Ex-Penang BN chief controlled reports on undersea tunnel, says Guan Eng

Teng Chang Yeow (left) outside the High Court in George Town, Penang, today.

GEORGE TOWN: Former Penang chief minister Lim Guan Eng told the High Court today that Teng Chang Yeow, the ex-chairman of Penang Barisan Nasional, had editorial control over two mainstream newspapers in their coverage of the undersea tunnel and three main roads project.

Lim was speaking during his defamation trial against Teng over remarks the latter made on the project in the New Straits Times (NST) and Berita Harian (BH) newspapers last year.

“Most people (with NST and BH) at the time were closely identified with the previous government, the top management especially,” Lim said when questioned by Teng’s lawyer, Kek Boon Wei.

Kek had asked if Lim felt that Teng had control over headlines and standfirsts in the stories deemed defamatory, as well as over the dailies’ reporting. Lim answered “yes” to both questions.

Noting that Lim had said NST was “part of the government” before the 14th general election last year, Kek asked if the finance minister believed it is part of the government today.

To this, Lim said: “Today? We are still wondering.”

Lim sued Teng over his statements concerning the payments made to the company which won the bid to build the undersea tunnel and three main roads project.

Teng, through three articles published in NST and BH on Jan 17 and Jan 19 last year, implied that Lim had lied about “not paying a single sen” to the contractors. In reality, Teng claimed, payments had been made.

This was concerning a RM11.2 million fee paid by the Penang government to engineering firm HSS Integrated Sdn Bhd as independent checking engineers (ICE) for the tunnel and roads project.

Lim, in his statement of claim, said Teng’s statements gave the impression that he had lied to the people on a matter of public interest and abused his power.

Earlier in the trial, Lim was asked why the government had to pay RM11.2 million to the ICE instead of the contractors as initially agreed to, and why the undersea tunnel project did not begin on time.

On the payment issue, he said the government had to select and pay for the ICE to ensure that the company would be transparent during its vetting of the project.

He said while the state government had forked out RM11.2 million, it would later be claimed from the contractors.

As to why the undersea tunnel never took off, he said there were “unavoidable delays” pending reports required by the government.

The trial before justice Rosilah Yop continues at 2.30pm. It is expected to end this Thursday.

The three main roads in the project are from Air Itam to the Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway (5.7km); Tanjung Bungah to Teluk Bahang (10.53km); and Jalan Pangkor-Gurney Drive junction to Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway (4.1km).

Work on the Air Itam to Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway will reportedly begin on Aug 31.

The 7.2km undersea tunnel will connect George Town’s Pangkor Road and Bagan Ajam in Butterworth. Work is scheduled to begin in 2023.

The cost of the entire project is RM6.3 billion.

Lim was represented by K Simon Murali and Kok Yuen Lin.