Friday, September 28, 2007

A Right Royal Mess

There comes a time in a man's life, when faced with such a right royal adversity and a right royal mess in the country's law making institutions, he may just say what the fish, why do I givashit, maybe I should just roll over and play dead.

I salute the country's lawyers for saying "enough is enough" and demanding the set up of an independent Royal Commission of Inquiry to sort out the mess in the judiciary. This is probably the only way out for all of us to get to the bottom of things, including the RM4.6 billion Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ) fiasco.

After the latest Public Accounts Committee (PAC) hearing, I have reasons to believe that some PAC members may now want to scuttle the PKFZ issue. (Malaysiakini reports that chairman Dato Shahrir Samad is set to retire, so dammit sir, here's a chance for you to do a last decent thing before you go and sail away into the sunset). But some interesting points have now emerged:

> Jebel Ali Free Zone Authority (JAFZA) carried out the 'study' for the project.

> It was Jebel Ali's suggestion of '1,000 acres". (I believe and some maintain that Jebel Ali actually mentioned two phases.)

> On 3 November, 1998 Bintulu MP Dato' Tiong King Sing acted as sole land sale representative of Kuala Dimensi Sdn Bhd..(A damn right royal sinister situation here, old bean. More on the role of the so called Foo Chow Mafia later, and guess who is the numero uno Foo Chow in this country?)

> The government Valuation Department did four separate valuations on different lots of the 999.27 acres.

In Nov 98, the Department's valuation was RM 17 psf,
in May, 2000 RM 18 psf and
in Sept 2000 RM 21 psf.
But in August, 2001, the valuation for acquisition was only RM 10.16 psf.!

> The Attorney-General will be invited by PAC to give his version of the proposal to acquire the land. Had the Selangor State more power than the Federal government, so much as that it could insist on the purchase of the land? When the Federal Government acquired the KLIA land in Sepang, the State Government could not or did not veto. (Some may recall at one time the site of the PKFZ in Pulau Indah was also considered for the new KLIA. Go figure).

A right royal mess indeed, and we also truly need an independent Royal Commission of Inquiry to sort out of this quagmire.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Letter to PAC

22 September 2007

YB Dato’ Shahrir Samad

Public Accounts Committee.

All Members,
Public Accounts Committee.

YB Dato’,


As a concerned citizen I strongly believe that the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has a moral responsibility to the rakyat to seriously look at the massive cost overrun that has taken place in the development of the Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ). I also strongly believe that PAC should rightfully address the issue of possible Criminal Breach of Trust (CBT) on the part of the officers given responsibility to carry out this project and not restrict themselves as to whether the project is indeed a ‘bail-out’. The issue of a bail-out has become that of public concern due to the commitment given by the Prime Minister when he took over office. One should not however forget as to why this bail-out comes about. I have reasons to believe total mismanagement with intention to cheat the Government and to amass ill-gotten gains seems the reason for the massive cost overruns. All issues from the very beginning to the final commitment to a tune of RM4.6 billion were carried out without moral responsibility, accountability and good governance towards the organization and the nation.

2. In this regard, I would like to appeal to the Committee to seriously take into consideration the various issues under two sub-headings that have been raised in the attached document. One is related to bail-out. The next which I believe is more serious, is the issue related to a CBT. In my opinion this is a serious matter as this has become a point of contention among Malaysians. If this is not addressed and the culprits brought to book, what will become of rules, regulations and procedures? I am certain that if these are not adhered to, it will lead to a total collapse of the Government machinery.

Best regards,

Capt. Yusof Ahmad
The Ancient Mariner

Thursday, September 20, 2007


I get the feeling I may have started to sound off like a broken record to some with my seeming 'obsession' and single minded pursuit of this Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ) thingy, but what the fish, I reckon I do have some measure of locus standi or whatever since I am a former employee of the port. My simple objective is to see justice done and to throw the book at the crooks involved in this blatant cheating of the rakyat, without fear or favour.

This morning, together with a couple of former port colleagues I went to meet veteran politician and MIC vice president YB Tan Sri Dato Dr. K.S. Nijhar (photo) at his office in Bangsar. The YB is also MP for Subang and a member of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) which will meet again next week on the 25th and 26th September for another round of inquiry into the PKFZ debacle.

The meeting was very cordial and I briefed the YB about points which I have raised earlier in my blogs. I also emphasized the need to call a couple of very important Lembaga Pelabuhan Kelang (LPK) officials who were somehow inadvertently left out during the first inquiry. The main issue is simply to find out why government procedures on matters involving huge sums of money were not followed, which led to the port being saddled with a massive debt and have to be bailed out with a dubious 'soft loan'. The rakyat must be told if there were deliberate attempts by certain quarters to mislead the government for monetary gains and hence they should all be guilty of criminal breach of trust (CBT).

We also discussed the powers and limitations of the AG and PAC and where do we go from here, etc., etc.

