I remember watching video clips and reading reports of the probing investigation conducted by the Selangor legislative assembly select committee on competency, accountability and transparency (Selcat) into the spending by the Khir Toyo administration and remarking to someone that perhaps MACC could learn a thing or two about getting at the truth.
Then, the select committee appeared to be armed to the teeth with facts and figures to allow for some very effective examination of state civil servants who went before the committee.
I fear now that I may have spoken too soon.
Malaysiakini reported yesterday that Selcat chairperson YB Teng Chang Khim announced, after three days of public hearings, that there was no evidential basis to support the allegations of corruption against the state government-owned sand mining company, Kumpulan Semesta Sdn Bhd.
“All we have is one person claiming that there is a demand made by someone else. And it is unfair for the person who was complained against (since the claimant has not acted further). So where is the scandal? I never saw any scandal,” he told a press conference after today’s hearing ended this afternoon. At the moment (these complaints) are just contract issues. These are to be determined by the courts, not by us”, Teng is reported to have said.
Let’s be fair and see this conclusion in a fuller context.
On 18th May, 2010, Selcat announced that it would hold a public hearing into allegations of corrupt practices by KSSB, from 2nd to 4th June, between 10am to 1pm on each day.
The first thing to note is that if the committee had indeed kept to the time allocated to this public hearing, the entire investigation was concluded in 9 hours.
Let’s not be misled by the reported ‘three days of public hearings’.
The scope of the intended public hearing can be discerned from the following statement of Darren Ong, the private secretary to Teng :
“Selcat will investigate the matter from the administration aspect to determine if there were weaknesses in administration which must be addressed and improved by the state government to ensure that KSSB adheres to the policies and instructions of the state. Selcat hopes that all parties would grant their full cooperation during the public hearing and present relevant documents to expedite investigations“ .
I cannot help but observe that there is no mention whatsoever about looking into the allegations of corruption.
The second observation I will make is that Selcat expressed the hope that all parties would fully cooperate and present all relevant documents to make for an expeditious investigation.
All this has been captured in the Malaysiakini report dated 18th May, 2010.
Two days before the commencement of the public hearing, YB Manikavasagam, at a press conference at his office, released a video recording taken by a former KSSB contractor, Zahar Rusuli, of alleged illegal sand-mining operations being carried out in Rasa, Hulu Selangor.
Zahar, too, attended and spoke at the press conference.
I want to reproduce the following explanation Zahar gave of the video recording he had made, as reported in FreeMalaysiaToday.
Zahar explained that in January, he went to the site where alleged illegal sand-mining was taking place, armed with a video camera and took footage of the operations going on.
“By a stroke of luck, I suddenly realised that officials from KSSB and the land office were also present at the area, so I filmed them entering their vehicles. The workers later told me that the officials had met privately at the site’s cabin inside the area.”, Zahar said.
“I sent the copy of my video to the menteri besar’s office, KSSB and also the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC). I have since received two threats from people who were hired by Alex and another person called Dr Zul.” , Zahar added.
YB Manikavasagam has the following video clip on his blog. A phone call to him yesterday confirms this is the same video clip that was disclosed at the press conference.
I think the video clip does appear to bear out quite a bit of what Zahar said and does give rise to serious questions about the possible involvement by state civil servants in corrupt practices involving sand-mining.
Certainly, it warrants an investigation.
Watch the video clip and judge for yourself.
Let’s turn now to the public hearing conducted by Selcat from 2nd to 4th June.
On day 1, the committee quizzed Selangor cabinet member Yaakob Sapari, KSSB non-executive chairperson Abdul Shukor Nagor and Selangor Land and Mining Department director Abdul Nasir Hassan. You can read about the day’s proceedings in Malaysiakini HERE.
Day 2 saw the committee quizzing Abdul Shukor again, this time on the huge amount of bonuses that the state-owned KSSB had paid its directors and employees.
Malaysiakini’s report on the second day’s proceedings can be read HERE.
