Irwan Serigar, Nancy Shukri must respond to DoJ probe into Uber

Liew-Chin-Tong-irwan-nancyBy Liew Chin Tong

I call on Treasury secretary-general Irwan Serigar Abdullah and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Nancy Shukri to respond to a Bloomberg report on Sept 20 entitled “Uber Faces Widespread Asia Bribery Allegations Amid US Criminal Probe”.

The news piece alleges that:

“Attorneys are focused on suspicious activity in at least five Asian countries: China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and South Korea. For instance, Uber’s law firm is reviewing a web of financial arrangements tied to the Malaysian government that may have influenced lawmakers there.

“As the (United States) Justice Department looks into a possible criminal case, Uber is working with law firm O’Melveny & Myers LLP to examine records of foreign payments and interview employees, raising questions about why some potentially problematic business dealings weren’t disclosed sooner.

“Uber’s law firm is also investigating a corporate donation, announced in August 2016, of tens of thousands of dollars to the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre, a government-backed entrepreneur hub. Around that time, a Malaysian pension fund, Kumpulan Wang Persaraan (Diperbadankan), invested US$30 million in Uber, said people familiar with the deal. Less than a year later, the Malaysian government passed national ride-hailing laws that were favourable to Uber and its peers. Lawyers are trying to determine whether there was any form of quid pro quo.”

Irwan is the chairman of both the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creative Centre (MaGIC) and pension fund Kumpulan Wang Persaraan Diperbadankan (KWAP). He owes the Malaysian public an answer on his role in the alleged Uber scandal.

MaGIC must disclose the donation it received while KWAP, the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) and Khazanah Nasional, as well as other government-linked investment companies (GLICs), must also disclose their investments in Uber to the Malaysian public as there is a high probability of conflict of interest.

In July, the government pushed for the passing of amendments to the Land Public Transport Commission Act (2010) to legalise e-hailing services.

During the parliamentary debate, I asked Nancy to provide details regarding the investments of Khazanah and other GLICs in Uber, but to no avail. I call on Nancy to respond to the revelation by the Bloomberg report.

The Malaysian Parliament must never pass a bill of law just because it was heavily lobbied by a foreign firm (Uber) and some government officials could have unlawfully benefited in the process. The integrity of the Parliament is called into question. And the livelihoods of taxi drivers, as well as Uber and Grab drivers, are at stake too.

In my various engagements with the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) prior to the passing of the amendments, I detected that the government took the view that e-hailing is the future and taxis are a sunset industry. This shouldn’t be the case.

The legalisation of e-hailing services, without a comprehensive plan to help the taxi industry and with no protection for e-hailing drivers, is only going to benefit Uber and Grab. Sooner or later, taxis will be wiped out and e-hailing drivers will be further squeezed by the duopoly of Uber and Grab.

Already, drivers of Uber and Grab have complained that there is no avenue for them to voice their grievances, and many of them perceive that SPAD and the government are almost acting like “spokespersons” of Uber and Grab. DAP parliamentarians proposed that a tribunal be included in the amendment to the act, but this was rejected by the government.

DAP parliamentarians also called for the “commission” collected by Uber and Grab to be curbed at 15% but to no avail. Currently, Uber takes a 25% cut from the fares received by drivers from consumers while Grab takes a 20% cut. The government refused the idea of a cap on commission.

The government must be seen as an unbiased and fair arbiter between societal interests, and help weaker parties in the equation to strike a balanced deal. In the case of e-hailing, the government is seen as siding with the duopoly of Uber and Grab against the best interests of taxi and e-hailing drivers.

If it is found that the government sided with Uber because of bribery and lobbying, this would be tantamount to a betrayal of ordinary Malaysians.

As the allegations are serious, I urge Irwan and Nancy to respond immediately.

Liew Chin Tong is Kluang MP and DAP central executive council member.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.