Archived: PKFZ scandal: So who cheated the govt?

Hindraf-HRP leader P Uthayakumar has written to Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak saying he was being tortured by the Prisons Department.

Uthayakumar who is serving a 30-month jail sentence for sedition claimed he was made to sleep on the floor.

But the Prisons Department begs to differ, saying Uthayakumar had been placed in solitary confinement for a total of 13 days on two separate occasions as he had “refused to take instructions”.

Just what were the ‘instructions’ was not revealed by the department. Did Uthayakumar’s plea for a humane treatment melt Najib’s heart? It never did.

While Uthayakumar languishes behind the cold walls of a prison, life was so much the better for former transport minister Dr Ling Liong Sik, 70, who was as pleased as a punch to be waking home a free man after he was acquitted of charges of having cheated Putrajaya in the Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ) land deal.

Police started probing the PKFZ land deal in early 2009 after then Port Klang Authority chairperson Lee Hwa Beng lodged a report following a financial audit of the project.

The PKFZ project, initially estimated at RM1.1 billion after it was mooted by Ling in 1997, more than quadrupled in cost to RM4.6 billion a decade later.

High Court judge Ahmad Asnawi found reasonable doubt in the prosecution’s case, making it all too easy for the former MCA president to walk out freely.

What is more disturbing is the fact that Ahmad ruled that Ling could not be held accountable for any mistakes, misleading information or inaccuracies in the preparation of the ministry’s documents regarding the land acquisition, despite Ling signing the documents.

How could an officer bearer, in this case a minister, not be accountable for misinformation or manipulation of figures and facts as evident in the document he would be signing?

Do our ministers not bother to get all the information necessary on a deal, purchase or project before inking it? Or are our ministers illiterate?

Or was exonerating Ling an easy way out for the judge who then conveniently shifted all blame to the officers of the transport ministry who drafted and prepared the documents?

Ling’s acquittal no surprise

Ling’s acquittal was predicted, no thanks to former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad who was among those who gave evidence for Ling.

Mahathir, who was prime minister for 22 years, was also the finance minister between 2000 and 2003, when Ling was alleged to have committed the offences.

It came as a déjà vu when Mahathir claimed he was all too familiar with the PKFZ project, a claim he had years ago made about Perwaja Steel, expressing satisfaction with Perwaja’s turnaround when reality was otherwise.

Mahathir then appointed Eric Chia to “rescue” Perwaja in 1988 and false assurances were given by Chia including talks about the public listing of Perwaja when instead the company was debt-ridden, with fraud and malpractices allegedly taking place.

Almost three decades later, Mahathir tried a similar stunt by trying to ‘rescue’ Ling. Besides Mahathir, there were five other cabinet ministers who had testified in Ling’s favour; they were Dr Fong Chan Onn, Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir and prosecution witnesses Mohamed Nazri Aziz and Mohd Effendi Norwawi.

Even MCA president and former cabinet minister Dr Chua Soi Lek was all too relieved with the court ruling, lauding the nation’s judicial system as being efficient in delivering justice.

As DAP veteran Lim Kit Siang put it, Ling’s acquittal simply reflected the failure of Putrajaya’s system of accountability.

Lim added that Ling’s acquittal showed that Malaysia was no closer to identifying the culprit behind the losses resulting from the mega project, the cost of which had ballooned from RM1.1 billion to RM4.6 billion in 2007.

“It shows the whole system – not talking about any particular person – the failure of the whole system of integrity and accountability,” Lim was reported as saying.

“The story has not been probed. The tale has been not been probed. We are as far away as finding the culprit, as far as ever,” Lim added.

But then Malaysia has never been high on accountability, integrity, transparency, justice and truth. A seasoned politician like Lim should not forget that the system collapsed long ago, when the judiciary time and again failed to uphold democracy through its ‘biased’ verdicts.

The system failed the rakyat when a former chief minister was let off the hook for statutory rape.

The system again let the people down when it cleared a cop who beat up a detainee to death of any wrongdoing.

It is the same system that allowed the murderers of Mongolian native Altantuya Shaariibuu go free.

Due to a flawed system, the perpetrators are getting away scot-free. Despite there being evidence that a senior minister’s son had beaten up a security supervisor of a plush condominiun, the police reacted to the contrary.

Courts not upholding democracy

Lim, who is also the Gelang Patah MP, called for an inquiry into the PKFZ scandal, saying that it “cannot just be left like that without any accountability whatsoever”.

However, like all injustices that begged inquiries and never got any, the Ling Liong Sik-PKFZ scandal too will end up being stale news in days to come.

The fact that the PKFZ fiasco leaves more questions unanswered is of no interest to the federal government.

Closing the files on the PKFZ scandal is yet another blotch on the BN government’s refusal to come out clean over this issue.

If Ling did not cheat the government, who did? How did the cost of the project spiral four times more than its actual cost of RM1.1 billion in a spate of 10 years?

To shift blame on Ling’s staff by creating scapegoats to allow the former to escape punishment for his actions puts the judiciary to shame.

With Ling getting on with life as usual, the rakyat are left scratching their heads, amazed at the extent to which the country’s longest-serving premier Mahathir could stoop to ‘safe’ his cronies.

Indeed, when it comes to hiding the truth from the rakyat, it will always be a case of ‘endless possibilities” for nefarious and corrupt politicians like Mahathir.

Jeswan Kaur is a freelance writer and a FMT columnist.