Former finance minister Lim Guan Eng was arrested by our graft busters last night over investigations into the Penang Undersea Tunnel project which he initiated during his tenure as CM of the northern state. Also, LGE could be in trouble (again) for that bungalow he purchased in Penang a few years ago.

Elsewhere in today’s newsletter, we talk about money matters in terms of our national debt and what’s needed to help us survive the Covid-19 pandemic; how local government elections won’t be seen anytime soon, despite one minister still advocating for them; the shenanigans in Parliament over 1MDB; and, lots of other things, including a suit against the Sabah governor by a certain Mighty Moses.

No tunneling out for LGE

Under siege over undersea tunnel

In a surprise move last night, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) arrested former finance minister Lim Guan Eng in connection with its probe into the controversial RM6.3 billion Penang Undersea Tunnel project
 
Lim, the MACC says, will be charged under Section 16(a)(A) of the MACC Act 2009 at the Special Corruption Court in Jalan Duta today, and Section 23 of the same act at the Penang Sessions Court on Aug 10 and 11. It appears that the charges today and on Aug 10 are related to the tunnel project. However, the charge related to Guan Eng’s Aug 11 date is is for another case, which remains unspecified. 
 
According to a sources report, however, the Aug 11 case could be for the underpriced 2015 purchase of a bungalow, for which Guan Eng had earlier been acquitted. The businesswoman who sold the DAP sec-gen the bungalow, Phang Li Koon, is also expected to be charged. 
 
Whether that particular story is correct though, is another matter altogether. The Federal Constitution clearly states that a person acquitted of an alleged crime can’t be charged again for the same offence, while the Criminal Procedure Code says folks can’t be charged with a different offence using the same facts. Still, the CPC does say charges can be proffered again if the court which acquitted a person is deemed to have been incompetent to try the offence.
 
Anyway, if you recall, the MACC had recently restarted investigations into the tunnel project which had been initiated when Lim was Penang chief minister, resulting in a whole bunch of people being questioned, including current CM Chow Kon Yeow and former state councillor Dr Afif Bahardin. Former Penang Port Commission chairman Jeffrey Chew was also arrested on July 1.
 
Following LGE’s arrest, DAP leaders say they’re standing in solidarity with their boss, while the party’s Jelutong MP RSN Rayer saying he’ll be representing Saudara Lim in court. Rayer added that other DAP MPs who are practising lawyers, including Gobind Singh Deo and his brother Ramkarpal, will also be turning in for Guan Eng.
 
But what exactly, you ask, is the controversy surrounding the Penang Undersea Tunnel?
 

Well, investigations are said to be centred on a RM305 million fee for a feasibility study carried out for the project. Among the allegations is that several politicians are alleged to have received kickbacks for awarding the contract for the study. 
 
The whole timeline of events seems a little off, according to a journalist known for hitting out at corruption. In one of his blog posts – from 2014, no less – Anil Netto questioned why exactly the feasibility study was awarded after the contract for the construction of the tunnel had already been handed out.
 

Indeed, that was one of the things that struck us as odd, even back then. After all, it stands to reason that a feasibility study should be conducted before a contract for a project is awarded. Why put the cart before the horse?
 
Whether or not the MACC’s case has merits, however, you can expect certain folks to come out with all guns blazing, accusing the Perikatan Nasional government of being behind Guan Eng’s arrest. 

And whether or not PN had anything to do with this, it can be argued that it could work heavily in their favour – both as a political stick to beat the Opposition with, much like what Pakatan did to Najib Razak over 1MDB, as well as giving them possibly giving them their best chance in decades to retake Penang. 

As a state, Penang has usually voted for Chinese-majority parties, and if the head of the opposition’s largest Chinese party is delegitimised, Perikatan could end up sitting pretty. The only problem for them is that their own Chinese parties have over the past few years turned into lame ducks and been all but rejected by their community. 

It’s going to be interesting to see how all of this plays out.

We’re not bankrupt ... yet

According to Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz, Malaysia’s total debt liability has risen to over RM1 trillion! However, that doesn’t mean the country is broke.
 
Government direct debt, he says, currently stands at RM854 billion, but the total debt amounts to RM1.2 trillion due to “off-budget items” which, it seems, the Perikatan government inherited. The gomen though, is able to repay all of its debts on time. And this is why it’s not right to say we’re bankrupt.

Okay, we’re not economists or accountants. But isn’t RM1.2 trillion a massive amount? Plus, if it’s true that our direct debt is now RM854 billion, that would mean that the figure’s risen by RM55 billion in just over half a year from RM799 billion! 
 
Sadly, the present Rich Uncle Pennybags hasn’t explained how this has happened. We can only hope our Opposition fellas will prove themselves worthy, errr, opposition, and press him on this.

