Is the RM140 million East Coast computer lab scandal the latest example of the “heinous crime without criminals” syndrome in Malaysia?

Media Statement
y Lim Kit Siang

(PenangWednesday): During the first major financial scandal of the 22-year premiership of Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad - the RM2.5 billion Bumiputra Malaysia Finance scandal which caused the murder of an up-and-coming, young, conscientious and model management  executive, Jalil  Ibrahim -  the Prime Minister  made the prophetic comment that it was “a heinous crime without criminals”.

Since the early eighties, the “heinous crime without criminals” syndrome had blanketed the country with such crimes of cronyism  increasing by leaps and bounds, marking a   very special brand of  Malaysian malady, which must bear great responsibility of what Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had diagnosed as the “First World Infrastructure, Third World Mentality” Malaysian malaise.

Is the  RM140 million East Coast school computer laboratory fiasco and scandal where construction was not only behind schedule by two years, but 574 of the 600 computer laboratories built are not safe and in danger of collapse, the latest example of the “heinous crime without criminals” syndrome which had haunted Malaysia for the past 22 years?

The Education Minister, Tan Sri Musa Mohamad made a startling revelation in his interview with Mingguan Malaysia (3.8.03) on the computer laboratory scandal, claiming that his Ministry had asked the Public Works Department to monitor 480 labs built by Bell Grand Sdn. Bhd., the contractor for the East Coast projects, but to date, the department had yet to submit a report.

Musa said: “Therefore, the earlier news that 500 computer labs in the eastern zone are unsafe is not accurate as the department has not even submitted their report except for their previous confirmation that 92 laboratories are dangerous.”

This is most shocking and outrageous. If Musa has up to now neither sighted nor received a report from the PWD giving incontrovertible proof that 574 of the 600 computer laboratories in the East Coast zone are not safe and in danger of collapse, how could he as chair of the Cabinet Committee recommended, and as a Minister, supported the Cabinet decision to take over the entire East Coast Zone phase one computer lab project from Bell Grand Sdn. Bhd?

This seems to be a very slipshod, unprofessional and irresponsible way for Musa to discharge his duties as Education Minister.  At one time, the public was made to understand that the report of Musa’s  Cabinet Committee, which included  second Finance Minister, Datuk Dr. Jamaludin Jarjis and the Works Minister, Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu on the school computer lab fiasco would be made public – representing a new commitment to public accountability, transparency and good governance.

But this was not to be.  Why wasn’t the Cabinet Committee report made public so as to help  throw light as to whether Musa was right in claiming that the Education Ministry was “totally blameless” while the project contractor and consultant were “completely at fault” in the computer lab fiasco and scandal? 

While the liability and responsibility of the contractor and consultant  for the East Coast zone  school laboratory fiasco are not disputed, Musa’s attempt to disclaim liability and responsibility for the Education Ministry must not go unchallenged for it would set a bad example for Ministers and ministries to shirk their responsibility and accountability to Parliament and the taxpayers. 

I have no doubt that if  a national opinion poll is taken as to whether the Education Ministry should also be held responsible for the computer laboratory fiasco, the overwhelming majority  of the people would say yes – making Musa’s stance disclaiming liability a grave blow to the credibilility, trustworthiness, professionalism and integrity of the Education Ministry. 

Mahathir  had said 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.   

Malaysians are entitled to know what the government has done to recover payments already paid to the project contractor and consultant, what steps have been taken to ensure that it will not be another “heinous crime without criminals” and why all the relevant reports, whether PWD report or the Cabinet Committee report on the computer laboratory scandal could not be made public.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman