KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 9 — Datuk Puad Zarkashi, the last director-general (D-G) for the Special Affairs Department (Jasa) before it was disbanded, has rejected the government’s allocation to reconstitute the unit as an extravagance at a time the country was battling Covid-19.
While he agreed with the idea of re-establishing the Barisan Nasional-era propaganda unit, he said spending so much to do so now would be tone-deaf on the government’s part.
“An allocation of RM85.5 million to Jasa proves that Budget 2021 is insensitive to ‘priorities’ when the country is being hit by a third wave of Covid-19 infections.
“Reviving Jasa is appropriate but providing a fourfold allocation at the time of Covid-19 is highly inappropriate,” he told Malay Mail when contacted.
The allocation would open up the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government to allegations of ignoring Yang diPertuan Agong’s advice to prioritise public welfare and interest, he added.
While he said he still believed in the idea of Jasa, the Umno supreme council member also alleged that it could become a tool for Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia to bolster its grassroots network that lagged behind allies.
Commenting on rumours that Seberang Jaya assemblyman Dr Afif Bahardin would be made the D-G of the reconstituted Jasa, Puad noted that the former was linked to the so-called PKR “Kartel” of Senior Minister Datuk Seri Azmin Ali.
Puad also observed that the communications and multimedia minister was Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, another former PKR leader aligned with Azmin.
Returning to the RM85 million allocation, Puad insisted that Jasa never needed so much money to be effective previously.
Puad said both the allocation and the plan to install Jasa officers down to the district level invited suspicions that the unit could be used for political purposes ahead of the 15th general election, and required a full and proper justification.
“So why allocate RM85.5 million? Jasa does not need such an allocation unless there is another purpose. What matters is effectiveness.
“The PM has to answer in detail in Parliament,” he said.
When tabling Budget 2021 on Friday, Finance Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz announced that a total of RM85.5 million would go towards restarting the dismantled Jasa.
The controversial proposal prompted the Communications and Multimedia Ministry to defend the plan yesterday by presenting Jasa as necessary to counter Covid-19 misinformation and other fake news.
The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) currently performs this role.
The ministry also justified the RM85.5 million allocation as necessary to repopulate the unit with qualified staff.
Jasa was dissolved after Pakatan Harapan embarked on an austerity drive following its general election victory in 2018.
In Budget 2018 — the last before it was disbanded — Jasa was allocated RM30 million for all its activities.