Footnote: Above photo is from the Malaysian Parliament website. I had brought my camera but Tan Sri Nijhar politely declined to be photographed with me lest he be accused of trying get publicity to gain political mileage. Sheeesh.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

PKFZ in Fairplay

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chaired by Dato Shahrir Samad will meet again on Tuesday 25th for another round of probing into the Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ) scandal. Despite an almost complete blackout of all news on the subject by our newspapers, the international shipping weekly Fairplay, a more than a century old publication of the influential Lloyd's Register of London has again picked up this story of our national shame and featured it in a recent edition:

Fairplay International Shipping Weekly
06 Sep 2007

Klang a microcosm of Malaysia’s malaise
A scandalous land deal involving Port Klang Authority escapes public scrutiny. Jaya Prakash reports that the backlash is likely to affect coming elections.

AN EMBATTLED Port Klang Authority has escaped public scrutiny for cost overruns of more than $1Bn that have been incurred in operating a free-trade zone. The case appears to be a microcosm of a deeper malaise that runs through Malaysian business.

Port managers have spent several months battling media and public hostility over the controversial – some say scandalous – decision to acquire a land holding tagged at $7 per square foot from Malaysian company Kuala Dimensi. The same company had earlier bought the same plot at an unbelievably low price of $0.86/ft. Kuala Dimensi is headed by Azim Zabidi, who is a politician in Malaysia’s ruling United Malays National Organisation.

There have also been ethical issues involving high-ranking Port Klang Authority executives contracting work from companies in which they had pecuniary interests. This work was directed toward developing 500 warehouses in a 400ha of land in Pulau Indah. Any prospects for a full disclosure of the circumstances leading to the free-zone deal appear to have evaporated on 27 August, when Ramli Ngah Talib, speaker of Malaysia’s parliament, opposed an ‘urgent motion’ by Lim Kit Siang, leader of the country’s political opposition, for a debate on the free-zone issue. Lim spoke to Fairplay about the conflicts and stressed the importance of bringing “culprits to book”.

The free-zone issue is a test case of Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi’s 2003 pledge that the government would not bail out failing companies, declared Lim. He added that now that a bailout has indeed happened, the government’s move amounts to a “U-turn” of Badawi’s pledge. The debacle only scratches the surface of something deeper and more sinister, he continued. “It has to do with the entire system,” he warned, leaving few in any doubt that the issues go wider than just the managers at Port Klang Authority.

In 2003, the port authority was declared “financially insolvent” by the country’s auditor-general. Despite the finding, however, no investigations have ever been commissioned to get to the bottom of the Klang crisis.

In statements given to Fairplay, Transparency International Malaysia spoke of serious repercussions for Malaysia. TI-M president Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam said: “The absence of investigation could raise serious concerns over the apparent lack of good governance. In Malaysia, we have a lively parliament with a significant opposition, and we hope the debate will continue and the electorate will follow the debate.” Navaratnam added that TI-M is prepared to help combat corruption alongside a newly commissioned Public Accounts Committee, which is to investigate Port Klang Free Zone.

Fairplay first reported on investigations into the free-zone issue in May, parallel to reports by Malaysia’s fiercely independent political portal Malaysiakini, among others. The effective closure of public debate will now push the discussion underground, which could prove costly for Badawi’s administration in an election year. He has already bailed out other failing corporations.

A letter to Malaysiakini last month slammed the transport ministry for denying any instance of fraud, irregularity or malpractice in Port Klang Free Zone. If allegations to the contrary are correct, the writer surmised, the only conclusion to be reached is that the port’s managers were simply incompetent and showed no organisational ability and hardly any knowledge about management.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Shock After Shock

This was The Star's front page headline yesterday. While we can emphatise with the Indonesians for experiencing yet another devastating earthquake, I believe we poor Malaysians are really no better off with our own man made calamities. This is the same newspaper which front paged photos of screwdrivers to highlight the Auditor General's shocking recent findings a few days ago but relegated news about the Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ) to the inside pages. Perhaps this was because the latter involved an MCA ministry? A cheap shot, if you ask me, and a rather juvenile and pathetic attempt to divert public attention.

I had a post iftar (buka puasa) supper with a few of my ex Klang Port Authority mates a couple of nights ago and they include a couple of senior officials from PKFZ. Some very interesting if not shocking points have now surfaced:

> The RM15 million a year 15-year management contract with Jebel Ali Free Zone Authority (JAFZA) included a clause which stipulated JAFZA will continue to be paid if the contract is terminated for any reason by either party. Thats RM225 million down the drain. Who drew up this half past six contract?

> A contract for laying a 20 km cable pipeline was priced at a shocking RM500 million, which comes to RM25 million per km. (If you recall the land was also priced at RM25 per sq ft. and they obviously must have a preference for this magic number). Is there any limit to man's greed?