That Malaysiakini report also quotes Manikavasagam as saying that he had obtained more documentary evidence implicating KSSB in the alleged corruption, more witnesses had come forward, including three KSSB contractors and two staff members, and that he would apply to the select committee on the last day of hearing to have the testimony of these witnesses presented.
“I am satisfied so far, but I think the hearing should be at least a week longer to hear the testimony of the witnesses who can nail the case against KSSB” , Manikavasagam is reported to have said.
Manikavasagam did in fact attend the final day’s proceedings yesterday.
Another Malaysiakini report yesterday on the final day’s proceedings suggests that the same was fiery.
I quote from the report :
“Tempers flared and voices were raised today when Manikavasagam insisted on calling his “witnesses” to testify before Selcat, while Teng maintained that they would first have to submit their written statements” .
“We have written to you to provide written statements from the witnesses so that they can be called. And you never even did it. This is a select committee of the state legislative assembly. You cannot just parachute in witnesses at any point of the hearing. You have to follow the Standing Orders. Or else this committee will be a laughing stock of the entire country” , Teng shot at Manikavasagam.
“There should be no cover-up. You have to call the witnesses” , Manikavasagam countered.
The Malaysiakini reporter describes Manikavasagam’s evidence as having ‘failed to impress Teng’ and comprised of a statutory declaration from one of his witnesses alleging price discrepancies, evidence of cheque transactions and an anonymous letter allegedly by a KSSB staff.
Let’s say she was right.
Let’s say Manikavasagam’s evidence was pathetic.
He, however, wanted to produce other witnesses to testify before the committee.
Teng wasn’t having any of this.
Manikavasagam, it seems, had been asked to provide written statements of those witnesses and he hadn’t.
Had not Teng or any of the other committee members seen the news reports of the press conference held by Manikavasagam on 31st May?
The video clip?
Zahar’s statements during that press conference?
Only the select committee members can shed light on these questions.
Did Teng or any of the other select committee members inquire as to the nature and purport of the evidence that would be tendered by those witnesses, if called?
Nothing in the Malaysiakini report suggests that they did.
What is reported, though, is that Teng was firm in insisting that the written statements that were requested by the select committee of those intended witnesses was required by Standing Orders of the state legislative assembly.
I made a few phone calls to a number of Selangor Aduns. None could categorically confirm if the Standing Orders necessitated such as was insisted by the select committee.
Had the witnesses on day 1 and day 2 all given prior written statements before they were called to give evidence?
Select committee members and the witnesses can confirm this.
What I had confirmed to me yesterday by someone who had recently testified before another select committee was that this person did so without having to first furnish a written statement to the select committee in question.
Let’s take stock again of the context in which Teng has declared that following upon due inquiry by the committee, there is no evidence to support the allegations of corruption against KSSB.
The announcement of the intended hearing clarified the same to be, not about allegations of corruption, but to investigate ‘the administration aspect to determine if there were weaknesses in administration’ .
On day 1 and day 2, the evidence elicited seemed to pertain more to the management of KSSB.
On day 3, when the select committee was urged to receive evidence of corrupt practices from other witnesses, they declined to do so.
So that the Standing Orders of the legislative assembly of the state of Selangor might not be disregarded, lest the select committee be the laughing stock of the nation.
What were the numbers quoted by Zahar?
500 35-ton lorries registered as 10-tonners illegally carted sand out of the area in a two-week period?
What’s this worth?
Maybe the select committee can confirm this.
Teng, trained in law, and a senior practitioner of the Malaysian Bar, in insisting that evidential material said to be proof of corruption be sacrificed in deference to the strictest compliance with house rules, appears to have lost sight of a legal maxim that is second to none.
Justice must not only be done, but be manifestly seen to be done.
On 11th May, 11 PKR MPs proposed an independent body, and not Selcat, to investigate the allegations of corruption against KSSB as “Selcat cannot investigate this… state-owned company”. Malaysiakini has that report HERE.
Another legal maxim comes to mind.
No man shall sit in judgment of his own cause.