KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 18 — Former Education Ministry secretary-general Tan Sri Madinah Mohamad today denied she had any “vested interests” when she signed a letter related to the government’s eventual award of a RM1.25 billion solar hybrid project to private firm Jepak Holdings Sdn Bhd on her retirement day.
Madinah, 63, was testifying as the sixth prosecution witness against Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor in the latter’s trial for taking bribes from Jepak Holdings in exchange for helping the company secure the project to supply electricity to 369 rural Sarawak schools.
She confirmed that she had as the then Education Ministry secretary-general wrote a letter on September 2, 2016 to the Finance Ministry to ask for the letter of award (LOA) — also known as the SST letter in BM — to be issued for the project’s award to Jepak Holdings.
Under cross-examination from Rosmah’s lawyer Datuk Akberdin Abdul Kader, Madinah also confirmed that no price negotiations were carried out for this project while she was still serving in the Education Ministry, adding that the letter dated September 2, 2016 was penned on the day she retired.
Akberdin: Three or four days before you retired, you wrote (this letter).
Madinah: The day I retired.
Throughout the cross-examination, Akberdin hurled various accusations towards Madinah and suggested she was being dishonest.
Akberdin: And I also say you have a certain agenda, vested interest. That’s why you wanted to ensure that this project is approved. That’s why on the date you retired, you were willing to sign the SST letter, doesn’t make sense. You have vested interest.
Akberdin then went on to suggest that Madinah had changed tack on the project by now coming to court and condemning Jepak Holdings’ proposed project as having various weaknesses, also accusing her of seeking to pin the blame on Rosmah’s husband Datuk Seri Najib Razak who was the prime minister and finance minister then.
Akberdin: Your actions in court are in bad faith when you are cornered, you find scapegoat, you start to push the blame on others.
Madinah: Not true.
Madinah had previously testified that the letter of intent (LOI) for the project was issued to Jepak Holdings on August 29, 2016 and that she had signed off on a September 2, 2016 letter to the then Treasury secretary-general Tan Sri Mohd Irwan Serigar Abdullah on the project.
She had said both letters followed the Finance Ministry’s August 22, 2016 letter offering the project to Jepak Holdings.
Madinah had previously explained that her letter dated September 2, 2016 — also her retirement day — was actually intended to seek for an additional RM461.7 million from the Treasury for the Education Ministry to implement the project, adding that the letter also included a request for the approval of the LOA’s issuance to Jepak Holdings.
The letter of award — which is a legally-binding document — was eventually issued to Jepak Holdings on November 10, 2016.
Earlier during her testimony today, Madinah was quizzed over two handwritten minutes by Najib on November 23, 2015 and June 7, 2016, with the then prime minister instructing then education minister Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid to award the project to Jepak Holdings as applied for by the company.
Madinah today said she could not reject Jepak Holdings’ proposal for the project despite having identified weaknesses, affirming that the project had to be entertained and implemented due to Najib’s two handwritten instructions.
While agreeing that she still had the power not to obey the instructions by Najib as the prime minister if Treasury’s guidelines on government procurement were not complied with, Madinah however pointed out that the finance minister could sometimes override such guidelines and that the final decision to approve the project’s award to Jepak Holdings lies with the Finance Ministry.
Madinah also said suggested that the way that Najib had written his two instructions left no room for her as the Education Ministry secretary-general then to exercise her discretion to comply with Treasury procurement guidelines, unlike general instructions given by him for other matters.
Akberdin then accused Madinah of lying, saying: “You are not saying the truth, because it is clear, you are trying to run away from your own statement you are not telling the truth. Agree or not?”
“Disagree,” Madinah replied.
Madinah agreed that she did not inform Najib of her views that the project was costly and not viable.
Akberdin later suggested that Madinah had acted negligently and carelessly by purportedly not providing full advice on the project to Najib and that she was allegedly trying to pin the blame on Najib now, but Madinah disagreed.
Earlier today, Madinah also confirmed that the Education Ministry at that time had no plans to implement a project using solar energy for rural schools in Sarawak and that it was eyeing the permanent solution of connecting these schools to the electricity grid.
While agreeing that there were several schools in Sarawak that had used solar energy prior to the solar hybrid project being given to Jepak Holdings, Madinah explained today that some remote schools were unsuited for this due to heavy forest coverage and that the most viable option then was diesel generators.
She also agreed that she had viewed Jepak Holdings’ sudden proposed project as being a high-risk venture without tangible or intangible benefits, and that there was no pressing need to appoint the company for electricity supply and that she had doubts that the company which never submitted detailed financial planning could deliver on such a massive scale to supply electricity to 369 rural schools in Sarawak.
Before the new solar hybrid project was awarded to Jepak Holdings, there was already an existing arrangement with 30 contractors for electricity supply through diesel generators to the schools, with Madinah confirming that the termination of these contracts could result in the Education Ministry being sued in court.
The trial before High Court judge Mohamed Zaini Mazlan resumes tomorrow, with Madinah expected to be further cross-examined by Rosmah’s lawyers.