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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

> Will the KT electorate vote for change?

In the most daring act to 'bribe' the electorate of Kuala Terengganu (KT) to date, Deputy Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak dished out 583 government contracts in a “lucky draw” fashion to each and every Class F contractor present at the Wisma Darul Iman in Kuala Terengganu on Jan 10, the fifth day of the KT by-election campaign.

These contracts (valued between RM30,000 to RM200,000 each), which were claimed to be for infrastructure works in the local township, were distributed in random by having the contractors come on stage to click on the computer.

And upon pressing the button, a contract would be awarded to the contractor, details of which - nature of works and contract price - would instantly appear in a big screen in the hall.  Thus the contractor would walk home with his “prize” (a contract with a pre-determined price), with no question asked on his track record or suitability for the works assigned.

Najib, who launched these innovative awards, proudly claimed this as “a world record”, saying that: “In this lucky draw, everyone wins. Everyone gets a contract.”

He further added that if Barisan Nasional wins in the coming Kuala Terengganu by-election, there would be more and bigger such contracts, so that the Class F contractors (confined to Malays, for small contracts) would “continue to make money and the country’s economy would continue to grow”.

While Najib may be entitled to claim he has scored “the world’s first” for having satisfied every one of the hundreds of contractors present, few can share his pride over such bizarre method of disposing government infrastructure projects.

For a start, contracts for infrastructure works are usually awarded gradually over a period of time, as and when the needs for such works arise, as determined and initiated by the engineers and the local authorities.

These contracts are never awarded in a torrent of hundreds within a single day anywhere in the world.  Granted that this may be part of the stimulus package announced earlier to counter current economic hardship, there is no possible justification to cram such a staggering number of projects in one go, especially when these are confined to a small township like Kuala Terengganu.

Needless to say, massive wastages and redundancies will be the inevitable consequences.

'Irresponsible act of public squandering'

Then, what about the track records and skill compatibility of the contractors with respect to the projects at hand?  Without proper interview and scrutiny of the awardees, how can the government be certain that the projects are awarded to the right contractors?

Next, there is the question of price.  Without tenders or negotiation, how can the government ensure fair pricing?

In fact, over-generous pricing is expected, or else Najib would not have said: “I see everyone present here is jubilant and clapping his hands, every one has got a government contract, how can they be not grateful to the government and not strongly support Barisan Nasional?” (Sin Chew Daily, Jan 11)

It is clear that this “lucky draw” award of contracts is an irresponsible act of public squandering aimed at inducing voters to support BN. 

For this move, BN was promptly condemned by the National Institute of Electoral Integrity as abusing government machinery to dish out financial benefits during election campaign.

Deplorable as the act is, this is but one of an endless series of similar monetary inducement amounting to tens of millions of ringgit in the form of cash payments and allocations handed out by BN in the KT constituency since the run-up to polling which will be held on Jan 17.

Goodies for Chinese community

In fact, on the same day (Jan 10) as Najib handed out the “lucky draw” contracts, he also handed out RM8 million to 20 religious schools, which are mainly located in Terengganu state.

Recognising the minority 8,787 Chinese votes (11% of total) as pivotal in this election, the Chinese community has been bombarded almost daily with allocations and cash payments totalling no less than RM 12 million, such as:

(1) RM3.3 million for construction of a new community hall.

(2) RM2.8 million for furbishing a completed hall in a Chinese school.

(3) RM3 million for 10 Chinese schools.

(4) RM2.7 million cash distribution to 9,000 Chinese for the coming Chinese New year (this annual payment was brought forward to reap the goodwill of Chinese electorate for the coming poll), and;

(5) Miscellaneous payments to temples, guilds and other community bodies.

All these financial bonanzas, handed out within the few days sincenominations on Jan 5, are clearly intended to induce voters to vote in favour of the BN candidate. It therefore constitute “bribery” as defined in paragraph 10 of the Election Offences Act 1954, for which the culprits are punishable as prescribed in paragraph 11 of the same Act.

Regrettably, the election commission under the new chairman Abdul Aziz Yusof, who vowed to ensure clean and fair election, has remained silent over these BN offences.

Neither has the newly-formed Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), which prides itself as a replica of the famed Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) of Hong Kong, been stirred by such glaring corrupt practices.

Complete mockery of our election

Such monetary assault on the electorate, combined with the daily brainwashing by BN’s propaganda machines, also known as the mainstream media (local newspapers and TV channels), has once again made a complete mockery of our election as a cornerstone of a democratic system of government.

With all the institutions tasked to uphold the rule of law either unwilling or incapable of fulfilling their constitutional roles, it is now left to the 80,000 electorate of Kuala Terengganu to play as guardians to uphold justice and democracy by disciplining the wayward ruling party with a negative vote.

In this connection, it is heartening to take note of how the neighbouring Kelantan state has valiantly fought off similar corrupt assault by Umno/BN for the past two decades.

Under the corruption-free administration of PAS, the people of Kelantan, who are almost completely Malay Muslims, have proven themselves to be people of high moral fibre.  

They have successfully overcome the persistent coercion and temptation presented by the Umno/BN federal government through abuse of federal authority and improper monetary inducement.

No doubt, their devotion to Islam, which abhors corruption as a grave sin, must have been an important factor that contributes to their moral courage.

Will the Terengganu Muslim constituents, who form 88 percent of the KT electorate, prove to have the same moral strength as their Kelantan brothers by rejecting the decadent values of Umno/BN?

And will the minority Chinese constituents gaze beyond the immediate monetary gains to vote for change – a change that would mean the rejection of a defunct political power and one step closer to turning a new leaf for the nation?

Coming at a time of power transition following the political tsunami of the Mar 8, 2008 elections, the outcome of this KT by-election will have significant impact on the future direction of country’s political development.  

It is therefore earnestly hoped that the people of KT will rise to the occasion to make the right choice for the nation - Malaysiakini.

KIM QUEK is a retired accountant and a member of opposition party PKR.