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Chua: Why I keep on raising Talam issue

 | August 14, 2012

MCA's Chua Tee Yong said while he is unsure if there was any criminal offences committed in Talam issue, there was definitely a 'breach of trust' to voters

INTERVIEW

PETALING JAYA: MCA’s Chua Tee Yong has been harping on one issue for more than a month now: Selangor government’s alleged incompetency when it comes to recovering the debts of developer Talam Corporation Bhd, now Trinity Corp.

And despite facing derision, contempt, and even a possible lawsuit over his recent one-man crusade, Chua does not seem ready to let go. In fact, the Deputy Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister and Labis MP seems more tired and frustrated than ever that he is “not getting any straight answers” from the Pakatan Rakyat-run state .

In an interview with FMT, Chua pledged that he would continue exposing alleged indiscretions as long as he receives information from whistleblowers on the so-called “RM1 billion questionable deal”.

Since July 3, the MCA Young Professionals Bureau chief had embarked on a series of revelations alleging that the state government had possibly used some RM1 billion in public funds to bail out Talam.

He had alleged that the state lied about fully recovering its RM392 million debts when it “did not”.

He questioned why in addition to a RM392 million supplementary budget passed in the State Legislative Assembly in 2009, an additional RM676 million worth of assets were obtained from Talam to further “assist” the then ailing company.

Talam Corp had previously owed Universiti Selangor (Unisel) and Permodalan Nasional Selangor Berhad (PNSB) RM277 million as well as SAP Holdings – a subsidiary of listed company Kumpulan Hartanah Selangor Bhd (KHSB) – RM115 million, for a total of RM392 million.

In numerous press conferences subsequently, Chua showed that in the debt-recovery exercise several of the assets obtained were questionable and suspicious in nature. Chua had alleged that many “worthless” assets were bought at overvalued prices, amounting possibly up to RM165 million in over-payments.

Summing up the complex issue, Chua said everything boiled down to Pakatan’s alleged lack of “Competency, Accountability, and Transparency”. While admitting that he cannot pinpoint a criminal offence at the moment, he says that he could see “a lot of problems”.

“There is definitely a breach of trust, because you are failing the trust entrusted to you by the Selangor voters. But whether it is criminal in nature, we have to leave it to the authorities,” he said, adding that he has yet to reach his “grand finale”.

Below is the excerpt of FMT’s interview with Chua Tee Yong on the Talam issue:

You’ve relentlessly pursued the Talam issue for weeks now. In a nutshell, what is this issue all about?

Chua Tee Yong: Basically, the Talam issue is about Competency, Accountability, and Transparency [CAT]. This is what Pakatan Rakyat has always been shouting about. Something they have been proud of.

You find that the whole restructuring and settlement exercise lacks all these three qualities. The Pakatan Rakyat Selangor menteri besar had promised a White Paper in the State Legislative Assembly two years ago. Two years later they are all quiet until I raised this issue. Then what did they say? They threatened to sue me, using terms like calling me a small boy and things like that.

A competent government should be able to answer these questions effectively, especially when it involves substantial sum of public funds.

First, we know that there is RM676 million worth of assets accepted by Talam. And secondly, there is also another RM392 million grant approved in the state assembly. So the question of RM1 billion remains unanswered. Why?

And for the RM676 million worth of assets, I have actually raised a lot of questions. Until today, we have no White Paper. The MB promised to explain in the state assembly, but did he explain? No. The only announcement we get is that there will be audit or accounting companies to look into this transaction. Even then they were very inconsistent; some media reported five auditors will audit, then subsequently he [MB] said only one was appointed. To me, it is clear, as a former auditor, I know that auditors can only audit what is presented. So to me, this audit will be a political whitewash audit. There is no accountability and transparency at all.

Despite being ridiculed and threatened with a lawsuit, you continue to hold press conferences. Are you not concerned or afraid? How confident are you of your facts? Do your critics have valid points?

I am very disappointed with DAP members, they claim to be the smartest in the world. But in the whole exercise, the MB is quiet… and DAP leaders have tried very weakly and failed miserably to answer what I have raised. They gave many conflicting answers.

A very simple example is the excuse that ‘all debts are hidden, no attempt by any state company of the government recovering any of these debts’.

[DAP's Tony Pua had previously said that Talam's RM392 million debt to three state subsidiaries had originally been incurred during Barisan Nasional’s reign in the state and was considered a 'hidden debt' as it was never recorded in the three firms’ books. It was until Pakatan took over that the debts were uncovered.]

At that point, suddenly one of the state excos disclosed that the state has to abide by an agreement because it was signed during BN’s time. But was this [agreement] ever disclosed in any event? Never. Is this transparency?

