Saturday February 18, 2012
Kickback issue kicks up storm
ANALYSIS by JOCELINE TAN
A corruption scandal is brewing in the Kedah Government regarding a certain ‘Mr 30%’ who allegedly demanded commissions from Chinese associations applying for state allocations.
CONTROVERSY has followed Datuk Seri Azizan Abdul Razak for the most of last year and it looks like 2012 will be another year of fire-fighting for the frail and elderly Kedah Mentri Besar.
Azizan is currently fighting a new fire in the form of kickback allegations involving his state government.
It has become known as the “30% issue” and has been the talk of Chinese circles in the state. The joke is that commissions, the polite word for kickbacks, used to be 10% but have shot up to 30% under the current administration.
The matter started quite innocently last Friday evening during a dialogue session between MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek and Chinese organisations in Kedah.
When Lee Tzu Jiang , a representative of a Chinese school as well as a residents’ association in Sungai Petani stood up to speak, those listening had little inkling that something big was about to break.
In a rather rambling way, Lee complained that last year, after an announcement of allocations for Chinese associations by Tan Joo Long, the Sidam assemblyman and state exco member in charge of environment and Chinese affairs, a man came to see Lee to offer help in applying for the allocation.
But the offer came with strings attached – the man who approached Lee was obviously some sort of middleman because he asked for a 30% commission to secure the allocation. Lee refused and he later went to see Tan to complain about what had happened. Shortly after that, the middleman contacted Lee to offer him a “discount” – the 30% commission was reduced to 10%.
The application went through and the Chinese school which applied for a grant of RM7,000 received RM6,300; the residents association which applied for RM3,000 received RM2,700.
The allocations had been neatly reduced by 10% each. Lee also produced copies of the two cheques made out to his associations – the most incriminating part is that the cheques were issued not by the state government but by a private individual.
Since then, a total of eight Chinese groups have emerged to tell similar stories. Some paid 10%, some 20% and one, the Sungai Petani Bomba Sukarela, paid the full 30% demanded.
Two groups – the Kuala Muda Chinese Assembly Hall and the Guan Yuan Gong Association – which refused to pay, went away empty-handed.
“They accepted the arrangement but they are unhappy because they say this sort of thing is hard to justify with their associations. They want us to find a solution,” said Kedah MCA chairman Datuk Chong Itt Chew whose handphone has been ringing non-stop with calls from the media, especially the Chinese press.
Tan has tried to turn the tables on his accusers by lodging a police report accusing the associations of collaborating with the middleman to cheat the state. Azizan, the man at the centre of the storm, has cleared Tan of any wrongdoing.
Tan, on his part, blamed his personal assistant known only as “Ramli” and who has since been suspended.
The mysterious “Ramli” had reportedly claimed that the state government was merely following a practice set by the previous regime.
Well, two wrongs do not make a right and besides, the Pakatan Rakyat government in Kedah and elsewhere had come to power riding on a campaign condemning corruption and offering a clean government.
Human beings have weaknesses but it is doubly embarrassing when those accusing others are doing the same thing.
The PAS leaders in Kedah have always had doubts about their counterparts in PKR and DAP whom they found to be troublesome from the start.
The PKR representatives have been associated with rumours of party-hopping, while DAP is always threatening to pull out from the state Pakatan.
Tan, according to Kedah politicians, has come across as a greenhorn despite his history as a former Labour Party politician. He was reportedly roped in to contest on a PKR ticket by party vice-president Tian Chua because PKR was desperately looking for candidates.
No one expected him to win but he did and suddenly they were stuck with a 60-something-year-old who could hardly string together a sentence in Bahasa Malaysia or English. He can only speak Mandarin and the local dialect Hokkien.
During the 2008 elections, he campaigned in a small lorry and locals remember the man driving the lorry speaking better Malay than the candidate himself.
Tan rarely spoke in the State Assembly because of the language problem. He is so low profile that many Kedah politicians are not sure what he used to work as and accounts are varied – small-time trader, smallholder, sinseh and even forklift driver. But he is supposed to have studied agriculture in Taiwan.
However, he had the last laugh on his critics when he was suddenly elevated as a state exco member more than a year ago after the incumbent PKR assemblyman Tan Wei Shu quit to become an independent. But as they say in Murphy’s Law, he had risen to his own level of incompetence.
He did not even know how to conduct a meeting and had to turn to the civil servants for help.
An Alor Setar-based reporter said that whenever she interviews him, she has to speak slowly, use simple Malay and on top of that, she has to explain the issue to him.
Even then, more often than not, she cannot make out his replies. But, she added, he is a very nice man.
“Nice man or not, it is a serious allegation as it involves money meant to help the Kedahans. An internal investigation by the state government is insufficient and it is best to let the police handle the case,” said Kedah Gerakan Youth chief Tan Keng Liang who lodged a police report on Tuesday.
The MACC has also come into the picture and there have been lots of finger-pointing but no one is sure where the buck will eventually stop.