KUALA LUMPUR, March 11 — The Education Ministry failed to comply with procedures designed to ensure prudent spending of taxpayers’ money, when it issued a November 2016 letter of award for a RM1.25 billion project to Jepak Holdings Sdn Bhd to supply electricity to rural schools in Sarawak, a former high-ranking official confirmed in court today.
Datuk Seri Alias Ahmad, who was secretary-general of the Education Ministry from September 2016 to May 2018, also agreed that it was “futile” for the ministry to later take steps that should have been done before the project was awarded through the November 2016 letter.
Alias, who was testifying as the 12th prosecution witness in Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor’s bribery trial, confirmed that the ministry issued the November 10, 2016 letter of award for the RM1.25 billion project without first conducting value management or price negotiations with the company.
During the cross-examination of Alias, Rosmah’s lawyer Datuk Akberdin Abdul Kader showed a guideline issued by the government’s Economic Planning Unit, where government projects worth more than RM50 million are required to go through value management before the projects’ award to ensure the government’s objectives are achieved and to ensure value for money.
Alias agreed that the objective of value management is to ensure that public funds are spent carefully.
Akberdin had earlier, however, highlighted that the Education Ministry did not carry out value management before issuing the letter of award.
Akberdin: Unfortunately, in this case, solar hybrid project under Education Ministry, value management was not done but SST (Letter of Award) was already issued? Agree with me that this is glaring disobedience, an act that doesn’t comply with a compulsory procedure set by EPU?
Later, Alias agreed that a letter of award cannot be issued as long as value management for a project has not been carried out, agreeing that the Education Ministry’s act of issuing the November 2016 letter of award for the RM1.25 billion project without following rules was not in line with the Treasury’s five principles of good governance including accountability and transparency.
Akberdin then asked Alias about his signed February 2017 approval of his ministry’s deputy secretary-general Datuk Seri Azmi Lateh’s recommendation and procurement and asset management division secretary Kamarudin Abdullah’s proposal for the appointment of members to several committees such as price negotiation committee and technical committee for the RM1.25 billion project.
Akberdin suggested that such moves to set up the committees were of no benefit and futile.
Akberdin: Agree with me, this situation is futile because now only want to form committees. It brings no benefits as the SST (Letter of Award) has already been issued. Agree? Futile exercise, no benefits as SST is issued?
Yesterday, Kamarudin testified that he proposed the setting up of the committees even after the letter of award was issued, as he was trying to find a best way to take care of the ministry’s “image” following the letter’s release without complying with procedures.
The cross-examination then became increasingly tense as Akberdin continued to press Alias on the Education Ministry’s failure to follow procedures in matters surrounding the RM1.25 billion project.
Akberdin: All this does not follow procedure, you sign (this approval) for what? No point.
Alias: I was advised by my deputy secretary-general that although the SST has been signed, but we also have to have these committees, especially technical committee to look at plans, structure and for us to record in our file at the ministry.
Akberdin then further pressed Alias whom he said should have known what to do as the controlling officer of the ministry as secretary-general instead of appointing the committees after the project’s award, while also claiming that the Finance Ministry had laughed at the Education Ministry for not following procedures for this project.
Alias then acknowledged he may have made mistakes: “I as a normal human, maybe I committed errors. They were there from last time until now, they should have advised me earlier.”
Akberdin then continued to needle Alias, saying that Alias should have said from the beginning of his testimony that he had erred instead of saying so at this point of time, further accusing Alias of attempting to put up a “smokescreen.”
Amid the heated questions, Alias disagreed with Akberdin’s suggestion.
Alias denies issuing letter of award
Earlier today, Alias said he had been in civil service for 37 years, and had only been secretary-general at two ministries including a two-year stint from February 2014 to March 2016 in another ministry.
He said that the whole process regarding the RM1.25 billion project had started before he joined the education ministry in September 2016, and he only started being involved when the Finance Ministry issued a November 1, 2016 letter to him on the project.
Alias said that the Finance Ministry’s November 1, 2016 letter had approved the Education Ministry’s application to implement the procurement of the solar hybrid project through direct negotiations with the company Jepak, also confirming that the Finance Ministry’s letter was in response to his predecessor Tan Sri Madinah Mohamad’s application for the Education Ministry to be allowed to proceed with a letter of award for the RM1.25 billion project to Jepak.
Alias said that he then wrote an instruction to his deputy Azmi on November 3, 2016 on the same letter to take further action, adding that he did not recall if he was involved in preparing the November 10, 2016 letter of award but said he had sighted it when it was signed by Education Minister Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid.
During cross-examination by Akberdin, Alias denied that he was the one who issued the letter of award (SST) to Jepak, pointing out that the document did not contain his signature.
Akberdin then accused Alias of lying as he was the controlling officer of the ministry at that time, but Alias maintained that he had not known of the document when it was being prepared although the standard process required him to be informed of such papers.
Akberdin: Are you telling the court you did not know of the SST at that time?
Alias: I don’t know.
Akberdin: Don’t lie, Datuk Seri, you are lying to the court, you were the officer, you should know the SST, don’t lie to the court.
Alias: I should know, I agree. But I was not informed.
Akberdin: Are you saying when the SST was prepared on November 10, 2016, you were not informed and did not know on that day?
Alias: I was not informed. Agree, I don’t know.
Akberdin then noted that Kamarudin had yesterday testified that Alias was the one who had checked and verified the draft of the letter of award, but Alias today said he did not recall this and pointed out that there were no documents to say that he had signed or agreed with any draft.
When Akberdin insisted that Alias was not telling the truth as the Treasury circular requires such documents to be made by him as the controlling officer, Alias disagreed.
Earlier today, Alias also testified of other difficulties that Jepak later faced including getting advance payments and in getting the contract signed due to problems such as incomplete documentation and the company’s initial inability to prepare the contract draft.
Alias also said that both Rosmah and her then aide Datuk Rizal Mansor had asked him to speed up payments for Jepak, and that Rosmah herself had asked him to speed up the Education Ministry’s signing of the contract with Jepak.
Alias said he had taken Rosmah’s queries seriously as she was the wife of the then prime minister and had ordered his officers to find a solution to the issues of advance payment, progress payment and contract preparation.
Alias said the contract for the project was finally signed with Jepak on June 20, 2017.
In this trial, Rosmah is facing several charges, including allegedly receiving a RM5 million bribe and a RM1.5 million bribe from Jepak Holdings Sdn Bhd’s Saidi Abang Samsudin on the dates of December 20, 2016 and September 7, 2017 in exchange for helping the company get the RM1.25 billion solar hybrid project.
The trial before High Court judge Mohamed Zaini Mazlan resumes tomorrow morning.