Counsel: Haul up lawyers for overlooking unfair ECRL, pipeline contracts

PETALING JAYA: A senior counsel has urged the government to file complaints with the Advocates and Solicitors Disciplinary Board (ASDB) for professional misconduct if lawyers were involved in drafting and vetting lopsided contracts with overseas Chinese companies.

Jagjit Singh said the attorney-general’s civil division might have been asked to prepare draft agreements or outsourced the task to private legal firms.

“These lawyers should have the expertise to go through such contracts and should have alerted the government to the loopholes in the agreements,” he told FMT.

He was responding to Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s remarks that he was amazed by the “stupidity” of former prime minister Najib Razak’s government in negotiating the contracts and deals which his administration was now trying to untangle.

“Such stupidity has never been seen before in the history of Malaysia,” Mahathir told Malaysian reporters in Beijing at the end of his five-day official visit to China last month.

Mahathir said contracts negotiated with Chinese companies for the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) and pipeline projects had no exit clauses, so Malaysia had to pay “huge sums” in compensation.

Jagjit said lawyers were liable for misconduct under Section 94 (3)(n) of the Legal Profession Act for gross disregard of a client’s interest, in this case the government and the people.

“Mind you, the professional legal fees paid to them would not have been cheap,” he added.

Jagjit said the government must find out who had fumbled and made Malaysians look silly.

“Any lawyer worth his salt should know the importance of an escape clause in a premature termination of a contract.”

Jagjit, who is a disciplinary committee member, said lawyers owed a duty of care and must be held accountable to their clients.

“They ought to be punished for causing losses to their clients,” he said.

Once a complaint is lodged, a committee will investigate the matter and propose punishment if the lawyer is found guilty of misconduct.

The ASDB can censure the lawyer, impose a fine of up to RM50,000, suspend him or her from practice for a maximum of five years or bar the counsel from practising.

The three projects which were suspended are the ECRL, the Multi-Product Pipeline (MPP) and the Trans-Sabah Gas Pipeline (TSGP).

It was reported the government will implement the ECRL project only after a significant cost reduction is obtained.

The finance ministry said the final cost of the ECRL project was RM81 billion not including operating costs.

The ECRL project, spanning 688km from Port Klang to Kota Bharu, was launched last year and was slated for completion in 2024, while the RM4 billion TSGP involves the construction of a 662km gas pipeline from Kimanis to Sandakan and Tawau.

The MPP and TSGP projects were awarded to China Petroleum Pipeline Bureau on Nov 1, 2016.

Meanwhile, the ECRL project was awarded to China Communications Construction Company as the main contractor.