Abdullah holding home and finance portfolios – is it a sign of political strength or political  weakness?

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling JayaMonday): The announcement that the new Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi will hold the key Finance portfolio in addition to Home Affairs for the time being is bound to raise the question as to whether this is a sign of political strength or political weakness. 

The decision by Abdullah to take over the Finance Ministry held by Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad because of its importance as well as power of patronage has not come as a surprise, but his decision to also retain the Home Ministry can only raise eyebrows even in UMNO circles, although in the early days of his premiership, criticisms will be kept subterranean. 

The only reason why Abdullah has made the unprecedented decision to helm the two important ministries of Finance and Home Affairs is that after 16 months of ruminations, he could not decide who to appoint as Home Minister, because of the implications of such a senior Ministerial appointment in terms of the line of political succession. Time will tell whether this is a sign of decisiveness or the reverse. 

Be that as it may, the important ministries of Finance and Home Affairs as well as the many portfolios that come under the Prime Minister’s Department  cannot be run on auto-pilot and requires Abdullah’s personal engagement. 

DAP offers full co-operation with Abdullah in any aspect of nation-building which is in the national interest, while reserving the right to give our views and criticisms of existing government policies and measures. 

Although this is the first day of his official duty as the fifth Prime Minister, there are many decisions pressing for immediate attention and decision by Abdullah as Prime Minister, Finance Minister and Home Minister, in particular the  award of the RM14.5 billion electrified double tracking rail project, the country’s single largest privatized construction project, to latecomer Malaysia  Mining Corporation Bhd -Gamuda consortium (MMC-Gamuda JV), as it has threatened to become a full-blown diplomatic crisis between Malaysia on the one hand and India and China on the other. 

India’s The Financial Express today reported that New Delhi has questioned the Malaysian government’s move of awarding the contract to a local company without canceling the letter of intent (Lol) issued to  Ircon International.  This objection would also apply with regard to the Letter of Intent issued to the  China Railway Engineering Corp (CRET) to handle the southern stretch of 287.5 km from Seremban to Johore Bahru while Ircon was to handle the 328 km  northern stretch from Ipoh to Padang Besar.  

The explanation given by Transport Minister Datuk Chan Kong Choy that the letters of intent given to India and China were “non-binding” as they were  just a memorandum of understanding is not credible or acceptable, and the Malaysian government should explain why it had not cancelled the letters of intent to India and China after giving their consortia the opportunity to match the local bid as they were part of government-to-government (G2G) transactions before awarding the project to MMC-Gamuda JV. 

The picture has become quite murky with a local press report refuting that MMC-Gamuda VC was the local company which had come out with the lowest price, as Malay Mail’s MailMoney of October 31 reported that a consortium comprising Gadang Holdings Bhd, Ranhill Bhd and CWM Sdn. Bhd., a company linked to Robert Kuok, was the lowest bidder at RM14.4 billion. 

It is not in the long-term interests of Malaysia, whether economic, diplomatic, international or from the point of view of establishing the reputation of the fifth premiership  for accountability, transparency and integrity that the multiple crisis of transparency, integrity and diplomacy  over the award of the country’s largest privatization project.should be allowed to prolong and fester, and Abdullah should immediately intervene personally to ensure a fair, just and transparent solution.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman