PM Mahathir Mohamad has officially announced that highway concessionaire PLUS will not be sold. However, the juiciest part of this whole affair is the leader of another highway company calling the Khazanah MD a bald-faced liar, the company a thief, and the government stupid for not selling. Damn, son! Elsewhere, Maddey's first act as interim Education Minister seems to miss the most important point of providing free and nutritious breakfast for all schoolchildren, while a witness in the Najib Razak-Arul Kanda 1MDB audit report tampering trial sticks to her guns despite pressure from the defence.

Liar, liar pants on fire

You rotten, stinking liar

It’s official. PLUS will remain a state asset with sovereign wealth fund Khazanah owning 51% and the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) the rest.

PM Mahathir Mohamad on Thursday confirmed an earlier report that the Cabinet has decided that PLUS won’t be sold, adding that the concession for PLUS highways will be reviewed and extended by 20 years. Most importantly, the PM said the new concession agreement will see PLUS toll rates reduced by 18% this year.

Maddey noted that PLUS’ earnings won’t be as big as previously, even though traffic volume is expected to increase over the years. Nevertheless, the lower rates aren’t gonna affect the company’s income.

Okay, so this isn’t a total abolition of tolls, but an 18% reduction will translate to at least some savings. For example, if you’re traveling, let’s say, from Shah Alam to Juru, instead of paying RM43.90, the new agreement will see you shell out just RM34. That’s not too bad.

As we explained yesterday, many people thought Pakatan Harapan had promised in its election manifesto to abolish tolls altogether. However, Buku Harapan, in fact, says Pakatan will reduce toll rates (should it be elected) with a view to eventually abolishing tolls. Sneaky perhaps, but we had always thought there was no way the gomen could immediately abolish tolls.

MCA big boss Wee Ka Siong has, however, hit out at the news, claiming that PLUS’ 70-year concession is one for the Malaysia Book of Records.

Maddey, he says, had given PLUS the initial 30-year concession, till 2018. Then, claims Wee, Mads extended it by 12 years to 2030, before the Abdullah Ahmad Badawi administration was forced to extended the deal further, by another eight years, to settle outstanding compensation left behind by Mahathir.

Now, with the Pakatan gomen under Maddey, the concession has been extended a further 20 years.

We’re not entirely sure about Wee’s claims, but if correct, that is certainly a record of sorts.

What really caught our attention yesterday, though, was Maju Holdings executive chairman Abu Sahid Mohamed calling Khazanah MD Shahril Ridza Ridzuan a “liar, liar pants on fire”. Maju Holdings was one of the companies which had submitted bids to take over PLUS and Abu Sahid said it had done so after being invited to make an offer.

He slammed Shahril for claiming in a statement earlier that the bids for PLUS had come unsolicited. “He is a liar. How can they say I was not invited and they knew nothing about us bidding? We wrote to them, we were the first to write to them,” he said. 

Abu Sahid also called the gomen decision not to sell PLUS “stupid”, accusing Khazanah of “stealing money” and calling for the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate the sovereign wealth fund. “They are paying RM58 per metre square for resurfacing the road. I am paying RM18 (on the MEX Highway).”

Wow. Just wow. If true, then the MACC really should be looking into PLUS, if not Khazanah itself.

Shahril, meanwhile, shrugged off Abu Sahid’s accusations. He said he had no intention of engaging in a debate and would instead concentrate on working with the government to deliver a solution to help “our rakyat“.

We don't care about rich kids' health

Another announcement made by the PM yesterday wasn’t so well received, at least by us.

You see Maddey, in virtually his first act as interim Education Minister, said the free breakfast programme previously announced by Maszlee Malik, which was supposed to have been implemented this month, will undergo a change i.e. now, only those “deserving” of it would be given free breakfast.

What this means is only those who can’t afford breakfast will be registered under the programme. Those who can afford breakfast … well sorry kids, but you don’t get no free grub.

“To provide breakfast to everyone means even those who are rich and (can afford to have) breakfast at home will get them too. So, it’s not fair,” said our illustrious old leader.

On the surface, that seems okay. After all, we should be helping those in the lower-income category as the rich can afford not to be helped, right?

But free breakfasts surely shouldn’t be put in the same category as, let’s say, fuel subsidies, no? Ensuring students eat a healthy breakfast is something we certainly should be doing. And not just for those who can’t afford it. It’s a service to the people, not certain categories of people. 

Countries such as Finland, Sweden and India do it.