What is worse is, this leader claims they have to abide by this agreement and when I challenge them to bring this agreement out, they did not. Subsequently, they gave partial information to mislead the public. Why do I say that? Because the agreement had already expired in 2008, then they changed their statement, saying ‘we Pakatan’ did not allow it to expire in good faith. So, what’s happening, why all these inconsistencies?

In the state Hansards, from 2010 to 2011, there were no indications of any problems. There is no mention of any previous agreements. All seems very rosy, no issue, no problems [until I raised it]. So is this what you call a competent, accountable and transparent government?

The main key thing is you talk about CAT. You should be able to explain all of these. Be transparent. What are the problems, issues, limitations you face when you are doing this type of debt settlement. You don’t go around saying everything is the best, you are the best, everything is good. But when we start raising [questions], you blame the previous government.

So this entire issue focuses only on the debt settlement?

Yes. There is a lot of questions and suspicion there. Even the assets: on what basis did they accept these assets? A very simple example… why are they now turning around, saying it was not disposal, it is not acquiring. It is like blaming the BN for buying a screwdriver that is overpriced; now you are just doing the same thing.

What are some of the questions that remain unanswered and your demands that you say the Selangor government have ignored?

What I have said repeatedly is that they claim that they have recovered all the debts. But so far, nothing could prove that because at the recent state assembly sitting, the MB himself stated that only RM302 million has been recovered.

Okay, you say this debt settlement is very successful, you have received all these assets, you have recovered all these debts. Fine. We’ll assume that you have recovered your debts. But my question is, when you take these assets, on what basis of price did you use to determine to take these assets? Classic examples are your lands at Bestari Jaya, your Danau Putra, your Menara Pandan, your Ulu Yam lands, your 60% shares, your Ukay Perdana, all these with issues.

Are these simply bad business decisions?

You see, if you use the example of when someone buys something that is overpriced – if it is one asset, it is a bad business decision. If it is two, it is a repeated offence. Three, is it then incompetency? It is bad governance and thus giving rise to the suspicion of why are you doing this? You are a supposedly competent government.

When you accept or buy something, what do you do? You need to make sure it is value for money, right? That is the standard thing you need to do. You [Pakatan] are supposedly bringing the ‘change’, but it seems like the Selangor government is simply incompetent.

The questions still unanswered are… number one, what is your state assessment and valuation for each of the assets accepted? Is there any at all? I don’t know, they have not answered that key question. Two, why are you accepting all these assets when many of them have a lot of complications? At Danau Putra, there were so many caveats… then we have the lands with mining pond, with acres of land under water. The Menara Pandan offices have such low occupancy, the place is basically deserted in a way. At Ukay Perdana, all the surrounding shophouses are also empty. At Ulu Yam, the lands are Class 3 and Class 4 hillslopes.

When they explain, [it is] very inconsistent. At one point the MB said, ‘we did not buy any land underwater’, but PNSB [Permodalan Negeri Selangor Bhd] in a recent forum, reported that ‘the land we buy 22% is underwater’. Eh, so who is correct?

So basically Selangor government is wrong and you are correct with your facts?

Why they are threatening to sue me, but in the end, nothing happens. They are the ones saying it, right? I am an auditor. I take the documents I have; and based on the documents they have and statements they have made, I make comparisons. That’s audit work.

Based on your comparison, what is your conclusion?

Based on my comparisons, this deal is not as good as they say it is. There is a lot of unanswered questions, and maybe with those answers, we may lead to something else, that is probably why they don’t want to answer as well

What is that ‘something else’ you talk about?

In this whole exercise… there are some people who ask me, ‘are you afraid of what you are doing?’ You see, there is nothing wrong with what I’ve asked, why? Because I based it on documents. What is more fearful for me, is the fact that they could not answer. And what they’ve done was, continue to spin and lie and I have to say, they are very good in this political spinning, they are very good at packaging. My fear is that the rakyat will believe them.

But you are confident in your facts and figures?

If I was not confident, I would have stopped already. But today, I have more to say. I must say, I have not reached my grand finale yet. Haven’t yet.

So you still have more things to say or expose after this?

It depends on the information that I receive.

Where are you getting all this information from? Was there a whistleblower, or something like that? How did it start?

Of course this is private and confidential. Let’s say that there are a lot of people, basically. But I will not disclose. I have received a lot of documents, people talked to me. I don’t want to zoom down to anything.

So what’s this end-game? How long do you expect this series to continue? Are we looking at criminal offences? Criminal breach of trust or something?