But that’s not the only thing. If you look at things over a slightly longer timeframe, the increase in debt starts to look scarier. According to Tengku Zafrul, government debt stood at RM686 billion in 2017, had shot up to RM741 billion in 2018 and up again to RM793 billion in 2019. 

So, basically our direct debt alone has risen 24% in just 3 years. We don’t know about you guys, but this gives us the willies!

Meanwhile, the Temporary Measures for Government Financing (Coronavirus Disease 2019 [Covid-19]) Bill 2020 was tabled in the Dewan Rakyat yesterday.
In a nutshell, it covers all government programmes meant to cushion the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, among the most important aspects of the bill is that it seeks to raise the national statutory debt limit from 55% to 60% of the gross domestic product (GDP) to accommodate additional borrowings meant to finance economic packages related to Covid-19. 
 
The move to raise the statutory debt limit, say economists, is a good one, and necessary too. Plus, they concur that it will allow the government access to more funds for targeted responses aimed at helping people to overcome hardships brought on by that pesky little virus. 
 
We do wonder though if some of these “additional borrowings” can go towards funding face masks for students considering how the gomen has yet to make it mandatory for students to wear face masks in class due to the financial burden on kids who can’t afford them. 
 
Not making masks compulsory in schools is bloody stupid. The authorities have made it mandatory everywhere. Yet in a place that’s guaranteed to have many people every day and where it’s hard to control behavior, we’re saying takpe because it’s a financial burden on people.

Look, we know. Even with plans to lower the ceiling price of face masks from the current RM1.20, it’s always gonna be tough for some folks. Which is why the gomen should make it mandatory for certain establishments, like schools, to give out free masks. And if these establishments can’t afford it, then the government ought to cough up the cash. After all, if we can waste money on triggering state elections, then we sure as hell can spend on one mask a day for teachers and students.
 
Anyhoo, here are some other Covid-related news items from yesterday:

  • The country saw another 15 new cases yesterday, bringing the total to 9,038. Only five of these new infections are imported. Unfortunately, the number of active cases – 200 – is still a concern.
     
  • Incidentally, six of the new cases recorded yesterday are from the Sivagangga cluster, which brings the total infections there to 30. But what’s more worrying is that cluster, Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah says, may be from a super-spreader strain of the coronavirus. 
     
  • Noor Hisham, meanwhile, has urged both the Malaysian and Singaporean governments to streamline SOPs before allowing travel between the two countries in order to prevent another wave of infections. 
     
  • Speaking of a new wave, a survey says 25% of SMEs will likely not survive if Malaysia is hit again and the government is forced to reinstate movement curbs. 

It just ain't happening

It’s final. No two ways about it. Perikatan is not in favour of holding local government elections, says Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin.
 
Weirdly though, the minister is still advocating such elections, judging from her remarks in Parliament yesterday. Zuzu says local council elections are currently being held in third world countries like Rwanda and Uganda, and such polls are helping create councillors with standards equal to ministers who’re capable of speaking credibly at international forums. By contrast, the vast majority of our 3,000 or so local councillors, all of whom are political appointees, are not of that quality. 
 
As news came out about this on Thursday, Parti Sosialis Malaysia slammed Zuraida for backing down so easily and citing lame excuses. That’s probably being harsh on the minister, though. After all, it’s obvious she is still in favour of local council elections and may still be fighting for it. Unfortunately, as a minister, Zuzu has no choice but to abide by the decision of the Cabinet. Perhaps PSM would’ve served the people better if they’d just slammed the Cabinet instead. 
 
In any case, it seems a survey conducted earlier this year showed most Malaysians are in favour of local council elections, though they’re largely in the dark as to what councillors actually do. Still, that’s understandable. We haven’t seen such elections here for decades, so the issues taken up by councillors remain a mystery to most people. 
 
Local elections, in case you didn’t know, were suspended in Malaysia in 1965, with the official reason being the Confrontation with Indonesia. However, as this commentary points out, many believe it was because the then ruling coalition, the Alliance, had been losing ground in such elections to the opposition. The deferment, of course, was supposed to be a temporary one – only till the Confrontation ended. However, the suspension was never lifted.
 
The reasons previously given – by the Pakatan Harapan gomen, which had been the ones advocating local council elections in the first place – for not holding such polls was that they would be costly and there were more pressing needs to be looked into. But really, if Rwanda and Uganda and other countries can do it, why the heck can’t we?!?!
 
Since we’re on the topic of Parliament – well, sort of anyway – lots of other stuff went down in the Dewan Rakyat yesterday too.
 
The first was a heated debate triggered by a remark made by Moneyman Tengku Zafrul, who hit out at former Attorney-General Tommy Thomas for criticising the deal with Goldman Sachs over the return of US$3.9 billion in cash and assets connected to 1Malaysia Development Berhad. Our dear minister cited a Feb 11 letter allegedly written by Mr T to then PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad in which the then A-G allegedly stated he’d wanted to accept the lower offer of US$1.75 billion from Goldman.
 
