Frankly Speaking

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Defend good governance nowThe political turmoil in Perak, and now in Terengganu, adds a dose of negative sentiment to the national mood at a time when business and consumer confidence is still at a low ebb. As events in neighbouring Thailand demonstrate, law and order can fall victim to political strife if the power brokers fail to put the nation’s interest above their own.Last week, Thai Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij said his nation’s political problems would cause private businesses to delay investment, while the country’s vital tourist sector faced even more losses, a news agency reports. “It’s undeniable that the country has suffered in every dimension from what has happened,” Korn said.Those are painful words for a country’s administration to utter, surely.The Thai experience holds an important lesson for Malaysia’s political classes. The political stability that was a given until a few years ago is being severely tested today. It is crucial that leaders at the helm of national institutions exercise their moral authority at this time to uphold good governance, accountability and transparency if we want to ensure a bright future for the country.Under these circumstances, it may just be possible to pull the nation back from a fate like that of some of our neighbours, provided that the rule of law is scrupulously upheld and the institutions of state discharge their duties with great responsibility.The signs of power play behind the scenes and attempts to engineer political change in various ways will only make it difficult for justice and fair play to prevail. The need of the hour is to counter this risk of political gamesmanship becoming the status quo. For that to happen, it requires a conscious effort by the guardians of the key institutions of governance to draw the line between right and wrong in every area of public life.

Stand up and be countedTransport Minister Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat has, through his special officer, responded to our call in this column last week that he should walk the talk and release the PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report on the RM4.6 billion Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ) scandal. In the letter (turn to page 66), the minister said the release of the report cannot be done unless certain documents are declassified. Ong had also told reporters a week ago that they should pursue the matter with the Port Klang Authority (PKA).To us, this is yet another excuse, or passing the buck. When will someone stand up and say, okay, the buck stops here? Perhaps PKA chairman Datuk Lee Hwa Beng will do what his minister is not prepared to do. After all, it was Lee who commissioned PwC to carry out the investigation and the report has been completed and was submitted to him by PwC three months ago.What say you, Datuk Lee? Will you finish what you started and release the report in full? Is it that hard to fulfil what was promised? Or will we see yet another cover-up and will taxpayers never get to know why RM4.6 billion of their money was spent on a white elephant?

Some clarity, pleaseThe goings-on in the Selangor water sector lately, in particular the awarding of the mandate to consolidate the sector, have been almost beyond comprehension.Over a month ago, former Minister of Energy, Water and Communication Datuk Shaziman Abu Mansor had said that the Selangor government was slow in making an offer to buy up the water assets in the state as part of a consolidation plan. Thus, the federal government was forced to step in via Pengurusan Aset Air Bhd (PAAB) to speed things up.Shaziman’s views were endorsed by officials of Suruhanjaya Perkhidmatan Air Bhd, and PAAB, which poked holes at the offer made by the Selangor government.It was said that the deadline for the state to make an offer was on Feb 14, but it had made the offer a day earlier on Feb 13. Shaziman had said he was worried for the people as a 31% tariff hike was in the offing if the consolidation and restructuring were not concluded promptly.Now, after all the mud-slinging, and threats of a tariff hike, the mandate to consolidate the sector has now gone back to the Selangor government. Worse still, there is no explanation or reason given.Why this about-turn?If the offer by the Selangor government was ridiculously low as stated by the federal government, and a waste of everyone’s time, why revert the mandate to the state to consolidate the water assets?There has to be more transparency on this issue, not just because water is a basic necessity and a restructuring or consolidation will impact all and sundry, but because there has to be some sort of accountability or responsibility by public officials when they make statements.There is also a hefty price to be paid, analysts say, to the tune of RM38 million a month for a delay in implementing the tariff hike, to be paid to the water concessionaire, Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor Sdn Bhd or Syabas. So, let’s hope that there will be no more about-turns.This article appeared in The Edge Malaysia, Issue 751, April 20-26, 2009