[Laughs]I really don’t know how long more. But as long as need be, as long as I receive information that raises doubt, I will continue. The main thing is that, Pakatan Rakyat is not as great as they make out to be. There is a lot of suspicion, lack of accountability. We just want to expose these, to show that these are just political slogans for vote gaining. They have never lived to honour these pledges or slogans. Whether I will lodge a police report, that will be at the end, because I am still receveing information. Pakatan is not scandal-free, not as great as they promise to be. Bear in mind they are only in power for four years, what more if it is 50 years.

Talking about criminal offences. There is definitely a breach of trust, because you are failing the trust entrusted to you by the Selangor voters. But whether it is criminal in nature, we have to leave it to the authorities. but there is definitely an apparent over-valuation of various assets.

As an auditor wouldn’t you know if there is a crime committed so far?

As auditors we would know that there is some control problem; don’t’ know whether it is negligence or oversight. We don’t know whether it is intentional oversight. All these are something that I don’t’ want to judge yet. Because if I am to judge now, they will say ‘oh it is political.’ Not because I am trying to find out what is happening, just to spin it.

There are reports saying that MCA Selangor is upset that you are taking all the limelight…

Basically we in MCA recognise that everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. [For example], I can be sometimes too technical, that can come from occupational hazard.

The auditors that are being called in, would you call them independent?

I really do not know what they are being called in to do. They have not announced. They usually have a scope, but it is limited to what they have access to. As an auditor, if your client says, this is your scope of work, then that is it. The auditors may not be aware of some other things that is inside. It is a misperception that it is the auditors’ job to find out from A to Z. Auditors will always say we give a ‘true and fair view’, not an ‘accurate view’. We do not say that everything is clear, it is 100% in order and we vouch for it. It doesn’t work that way. It is simply based on the documents you receive.

My question is very simple. Why after two years, only now you have auditors coming in? Why only when questions are being asked, you find a necessity to find an auditor? It looks very fishy.

Is this in any way similar to other scandals like PKFZ [Port Klang Free Zone] and NFC [National Feedlot Centre]?

I would have to say this is a very complex deal. Whether it is intentionally complex [is another matter]. From the questions I have raised, you should be able to answer basic questions. What is happening? That worries me more. Before any exposure was done, we hear about how good Talam deal was. We hear the best parts of it, given an image that there is no problem, and under them everything will be okay. But even when you ask basic, individual transactions, they can’t answer.

There is definitely a lot of problems. But it can be very easy when you release all the state valuations. This is a main question that will lead to a lot of answers. If they really have their one and a half months already, but did they ever disclose to you their valuation?

Actually who knows this deal? In Pakatan Selangor government, who knows the in-and-out and A to Z of the whole debt restructuring exercise? Who is in charge of this deal? Who is the one who pieced this together? We don’t know. The way [Selangor exco] Teresa Kok is answering, I doubt she is inside there. Is there DAP or PKR? I really don’t know… if this is a competent government, someone should have been standing up to answer me one by one.

What do you say to those who say this was all started by the BN government, Talam was a ‘mess’ before Pakatan Rakyat [took over]?

Since March 8, 2008, who became the new government? Pakatan Rakyat. Who is the one who is doing this debt settlement to accept these assets? Pakatan Rakyat. Were there any debts settled by the previous state government? There were. We don’t want to compare the mode, one say global settlement, whatever, that I am not concerned. You (Pakatan Rakyat) accepted the lands, the assets. What is global settlement? It’s a term that they coined, sounds very ‘worldwide’. So to me, all the while, it’s been more spinning than answering. There are a lot of figures, why? Because each part there are a lot of questions rather than answers.

Their standard operating procedure is such. One, blame previous state government. Two: Divert attention. Three: Resort to personal attacks. Four: Give partial information and mislead the public. They have been very consistent doing these.

From the whole sum of it, whenever there is something raised, they would come up with some new information that we have never heard of. Did you realise that? The Bestari Jaya issue they just admitted to it, but still they did not state what was valuations. Danau Putra they just divert attention say ‘oh, we can get another piece of land’. But the question was, why you accepted at that price, even if you can find replacement, can’t find for all? And there were so many caveats too. The Menara Pandan case, they say, ‘oh , previous government, nothing to do with us’. You see in the Hansard, MB says there are some properties that are easily sold, that includes the Ulu Yam land. So, it’s very inconsistent?

There have been articles that have highlighted the so-called ‘rise of Talam’, where a lot of land has been alienated to the company basically for free by the previous state government…

I can’t comment, because I was [and am] not in the state government. Whatever is done, is done. If it was wrong, the government was voted out. Correct? There was a change. Are you trying to tell me. Two wrongs make a right?


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