And who says the children of the rich actually have breakfast before getting to school, let alone healthy breakfasts?

Recent studies have shown that one in four kids skip breakfast on a regular basis. That’s 25% of all kids. This can have an adverse effect on their concentration levels during the school day, and contribute to obesity. And boy are we a fat nation!

So yeah, Mr PM-cum-interim-Education-Minister, do it for all kids. Do it for the good of the nation. Hell, just do it.

Cool as a cucumber

You gotta hand it to former National Audit Department (NAD) officer Saadatul Nafisah Bashir Ahmad.

While certain other prosecution witnesses in other trials featuring ex-PM Najib Razak have proven to be unreliable (in our opinion, anyway), the former Audit director has stuck to her guns and appears unfazed by Jibby’s lawyers.

On Thursday, when questioned by lead defence counsel Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, Saadatul said former 1MDB CEO and president Arul Kanda Kandasamy did not fully cooperate with the NAD. Arul, she said, had promised to provide all information required for auditing but had delayed this, with the information coming “too little, too late”.

(NOTE: Arul is jointly charged with Najib with tampering with the NAD’s audit report on 1MDB. However, as reported two days ago, the guy is expected to turn prosecution witness.)

In the end, said Saadatul, Arul provided only an estimated 60% of the information required, “and it took a long time“, apparently.

What was even more impressive was that, despite Shafee suggesting otherwise, Saadatul kept to her opinion that then Auditor-General Ambrin Buang and she had been coerced into changing the 1MDB audit report to leave out certain aspects.

In her witness statement earlier, Saadatul had said that the then Chief Secretary to the Government, Ali Hamsa, had coerced Ambrin and the NAD to leave out a certain paragraph of the audit report. Asked by Shafee whether Ali had specifically requested it, Saadatul said the chief secretary would not have come out to say it. However, she noted that Ali had said that the auditor-general could use his discretion to leave out the paragraph in question. This, she maintained, was indirect coercion as it was clear that if Ambrin and she didn’t agree to this, it would be brought up again and again.

You simply have to see Saadatul’s point. How do you say “no” to the chief secretary to the government who is “suggesting” that the report be changed before it can be presented to the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee?

Saadtul also pointed to a transcript of an audio recording of the meeting showing that she had defended the inclusion of the info, but this had still led to Ali saying that it should be taken out. The audio recording had, earlier in the trial, caused a sensation when it was tendered as evidence.

This is certainly going to get interesting. Unfortunately, though, we are gonna have to wait a bit for the next episode, as the trial has been adjourned to a later date which has yet to fixed by the court.

Bits and bobs

A few other things happened yesterday that we thought may interest you, dear readers. Here they are in brief:

  • Kedah Bersatu deputy chief Anuar Abdul Hamid claims “almost all” of the party’s MPs are unhappy that Mahathir is being pressured to step down as PM, adding that Pakatan may fall if that were to happen. We’ve gotta ask … how sure are you, sir, that Pakatan will not fall should Maddey stay on?
     
  • Police investigators spent four hours at MACC HQ in Putrajaya recording statements from the anti-graft body’s head honcho Latheefa Koya and others over the “Najib tapes”. We wonder what will come of it.
     
  • A survey has revealed that most Malaysians don’t want Rohingyas to be settled here. Odd for a Muslim-majority nation known for taking up the causes of other Muslims, like the Palestinians. 
     
  • A pro-tem committee for the formation of the Malaysian Media Council has been appointed. The proposed council aims to strengthen and ensure that freedom of the press and rights of its practitioners are covered, as well as promote ethical media practices. Will such a body be good for media practitioners, or will it invite even more regulation by the government? Only time will tell.
     
  • A study by Ilham Centre predicts that Warisan will win the Kimanis by-election, thanks to the “federal government factor”. We’re not so sure, though. The pretty big turnout at a BN ceramah on Wednesday night seems to suggest different.

“A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”

- Winston Churchill -

IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS

  • The Senate impeachment trial of US President Donald Trump has officially started, with Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and Senators being sworn in. Get live updates on proceedings here.
     
  • President Emmanuel Macron says France will deploy its Charles De Gaulle aircraft carrier to the Middle East to support its operations there, amidst tensions between the US and Iran.
     
  • Who is Mikhail Mishustin? On Wednesday morning, he didn’t even have an English Wikipedia page. Now he is the Russian prime minister.
     
  • An 18-page white paper reveals that the European Union is mulling a five-year ban on facial recognition technology in public areas in order to work out how to prevent its abuse.

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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