Well, as they say, watch this space for more after shocks.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Human Suffering

'Budget Day' has come and gone. The authorities would call it a 'painless budget' to reduce suffering for the rakyat. But then again, what is 'suffering'?

An old friend once asked how is it that one citizen of the USA seems to suffer more deprivation during a freak storm like the Katrina than a whole city of Indians in flood-hit Mumbai who have never had running hot water, or a steady supply of food? Some of the people in the newspapers and on TV seem not to be the poorest citizens who are usually the colour of the street - dressed in rags. Yet even these "well dressed" Indians seem to endure the mess they find themselves in without fists raised in slogan shouting. They do not take good health or safety for granted, and do not demand these things. The poorest don't even get a mention - no-one knows how they feel or what they think.

Or maybe this is just me romanticising Asia and Asians. There are many people in the US and Europe too, who must endure terrible pain and suffering.

I know it is necessary to try to get rid of as much suffering as possible, but also how to learn to deal with it without pointing fingers and blaming others. It is necessary to embrace suffering also... work through it, and learn its lessons.

Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran once wrote:

Your pain is the breaking of the shell
that encloses
your understanding.

Even as the stone of the fruit must break,
that its
heart may stand in the sun,
so must you know pain.

And could you keep your heart in wonder
at the
daily miracles of your life,
your pain would not seem
less wondrous than your joy ...

In a few days the fasting month starts. One of the terms of reference of the ibadah is to experience the hunger and suffering of the poor. So lets also take time to reflect on where we are, where we are going and whether we have the correct aptitude and moral courage for it. Some of us are now approaching an age where the little aches and pains manifest themselves, and as we become much more aware of the pain and sufferings in life, lets hope we will all be able to face it with courage and even wonder ...

Selamat Berpuasa.

Friday, September 07, 2007

PKFZ - Shahrir O Shahrir

Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chairman Dato Shahrir Samad (photo) was one year my junior and my brother Kassim's classmate in MCKK more than 40 years ago. I dont really remember him being particularly outstanding in school but as reported by Malaysiakini yesterday, he must have outdone himself when he declared that the PKFZ problem "may be bigger than what was reported in the media."

I say brudder dont we all know that already.

After PAC's handling of the ECM Libra-Avenue Capital issue, not everyone is holding his breath when PAC called Lembaga Pelabuhan Klang (LPK) officials for an inquiry into the Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ) scandal yesterday. Now's probably a chance for them to redeem themselves. Shahrir also told reporters after the meeting in Parliament that it resulted in more questions than answers. "We will be meeting LPK officers again during the fasting month to further clarify issues surrounding the PKFZ,” he said. The next meeting will also see the participation of the Valuation Department and Securities Commission.

OK, so now we are getting somewhere. It must be borne in mind that these people are above all, civil servants. A probable stock answer must surely be the same used by Nazi generals at the Nuremberg trials: Saya menurut perintah.

So who gave the orders?

Is it true that port officials were forced to sign cheques and documents against their will and had to do so under protest?

The inquiry will be conducted during the holy month of Ramadan. So boys and girls remember that kalau bohong nanti berdosa tau? Remember that God will be watching and the rakyat will be watching.

The whole bloody world will also be watching us now.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

PKFZ - Points to Ponder for PAC

(Photo courtesy Capt. Hj. Tasripin)*

Opposition leader Lim Kit Siang spoke about the PKFZ scandal again in parliament yesterday. Public Accounts Committee (PAC) headed by Datuk Shahrir Samad will meet on Thursday 6th September to discuss the issue. My regular early morning brisk walk companion Dr. Tan Seng Giaw, who is the committee's vice-chairman has raised many probing questions with me on this matter. Here are some broad pertinent points and irregularities I hope PAC will probe and that they will not leave any stone unturned:

1. Why did Lembaga Pelabuhan Klang (LPK) get involved in an operational activity, when Government decided with privatisation, all such operational activities be carried out by the private sector?

2. If it was, as said, to be self-financing and profitable, why did Kuala Dimensi Sdn Bhd. not do it themselves?

3. If Kuala Dimensi’s excuse is that they lacked experience, expertise and finance, was it not the same with LPK?

4. Why did Jebel Ali Free Zone Authority (JAFZA) terminate the lucrative RM15 million per annum management contract with the PKFZ? Is what has been said in the newspapers true? What actually took place?

5. With no working knowledge of port/logistics/free zones etc., the GM of LPK has not only had terms extended 3 times in office but also made chairman of PKFZ. Why? Is she protecting vested interest of certain parties?

Meanwhile, Malaysiakini reports that my old MCKK classmate and former DPM Anwar Ibrahim has remarked that the PKFZ scandal is one of betrayal, involving the rich and powerful in the government, here.

* Above photo is of yours truly with an old friend and LPK general manager Datin Paduka O.C. Phang, taken at the 4th Asia Maritime & Logistics Conference organised by the Malaysian Shipowners' Association (MASA) about a year ago. I was a member of the organising committee.