Penang councils’ denial over vanity awards ‘weird and awkward’, says Umno


GEORGE TOWN: “Weird and awkward.”

This is how an Umno leader viewed a Penang council’s claim that it did not use ratepayer’s money for an awards programme, which has come under the spotlight after UK newspaper The Times exposed the organisers for allegedly offering accolades in exchange for cash.

This came after Penang Island City Council (MBPP) mayor Maimunah Mohd Sharif said RM40,000 was paid in entry fees after they were shortlisted for awards by the Europe Business Assembly (EBA).

Penang Umno chief Zainal Abidin Osman said despite the mayor’s own admission that “fees were paid”, it was clear the local council had taken money from its own funds to get into the awards programme.

“I am also of the opinion that local councils involved had used ratepayers’ money to send representatives of MBPP and the Seberang Perai Municipal Council (MPSP) to attend the awards ceremonies in Montreux, Switzerland, in 2013 and Stresa, Italy, in 2014.

“…but it is pelik dan janggal (weird and awkward) that Maimunah has denied ratepayers money was used to ‘purchase’ these EBA awards.

“What else were the monies paid for then?” Zainal asked today.

The Times had reported that EBA advertises itself as an Oxford institution to sell “made-up prizes” such as “The International Socrates Award” and “The Queen Victoria Commemorative Award”.

These are all available to those willing to pay a price of up to £9,300 (RM52,000).

Checks by FMT showed that not only had a few public universities received awards from EBA but also high-ranking government-linked company officials.

Yesterday, Maimunah said the MBPP and MPSP were not aware that these awards were “not genuine”.

She said if it was indeed found to be not genuine, then they would apologise.

She told The Star that the two councils had won the awards from EBA after paying 7,800 euros (RM39,100) in entry fees.

She also said no assessment was made by the EBA prior to the awards being presented.

“The entry fee is a package, inclusive of the participation cost for the conference.

“Both of us (former mayor Patahiyah Ismail) and myself went alone and we flew economy class although we were both entitled to business class.

“We did check on the awards but we did not receive any information which would have raised suspicions.

“Other Malaysian local authorities, agencies, universities and individuals had also received the EBA awards before us.

“As such, the councils were of the opinion that the awards ceremony was worth joining,” Maimunah told The Star.

Maimunah was former MPSP president. She took over as MBPP mayor from Patahiyah on July 1.

Meanwhile, Zainal advised local authorities to be wary of such offers for awards from unheard of outfits.

He said it was better if the council put the ratepayers’ money to better use, such as improving services, giving ratepayers top priority.

“This controversy shows the ‘Competent, Accountability and Transparency’ mantra of the Penang government was not practised by the councils.

“It appears now that they are all involved in this international-level ‘scam’ which has embarrassed all Penangites.”