Is gov’t dictating terms to Ambrin?

Jeswan Kaur | January 28, 2012

If indeed the word “mess” was not used in his 2010 report to describe the state of affairs in the NFC, why did the Auditor General take three months to issue a clarification.

Three months ago, the Auditor-General declared the National Feedlot Centre project worth RM73.64 million was in a ‘mess’, so much so he suggested that the Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry ministry talk with the Finance Ministry to determine the “direction of the project”.

Now, Ambrin Buang is saying that his report at no point mentioned that the NFC project was in a mess. The term “mess” he says was conjured by the press. Ambrin told the MCA-owned The Star that his team had never used words such as “mess”, “chaos” and “misappropriation” to describe the project.

Ambrin said: “These words were used by other parties and the department should not be held responsible. The department is of the opinion that if there are any elements of misappropriation in the implementation of this project, it would be up to the authorities such as the police or the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) to investigate.”

If indeed the word “mess” was not mentioned by the report, why did it take Ambrin three months to clarify? Is it not obvious that he has come under pressure from the ‘powers that be’ to do some damage control on this issue which has opened up a can of worms?

The feedlot project, located in Gemas, Negri Sembilan, is aimed at reducing beef imports and make the country the centre of beef production. But what happened was otherwise; the programme produced 3,289 cattles in 2010 compared to the targeted 8,000 heads of cattle.

The Auditor-General’s report released in October last year also found weaknesses in project management, while facilities remained unused or improperly maintained. “The area where grass that was supposed to be grown for animal feed or fodder was filled with acacia trees,” it said.

Not only was the project a flop, allegations surfaced that the funds allocated for the project were abused, used to purchase a luxury condominium worth RM13.8 million in Bangsar and another condominium worth RM9.9 million in Singapore, a Mercedes Benz at RM534, 622, two plots of land in Putrajaya for RM3,363,507 and a sponsored-trip to Mecca for NFCorp chairperson Mohamad Salleh to undertake his umrah.

Mohamad Salleh is the husband of Women, Family and Community Development Minister Shahrizat Jalil. It was not long after that calls demanding for Shahrizat’s resignation were made, both by the rakyat and even Barisan Nasional politicians.

Shahrizat, 58, who is also Wanita Umno head has denied any wrongdoing and instead pressed defamatory charges against her nemesis, Parti Keadilan Rakyat Wanita chief Zuraida Kamaruddin and its strategic director Mohd Rafizi Ramli.

If all that rabble was not bad enough, in jumped deputy prime minister and Umno deputy president Muhyiddin Yassin who provided the ‘hurricane lamp’ to Shahrizat saying there was no reason for her to quit her ministerial post, which by the way came about through a ‘backdoor’ entry.

In the 2008 general election, Shahrizat lost her Lembah Pantai constituency which she had held on for 13 years to newcomer Nurul Izzah, daughter of opposition pact Pakatan Rakyat advisor Anwar Ibrahim.

The furore over the abused funds prompted the MACC to step in and conduct an investigation. On Jan 13, Shahrizat announced that she was taking a three-week break from her ministerial duties to apparently make away for the MACC investigation. Her clever exit also saw Shahrizat shifting all pressure pertaining to the NFC to Muhyiddin.

Safeguarding reputation of office

Does Umno have a hand in forcing Ambrin to sing a different tune now, looking at how the NFC scandal has gone on to earn the rakyat’s wrath, jeopardising BN and Umno’s chances in the coming general election?

Mohamad Salleh is claiming that the Auditor-General in his 2010 Report had confused NFCorp, a private entity, with the NFC, which is owned by the Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry Ministry.

Mohamad Salleh said NFCorp is not the entity criticised in the Auditor-General’s Report for being “a mess”.

Meanwhile, Perkasa, the Malay-rights wing entity, has urged Ambrin to openly declare that NFC was not plagued by any scandal as depicted by the opposition leaders via documents and e-mail copies showing massive financial misappropriation.

“We urge him to issue an official statement and be fair to all quarters so that one is defended or punished based on confirmed facts, not on political perception,” said its chief Ibrahim Ali.

Also, Ambrin’s about-face has prompted opposition party DAP to issue him a caveat.

DAP advisor Lim Kit Siang said: “The Auditor-General must be forewarned that he would be destroying the credibility of the sole national institution which had kept its reputation intact in the past few decades if he succumbs to improper pressures to “whitewash” the RM300 million “cattle condo” scandal, be it the National Feedlot Centre (NFC) or the National Feedlot Corporation (NFCorp).

“I have re-read the Auditor-General’s 2010 Report on the NFC project and there is nothing to justify Salleh’s claim that the Auditor General had made the most elementary mistake of confusing the two entities, mistaking NFC for NFCorp or vice versa.

“Salleh should not try to escape responsibility and accountability for the RM300 million NFC/NFCorp “cattle condo” on such a technical and ridiculous ground.”

The DAP veteran said Ambrin was correct when he said that the word “mess” was never used by the latter to describe the National Feedlot Corporation (NFC); rather the term originated in the media reports on the Auditor-General’s criticisms on the NFC project.

Lim added: “The whole NFC/NFCorp scandal later ballooned to outrageous proportions with the expose of one scandal after another relating the financial hanky-panky of the NFCorp in the disbursement of the RM250 million government loan for the NFC project when prime minister Najib Tun Razak was chairman of the Cabinet Committee on High Impact Projects and Muhyiddin the Agriculture and Agro-based Industry under Abdullah Badawi in 2006/7.

“Ambrin should be very jealous of the efforts (and very successful ones at that) by previous Auditor-Generals like Ahmad Nordin who became a legend and was synonymous with accountability and integrity in his lifetime, to protect the credibility and integrity of the Office of Auditor-General.

“These efforts by a whole line of sterling Auditor-Generals have resulted in the Auditor-General’s Office remaining as the only national institution to keep its reputation, credibility and integrity intact unlike other key institutions be it the judiciary, the Elections Commission, the MACC, Police, etc. who have lost their professionalism and integrity.”

Auditor-General’s image at stake

Lim said the proper place for the Auditor-General to clarify his 2010 report with regards to the NFC/NFCorp scandal would be the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and not by succumbing to undue pressure applied by NFCorp or various organisations or individuals with political agendas of their own.

“This is also why I’m shocked that the PAC had been so tardy and not met urgently to conduct immediate investigations into the NFC scandal when it has virtually become a daily staple for Malaysians the past three months.

Attempts to undermine the credibility and reputation of the Auditor-General should be new and added reason why the PAC chairman, Azmi Khalid should convene a meeting of the PAC in the next few days to decide whether the PAC is to rise up to the challenge to conduct immediate and full investigations into the NFC scandal or face censure in the March meeting of Parliament for gross failure and irresponsibility,” said Lim.

How does Barisan Nasional and Umno intend to react to DAP’s take on this issue? Has the Auditor-General’s office become the latest casualty of cronyism and nepotism, corrupted by the hands of unscrupulous politicians out to safeguard their own interests?

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