DAP rejects Musa’s claim  that the Education Ministry was “totally blameless” in the RM140 million East Coast computer laboratory scandal which  must rank as one of the most irresponsible and baseless  self-exculpatory statements by a Minister in the 46-year history of Cabinet government in Malaysia

Media Statement
y Lim Kit Siang

(PenangSaturday): DAP rejects the claim by the Education Minister, Tan Sri Musa Mohamad on Wednesday  that the Education Ministry was “totally blameless” in the RM140 million East Coast computer laboratory scandal as it must rank as one of the most irresponsible and baseless  self-exculpatory statements by a Minister in the 46-year history of Cabinet government in Malaysia. 

Musa said the contractor, Bell Grand Sdn. Bhd. and project management consultant, QSC Projects Sdn. Bhd. were “completely at fault”. 

Asked why the Education Ministry should not be blamed, Musa used the analogy of the Ministry as merely a “house owner” and said: 

“If a house is defective or delayed, do you take action against the owner? Of course not. You take action against the contractor and consultant. The owner should, in fact, be given compensation”. (New Straits Times 24.7.03) 

Musa had applied the analogy wrongly, for the “house owner” victim of the RM140 million East Coast school computer laboratory scandal is  not the Education Ministry, but the people of Malaysia, who are entitled to compensation and accountability against the contractor, consultant and the Education Minister, unless Musa could present a credible and convincing case that the Education Ministry had acted responsibly and professionally and done all it could  to prevent the school laboratory scandal from taking place. 

Musa himself admitted that the project management consultant, QSC Projects acted as a Government representative to manage and monitor the project, and to report on progress to the Education Ministry every two weeks.  This must mean that the  failure and scandal of the East Coast  computer laboratory project was only possible not only because of the irresponsible and negligent actions of the contractor and consultant, but also the Education Ministry which was supposed to  receive fortnightly progress reports from the consultant.  Why had the Education Ministry failed? 

In January this year, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Education Ministry, Datuk Mahadzir Mohd Khir stressed that all State Education Departments must oversee the successful completion of the school computer laboratory projects by the contractors as delays would only disrupt the studies and performance of the pupils.  

There was however  not a word of remorse or guilt from Musa  for the failure of the Education Ministry to prevent the RM140 million East Coast computer laboratory fiasco  from taking place despite its right to a fortnightly progress report from the consultant, but only his  righteous posturing exonerating the Education Ministry from any blame or responsibility, declaring  that the Education Ministry was  “totally blameless” while the contractor and consultant were   “completely at fault”. 

At least the Deputy Education Minister, Datuk Abdul Aziz Shamsuddin was humble enough on this issue when he admitted  the Education Ministry’s  “full responsibility to ensure that construction of all computer labs are completed on time for the sake of our students” although the construction is not only the responsibility of the Education Ministry but also the Treasury and the Economic Planning Unit (EPU) of the Prime Minister’s Department. (Star 17.7.03). 

As Abdul Aziz’s acceptance of “full responsibility” by the Education Ministry  for the school computer lab fiasco has been disowned by the Education Minister, Musa should tell the Malaysian taxpayers who had absolved the Education Ministry of all blame and responsibility for the debacle?  Is it Musa himself, making him the prosecutor, judge and jury all in one?  Or has the Cabinet at its meeting on Wednesday issued a clean bill of health to exonerate the Education Ministry from blame and responsibility? 

This did not seem to be the case, as the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, when speaking on the school lab fiasco at the opening of the 24th annual general meeting of the Malay Contractors Association  on Wednesday after the Cabinet meeting, accepted responsibility not only for the government but for himself “for trying to meet the requests of the Malay contractors”. 

Mahathir admitted that the government wanted to provide opportunities to Malay contractors under the school lab construction project. 

He said: “We gave the job to the main contractor so that the contractor can give to smaller contractors.  I was told that the contract was sold to another person, and this person sold it to another and it went on.  By the time the fifth person got it, the contract’s value will drop and in order to make profit, this contractor will have to cut cost.  Then he will buy hollowed wood, the cement mixture is affected and now you get buildings collapsing.” (The Star 24.7.03) 

A person familiar with Malay sub-contracting has given me the following scenario: Each school lab project is worth about RM150,000 (excluding computers) where the profit margin is about 20 per cent of the contract, or RM30,000.  If in the chain of sub-contracting, the main contractor retains 30 per cent of the profit or RM9,000; the  first sub-contractor also 30 per cent of the  profit, i.e. another RM9,000;  while the second and third sub-contractors keep  15  per cent of the profit each of RM4,500;  the fifth person who has to actually construct the project would only get 10 per cent of the  profit or RM3,000 while doing all the donkey’s work of putting up the RM150,000 school computer lab, resulting in 574 of the 600 computer laboratories built in the East Coat not safe and in danger of collapse! 

Mahathir said on Thursday that the government will exhaust all available measures and legal provisions to recover payments already made to school computer laboratory contractors whose contracts have been terminated.  Who is the government to sue – the main contractor or the first, second, third or fourth  sub-contractor of each school lab  project?  Are such legal suits likely when it is public knowledge that such contracts and sub-contracts are the source of funding of local UMNO politicians? 

Be that as it may, what is very clear is that in the triple chain of responsibility for the school computer lab projects, viz the contractor, the consultant and the Education Ministry which gets fortnightly progress reports, if there is one party out of the  three  which was responsible, upright and professional, then the vicious circle of negligence and irresponsibility would have been broken and the RM140 million East Coast computer lab debacle averted.  Why wasn’t the Education Ministry the one to break the vicious triple circle of negligence and irresponsibility? 

This is why Musa’s claim that the RM140 million East Coast school computer lab scandal was “ now closed and resolved” was most premature, as the process to demand full accountability for the failure and role  of the Education Ministry in this fiasco has barely started! 

It was  outrageous that Musa should chair the committee comprising himself, second Finance Minister, Datuk Dr. Jamaludin Jarjis and the Works Minister, Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu to make recommendations to the Cabinet on the school computer lab fiasco, as it was  asking the Education Minister to be the  judge over his own  Ministry’s negligence. 

DAP demands full and proper accountability for the RM140 million East Coast school computer lab scandal, as it is neither closed or nor resolved, by  firstly,  making public  the Public Works Department report on its  check on the 600 computer laboratories in the primary and secondary schools in Pahang, Terengganu and Kelantan and secondly, the commissioning of an independent inquiry into all the phases of construction of  the entire RM762 million school computer lab project to ensure that they fully contribute to closing the knowledge and digital divide in the country and not become an excuse for enrichment by a select and unscrupulous few  and the widening of the incomes divide of Malaysians. 

Members of Parliament should be presented with a full report on the inquiry into the construction of the various phases of the  school computer lab projects running into hundreds of millions of ringgit to enable an informed and intelligent  debate to be held on this issue when the 2004 Budget is presented in Parliament on Sept. 12, 2003.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman