Deputy Minister Liew Vui Keong also stressed that it is the prime minister's prerogative to use a government aircraft even for private functions.
“The issue of wastage for the prime minister to have these working visits to the above-mentioned countries does not arise,” Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Liew Vui Keong said.
The Sandakan MP was responding to an adjournment speech by Teresa Kok (DAP-Seputeh) seeking further explanation on Najib’s travel details and expenses.
She had questioned whether Najib’s working trip was a waste of taxpayers’ money and time as she claimed that he was attending “unimportant events”.
Kok had also expressed dissatisfaction on an answer from Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Nazri Aziz on the matter on June 12.
She alleged that Nazri’s answer had misled Parliament and failed to disclose or had “concealed” Najib’s holiday in Milan, Italy, and a brief stopover at Dubai at the same time.
According to Nazri’s answer, Najib had been in Oxford, England, between May 13 and 15; was in New York, US, between May 16 and 18; and had made his private visit to Washington between May 19 and 24.
However, Kok had repeatedly pointed to “aeronautical evidence” she obtained from a flight plans website which showed that Najib’s plane had also flown in to Milan, Italy, on May 20, a day after arriving in Washington. This was not mentioned by Nazri then.
Yesterday, Liew, during his speech, confirmed that the Milan personal holiday did occur.
“Accordingly, as per his rights, the prime minister had then taken holiday after his official working visit ended.”
Liew said that the prime minister had initially chosen to make a personal trip to Washington between May 18 and 25. However, he had then decided to make a personal visit to Milan between May 20 and 24.
This sudden change, Liew explained, caused administrative issues when putting up a report and therefore was not in Nazri’s answer to Kok previously.
For the purpose of his personal visit, the Prime Minister’s Department had estimated RM452,985 costs for government officials who were ordered to accompany the prime minister.
He said according to normal procedure, the officers were ordered to accompany Najib.
The number of officers was put at the minimum, including having private bodyguards, doctors and security guards.
“These costs are paid by the government as they are on official duty.”
“This estimated spending of RM452,985.75 included flight cost, food allowances, hotel payment, vehicle rental, telecommunication equipment, laundry, tips, foreign exchange losses and entertainment.
“However, the total amount actually spent at this point for the personal visit by the prime minister to Washington is RM273,799.57,” he said.
Liew stressed that even though Najib’s visit to Washington was in his personal capacity, the prime minister had also unofficially met with the highest officers including US politicians.
‘Check your facts, Kok’
On the Dubai “visit”, Liew clarified that Najib had never made any official or unofficial visit to Dubai as the government executive aircraft landed at Dubai merely for transit and refuelling.
Liew took a swipe at Kok, asking her to “Please check your facts”, when she erroneously said that Najib was in London when he was in fact in Oxford.
He explained the importance of the events in Oxford, UK; and New York, US, which took place before the Washington and Milan trips.
The event at Oxford was a reception hosted by Prince Charles during the awarding of the royal charter by Queen Elizabeth II to Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies (OCIS).
“This invitation is a recognition and highest honour for the prime minister, who is a member of the OCIS; and that Malaysia has given active support to the improving of the centre.
“Indirectly this has shown the true Islamic image and success of Malaysia as a progressive and modern Islamic country,” he said.
As for Najib’s New York visit to the Global Science and Innovation Advisory Council in New York, Liew said that it was to chair a meeting attended by 64 Malaysian government representatives, global industry players, Nobel prize winners and international science experts.
“The meeting saw as many as five memorandums of understanding (MoU) signed, which will directly improve the good cooperation and investment in Malaysia,” said Liew.
Najib had also met with investors at the roundtable and received a courtesy call by corporate leaders during that trip.
Liew said that due to Najib’s effort to implement multiple transformations to spur growth and make Malaysia a high income nation by 2020, it is inevitable that a high level of commitment is being demanded.
He said the prime minister has been working without regard to the time.
Najib’s right to use airplane
Liew said that currently, there are eight government planes that are supposedly to be used by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, the prime minister and his deputy.
These government planes can also be used by the sultans, governors, ministers, deputy ministers and government guests, foreign agencies, top-level government officers and other dignitaries.
He explained that Najib, even during his holidays, had every right to use a government airplane.
“Although the prime minister is on a holiday, it does not halt the duty and responsibility of his position as the prime minister of Malaysia; therefore, it is not appropriate if there are those who think that the prime minister’s security should be set aside solely because he was on holiday.”
“In the context of security and national interest, the government approval for the prime minister to use government executive aircraft during a personal visit should not have arisen,” he said.
Kok had previously asked if the government had spent too much by sending officers for Najib’s personal trip and also whether it was right for him to use an official plane for his private use.
Nazri had told her then that the whole trip had cost about RM3 million (exactly RM2,908,563.82). The detailed expenses were:
1. London working visit to attend reception hosted by Prince Charles on May 13-15, 2012 cost RM849,175.33.
2. New York working visit to attend meeting of Global Science and Innovation Advisory Council on May 16-18, 2012 cost RM1,606,402.75.
3. Washington officers who accompanied the prime minister on May 19-24, 2012 on a private visit cost RM452,985.75.
RM26 million for 74 trips
According to a Bernama report, during Najib’s stay in New York, his wife Rosmah Mansor met with US Girl Scouts head Anna Maria Chavez and also went on a hospital walk-about.
In Washington, the couple had attended the graduation of their son Nor Ashman who completed his Bachelors of Science in International Affairs at Georgetown University.
This was not the first time that Najib and Rosmah’s trip expenditure has come under scrutiny in Parliament. The opposition often argued that the trips were expensive and did not guarantee returns.
Last year, it was revealed that the government spent more than RM17 million for trips made by the couple since 2008, with one-third of the amount being spent in the first six months of 2011.
The Parliament was also then told that RM134,317.76 was spent to cover Rosmah’s expenses during her trip to Saudi Arabia, Oman and Bangladesh, following criticism that she had spent RM140,000 for an overnight stay at Dubai’s luxury hotel Atlantis.
For Najib’s trips abroad alone, the nation spent about RM26 million in the span of over three and a half years.
A total of 74 trips since April 2009 cost the government RM26,080,144.39.