ON Thursday (Jan 5), newly-minted International Trade and Industry Minister Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Abdul Aziz told Astro Awani that there was no misappropriation involving the RM600 bil aid given out during the COVID-19 pandemic by the previous governments.
He knew best for he was the finance minister under the two previous prime ministers, namely Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob.
Barely hours later, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) arrested the CEO of a private company for allegedly serving as a middleman in the distribution of government projects under the previous Perikatan Nasional (PN) administration.
It was reported that the arrest was linked to MACC’s probe into the alleged misappropriation of COVID-19 stimulus packages worth RM92.5 bil.
This begs the question why did the former CIMB Group CEO-turned-politician jump the gun on this issue? Worse still, his claims of propriety in managing the massive aid funds given out during the pandemic was quickly torn to pieces with the MACC arrest.
By openly denying any wrongdoings, isn’t Tengku Zafrul blurring the roles of defendant, prosecutor and judge? And the timing couldn’t have been worse.
To be fair, nobody has accused Tengku Zafrul of wrongdoings and neither is this publication. But as a politician, he should know that those who hold public office should not only be clean, but be seen to be so.
His denial of wrongdoings involving a powerful ministry which he used to helm – even before official probe into the affair has completed – provides poor optics.
Rushing to clear the air
Rightfully, Tengku Zafrul – a novice politician who lost in the contest for the Kuala Selangor parliamentary seat during 15th General Election (GE15) – should have stayed above the fray and allowed the authorities to carry out their investigations fairly and professionally.
He should know that any statements issued by a sitting minister can be construed as interference by way of asserting influence, even if it was unintentional.
There was no need to rush into “clearing the air” over the highly contentious controversy, especially if one is a subject of the probe by way of association. Doing so will only raise more eyebrows than it otherwise would have.
Rightfully, it’s the authorities like the MACC and the police – and subsequently the courts – who should decide whether there was any misappropriation of funds. Suspected rapists, robbers and murderers are not innocent just because they say so.
As it is, the authorities appear to have built up solid cases of impropriety. It was reported that investigation papers into at least five individuals have been opened. They are believed to have been involved in helping companies obtain projects worth between RM50 mil to RM500 mil through direct negotiations linked to the stimulus packages.
The Free Malaysia Today (FMT) news portal reported that several contractors who were also questioned admitted to agreeing to pay a commission of between 3%-5% to be deposited into the account of a political party, which was supposedly meant as political funding.
In any case, the allegations of misappropriations did not appear out of thin air. It was Tengku Zafrul’s current boss – Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim – who publicly disclosed the misappropriation, soon after taking over as the country’s 10th Prime Minister.
“I know that based on information by officials, several serious breaches (allegedly) occurred … excessive (amounts of) procurement to manage projects,” Anwar was reported as saying.
In case Tengku Zafrul does not realise it yet, publicly contradicting his popular superior does not earn the MITI Minister brownie points with the public.
It is time Zafrul wise up and be more circumspect about public optics as a politician. Because if the results of GE15 is of any indication, voters today are definitely more discerning than they used to. – Jan 7, 2023