Pua says likely stepped on Dr Mahathir’s toes by going after ex-PM’s ‘business friends’

Pua said he did not regret writing the open letter and was proud to have played a role in the renegotiation of the MRT2 project as it had saved the country billions. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Pua said he did not regret writing the open letter and was proud to have played a role in the renegotiation of the MRT2 project as it had saved the country billions. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

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KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 8 — Defending himself from accusations by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in the latter’s new book, DAP MP Tony Pua today suggested that he had earned the ire of the ex-prime minister by meddling with the former’s “business friends”.

The Damansara MP said that Dr Mahathir’s criticism of him in the latter’s new book and subsequent remarks were misplaced, insisting that he had acted in the interest of the government and finance minister at the time.

Explaining an incident Dr Mahathir alluded to earlier, Pua said he believed this involved his open letter to MMC Gamuda over the MRT2 project in 2018.

“But Mahathir would have none of it. Instead, he claimed that I ‘spoke publicly on behalf of the government despite having no standing to do so.’ It is really odd, and admittedly very disheartening, that defending the Cabinet decision is deemed an offence. Perhaps it is so, if his circle of business friends were at the end of the stick.

“Even if it wasn’t instructed by the minister, I see nothing wrong with a political secretary or even a backbencher member of parliament defending and explaining the policies of the government. Isn't that precisely our role?” he said in his statement today.

Pua said he did not regret writing the open letter and was proud to have played a role in the renegotiation of the MRT2 project — even if it angered Dr Mahathir to the point he had included it in his memoirs — as it had saved the country billions.

The DAP lawmaker had served as the political secretary to Lim Guan Eng when the latter had been the finance minister in Dr Mahathr’s Cabinet.

“It says a lot about the man when he chose not to record the RM8.82 billion savings for the rakyat for the MRT2 project under his premiership in his memoirs, but instead whine about an apparently irritating political secretary,” he said.

“In my personal view, if there was a particular weakness in Pakatan Harapan’s time in government, there were too few leaders who were willing to stand up and be counted in times of controversy, for fear of rocking the boat,” he said.

Pua said that while he was not named in the Dr Mahathir’s book, the latter’s additional remarks to the press yesterday in response to his statement confirmed that he was the intended target.

Dr Mahathir had made reference to an incident where the PH government had wanted to do away with a project contract entered by the previous BN government under Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

In the ensuing negotiations to maintain aspects of the project at a lowered cost, Pua issued an “open letter” to MMC-Gamuda on 10 October 2018 where he called out their public relations gimmicks in retaliation for terminating the contract.

Pua said that in the end, the MRT2 Underground contract was reinstated to MMC-Gamuda and the review exercise saved tax-payers a massive RM8.82 billion.

He said the entire review exercise was completed in a little more than three months, but went through a lot of questioning with the directors of MMC-Gamuda going directly to Dr Mahathir who would subsequently answers from then Finance Minister, Lim Guan Eng.

“Ultimately, the finance minister succeeded in convincing the PM (perhaps, reluctantly), and subsequently the Cabinet, that the best course of action was to terminate and re-tender the MRT2 Underground contract

“However, when Mahathir read my open letter, he blew his top. The only reason why I was not fired as the political secretary to the finance minister, an appointment under the PM’s purview, is because Lim told him that I wrote the letter under his instructions (which was the truth),” he said.

“More than a year later, late in 2019, Mahathir still griped about the Open Letter to Lim. If I don’t recall wrongly, it was part of their conversation about being a “business-friendly government,” he said.

This was Pua’s second statement was seeking to clarify a news report by portal MalaysiaNow which had quoted Dr Mahathir’s upcoming memoir, with him alluding to a part three.

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