GEORGE TOWN: Penang’s Chief Minister Incorporated (CMI), the state government investment arm, is not subject to federal audit, and has no accounts, or board members, former chief minister Lim Guan Eng told the High Court today.
During six hours of testimony at a defamation hearing, Lim denied that CMI was a “one-man show” in which the chief minister alone took decisions on all matters.
Lim had brought a defamation suit against former Gerakan Youth chief Jason Loo for remarks made in three Chinese-language newspapers in 2017 about the sale of 6.4 acres of government land in Peel Avenue to Island Hospital Sdn Bhd on a 99-year lease.
The sale was conducted by CMI, which operates as a private company wholly-owned by the state government.
In answer to Loo’s counsel, Kek Boon Wei, Lim said that although the Chief Minister Incorporated Enactment 2009 gave full powers to the Chief Minister to decide on matters, including land sales, decisions were always made with prior consultation of the state executive council.
Lim provided details of the Peel Avenue land sale. Approval of the sale was given in July 2016 and the land alienated in December that year.
He said the land was sold via CMI so as to avoid red tape if it was pursued through a government agency.
Kek then asked Lim why the land sale was not made public, despite Lim’s own assurance in 2015 that all government contracts with the public sector would be made known.
Lim said the agreement was bound by a non-disclosure agreement. Allowing details of the agreement to be made public would shoo away high-value investors, he said.
Kek then asked if then state executive councillor Chow Kon Yeow had violated the non-disclosure agreement by announcing the expansion of a nearby hospital to the Peel Avenue land.
Lim said Chow had not named the hospital in the article, and hence had not gone against the NDA.
Kek said it was incredulous to suggest that readers of the article would not know the name of the hospital in question, as it was the only hospital at Peel Avenue. Lim disagreed.
“We cannot announce the project beforehand. If we did that, we will frighten multinational investors, for they will be afraid that we will disclose everything.
“But since there is increased public interest on the project, they decided to announce it on May 17, 2017, by the hospital themselves,” Lim said.
Kek later asked why the land was not offered for sale by open tender, which Lim often espouses, in similar fashion to the proposed RM6.3 billion Penang undersea tunnel and three roads project.
Lim said the tunnel and roads project was a “construction procurement”, while the land sale was a “high-value investment”.
Kek asked if Barisan Nasional had control over the China Press and Guang Ming Daily newspapers, to which Lim agreed, but disagreed when asked if BN had control over the Kwong Wah Yit Poh newspaper.
The hearing was adjourned after Lim had been questioned for nearly six hours, and will continue tomorrow and on Wednesday, with a break until April 29, as Lim has ministerial duties in Putrajaya, where he is finance minister.
Lim has filed three defamation suits against Loo, China Press, and Guang Ming.
Loo and China Press were sued over an article entitled “Jason Loo: One man decides, Pakatan Harapan DAP-led state government run by the rule of one man” published on May 29, 2017.
Loo and Guang Ming were sued over a story entitled “Jason Loo urges Lim Guan Eng to explain why Peel Avenue land was sold prior to gazette”, dated May 29, 2017.
In the third suit, Loo was named sole defendant over an opinion piece ran by Kwong Wah Yit Poh on June 9, 2017.
Lim seeks damages and an order to prevent the publication of articles related to the matter in the future.