This led DAP’s Tony Pua to interject, claiming bullshit as Tommy had said a deal would only be made once the Wall Street investment bank was charged in court. Tengku Zafrul, however, fired back that charging any of the Goldman Sachs executives would’ve involved extradition requests, none of which were filed.
 
LGE also got involved, asking if the decision to accept the eventual amount was approved by the current Cabinet, however, Dewan Rakyat Speaker Azhar Harun interrupted, saying that the power to negotiate had been given to present A-G Idrus Harun (Art’s brother, by the way). This was when things began to go south and ended in a shouting match as Lim insisted the decision should’ve been the Cabinet’s to make.
 
Okay, so we’re not exactly sure if Saudara Lim is right, or whether Idrus should have been given the mandate. Or, if Tommy Thomas actually did want to accept a lower amount. But what the hell was Art Harun doing answering for the government?!?! As Speaker, Art should be playing referee, not taking the gomen or indeed his brother’s side.
 
Meanwhile, our beloved Foreign Minister Hishamuddin Hussein, who’s the son of a former PM, the grandson of the founder of Umno and cousin of a (disgraced) former PM, was caught on video vaping in the Dewan!!! Yes, he later apologised. But his excuse about not realising what he was doing and vaping being a new habit was bloody lame, to say the least. And it doesn’t matter if Hisham did promise to pay the fine he was issued. This sorta nonsense should never happen!

Bits, bobs, and some other dangly things

A whole bunch of other things made the news yesterday. Here’re some of the more important and/or interesting ones:

  • It seems Musa Aman has not given up his dream of becoming Sabah CM again. He and the 32 other assemblymen who supported him in his bid to overthrow the Parti Warisan Sabah-led state government have filed a judicial review to challenge the decision of the Yang di-Pertua Negeri to dissolve the state assembly. 
     
  • The Sabah palace, however, says the governor never received statutory declarations from the 33 assemblymen backing Musa as CM, nor any request for an audience from the man himself. 
     
  • Investigation papers opened against Al Jazeera and the Bangladeshi man interviewed by the news org for that documentary which hit out at our government’s handling of foreign workers during the MCO have been sent to the A-G’s Chambers for further action. 
     
  • Meanwhile, an aide to Senior Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob says AJ didn’t make any request for an interview with the minister, contrary to claims by the news org in its controversial documentary that requests were turned down. The aide says the requests came only after the documentary aired. 
     
  • The Immigration Department has reportedly refused to renew the visas of two AJ staff members working here, while department D-G Khairul Dzaimee Daud says the Bangladeshi man interviewed in the documentary will be deported on Merdeka Day
     
  • Even though Putrajaya claims that anti-party hopping laws violate the constitutional right to association, the Human Rights Association of Malaysia has a different view, and has urged the government to enact said laws
     
  • Former 1MDB chief executive Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi testified at Najib Razak’s trial yesterday that Jibby had personally greenlit Mohd Hazem Abdul Rahman joining the state wealth fund as executive director. This was allegedly another example of the Jibster’s authority over 1MDB. However, Shahrol said there was no post for an executive director at the time and Hazem joined as COO. 
     
  • We’ve all heard of underage marriages and how this is a concern in Malaysia. Well, apparently underage marriages lead to underage divorces. Yes, folks, it is a thing. There have been 18 since 2016, and Johor is leading the stats with six. 

“The light at the end of the tunnel is just the light of an oncoming train."

- Robert Lowell -

IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS

  • In its first response to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s remarks a month ago that US-China engagements were a failure, China says it has no intentions of unseating the Western superpower. Also, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi says Beijing rejects any attempts to create a new Cold War, and instead stands ready to restart dialogue with Washington on all levels. 
     
  • A former top Saudi Arabia intelligence official has claimed that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sent an assassination squad to Canada to kill him, just days after members of the same group had killed journalist Jamal Kashoggi in Turkey in 2018. 
     
  • The explosion in Beirut was caused by highly combustible chemicals seized seven years ago from a ship which should not even have been in the Lebanese port. 
     
  • The New York attorney general has sued to dissolve the National Rifle Association, alleging that senior leaders had diverted millions of dollars from the influential group for personal use. 
     
  • Hiroshima marked the 75th anniversary of the dropping of the world’s first atomic bomb during World War II with scaled down ceremonies due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Thousands usually attend the ceremonies, but attendance this time was limited to just survivors and their families. 

ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER

This weekday newsletter is brought to you by Trident Media, a group of Malaysian journalists with 60 years of combined media experience in four countries across TV, print and digital media.

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Trident Media · Seksyen 35 · Shah Alam, Selangor 40470 · Malaysia

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