MARCH 21 ― It was not a “happy” birthday for Datuk Lee Hwa Beng who turned 63 on Sunday.
The former chairman of the Port Klang Authority (PKA), who had vowed those who had haemorrhaged the PKA and government of up to RM4.6 billion in the Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ) scandal would be brought to book, was still coming to terms with Friday’s acquittal of three people involved in the scandal.
On Saturday he even offered his apologies to the Malaysian public for “wasting” money, time and resources in doggedly pursuing culprits and closure for the ballooning costs of the 405-hectare PKFZ from RM1.1 billion to RM4.6 billion.
However, according to auditors, after factoring interest payments, the eventual price tag will be RM12.5 billion.
On Friday, Shah Alam Sessions Court Judge Asmadi Hussin acquitted Law Jenn Dong, 59 the former project manager of PKFZ developer Kuala Dimensi Sdn Bhd (KDSB); KDSB chief operating officer Stephen Abok, 59 and architect Bernard Tan Swee Seng, 56 of BTA Architect.
They had faced a total of 24 counts of cheating involving over RM120 million.
Their prosecutions followed those of former transport ministers Tun Dr Ling Liong Sik and Tan Sri Chan Kong Choy; and former PKA general manager OC Phang who was the central figure to the scandals.
These individuals were also freed. Their acquittals were also never appealed.
These acquittals follow the decision by the PKA to withdraw its RM720 million civil suit against KDSB three years ago.
KDSB in return dropped its defamation suit against the PKA, former Transport Minister Tan Sri Ong Tee Keat and PKA chairman Lee ― the two men who were pivotal in seeking accountability for the financial scandal and paid the price for it, losing the favour of their party, some colleagues and leaders.
What’s left is the ongoing civil suit by PKA against OC Phang for breach of fiduciary duty. But if anyone is hoping for any form of accountability, please do not hold your breath.
The PKFZ prosecutions seem to follow a trend where huge white collar crimes involving taxpayers’ money will never see those responsible punished.
And now the second guessing begins, messing up one’s mind and questioning if there was something we all missed.
I’m beginning to question what it was I ― along with former colleague Citizen Nades who was first tipped off to the scandal when attending an old boys’ reunion in Klang ― had been actively unearthing for three years, and reporting and commenting on for a good seven years?
There is a lot at stake here including perception on institutions that are supposed to uphold the law and promote transparency and accountability when it comes to the public trust.
The perception now is that we have highly incompetent public prosecutors or very “good” prosecutors who botch up the case so the culprits can walk?
Or did the entire nation get it wrong ― from the journalists who broke the story (that includes yours truly) to the independent auditors; to members of the Public Accounts Committee to former transport minister Tan Sri Ong Tee Keat and Lee? They all got it wrong.
There was no scandal; no cheating; no conflicts of interests; no overpayment or payment for works not done; no questionable variations etc.
We all flopped including these guys and their supercharged committees:
― The Task Force headed by Skrine & Co lawyers Vinayak Pradhan and (now Datuk) Lim Chee Wee;
― The Committee of Corporate Governance co-headed by then Transparency International Malaysia president Datuk Paul Low and Malaysian Institute of Accountants president Nik Mohd Hasyudeen Yusoff;
― The Executive Committee set up by the Transport Ministry headed by Lee;
― The Super Task Force headed by then Chief Secretary to the Government Tan Sri Mohd Sidek Hassan;
― The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chaired by Datuk Seri Azmi Khalid.
The above along with countless police and MACC (Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission) probes and independent audits by PwC could not result in prosecutions.
This just confirms what the critics and cynics have been saying ― that the wrongdoers will be protected and taxpayers will end up paying for the sins of others.
Ten years on from when we first started reporting it, we are faced with another financial scandal of a higher magnitude. To add to the irony, we are asked to stand up against economic saboteurs by the very people implicated in these fresh allegations.
But as the PKFZ saga shows, standing up for your country can be a frustrating exercise.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.