also suggests that direct negotiations should only be conducted when it is really necessary, and not at the whims and fancies of the powers that be.
To show his seriousness about transparency, Zafrul should go the whole hog by also releasing a list of direct negotiation projects approved by the previous BN and current PN governments.
Malaysians have the right to know whether taxpayers’ funds have been spent for the benefit of the people. The government in a democracy must be made to account for its actions.