HARESH SAYS: Will the RM100m fiasco be soon forgotten?

As published in Malay Mail today

By Haresh Deol

IF there is one ministry that is often overlooked by the lawmakers and the masses, it would be the Youth and Sports Ministry.

The ministry, among politicians, is often construed as a “small” or “easy” portfolio engineered to win the hearts of youths ahead of the general elections. Sports, as I have written numerous times, has always been the perfect vehicle to drum up support for a particular individual or to fulfil a certain agenda.

Many were left dumbfounded when a ranking Youth and Sports Ministry official was nabbed by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) last Friday for misappropriating RM100 million since 2010. The funds were channelled to contractors and his personal bank accounts through the National Sports Council (NSC) — the ministry’s funding arm. 

The anti-graft body seized RM20 million worth of items from the 56-year-old suspect, including fine jewellery (with the most expensive being a RM600,000 Cartier pearl ring), 40 designer handbags, expensive watches, luxury bedding and 12 vehicles including a Nissan GTR, a Lexus, two Audi, two Mercedes Benz and a Vellfire. His 69 bank accounts, containing RM8.33 million, were also frozen. 

One would have thought misappropriation of such a magnitude can only occur in a “bigger ministry”.

Statements were made by key individuals but one question remains unanswered — were the auditors, internal and external, sleeping?

The ministry is shaken while those within NSC are nervous. The council’s finance department and several officers are also sweating profusely for they were responsible in releasing the funds. Some say they should be hauled up for not questioning the payments. It is understood the ministry's former secretary-general Datuk Mohid Mohamed, among others, will be called in as a witness.

And here is where the whole problem lies — fear.

“There is this fear of asking questions. Payments, no matter how ridiculous, are made based on the instructions from the "higher-up". If questions are raised, one will be construed as trying to be too smart and there is the fear of being penalised,” an insider said.

“Some are afraid they would be sidelined or the release of future funds will be delayed as certain people did not play ball in the past. It has happened.”

Such mentality is not new, especially in the ministry, staying true to the “saya yang menurut perintah” philosophy. 

Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin had on Monday asked for a task force to look into the fiasco. Chief Secretary to the Government Tan Sri Ali Hamsa hours later said the auditor-general would scrutinise the ministry’s accounts and a task force would be set up. He Hamsa also said the official would be suspended.

Commendable? For those who excite easily, yes. For observers who have seen ministers, and even prime ministers, come and go – it is just another expensive episode which will soon be forgotten. 

Money, and plenty of it, has been spent by the Youth and Sports Ministry in the past and the returns remain questionable until today. But they have been grossly overlooked.

The nation hosted the Asian X-Games during Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein’s tenure as Youth and Sports Minister. Some RM3 million was paid just for the rights to host the event in Kuala Lumpur from 2002 to 2004. The nation hosted the event again in 2006 but the likes of professional skater Joe Ipoh and his fellow extreme sports enthusiasts were quickly forgotten.

During Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said’s time in office (2004-2008), several initiatives were carried out including the National Fitness Council and the Women’s Sports and Fitness Foundation Malaysia. Millions were dedicated to these programmes. What was the outcome?

The Champions Youth Cup, which Malaysia hosted for three years, at RM17 million a year, received plenty of brickbats, which was highlighted by this newspaper. 

Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s time in the ministry was rather forgettable but he had, in 2009, requested MACC to investigate why the ministry, especially NSC, lost millions. It remains unclear if he ever obtained answers during his short stay.

In 2010, Malay Mail reported the ministry owned two premier chalets that cost RM850,000 and they had never been used since 2005. The two units of the Legend Water Chalets in Port Dickson, installed with jacuzzis and see-through floor panelling with a view of the sea, were bought without the approval of NSC’s board of directors.

Some of us still remember the RM10 million deal with Everton FC, as announced by Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek in 2010, in addition to the other millions of ringgit channelled to the ministry in the name of developing football over the past decade.

Malaysia was placed 171 in the Fifa ranking last October, its worst performance ever. The national team still struggles to dominate Southeast Asian football.

Then, there was the national jersey saga. Certain officials closely linked with the sponsorship deal with Telekom Malaysia were left red-faced when this newspaper, on April 30, 2011 — a day after the launching of the Team Malaysia Panthera jersey — revealed the government was not the registered proprietor of the tiger stripe design as it belonged to Mesuma Sports Sdn Bhd. 

A legal battle ensued as NSC was determined to claim the rights to the design despite the ministry having in the past revealed it had no plans to register it. 

The case was heard all the way to the Federal Court, that ruled in favour of NSC. Money was spent on legal fees. A new design for the national attire was introduced in 2014 and the tiger-stripe jersey is now history.

Little Napoleons within the ministry claim it is their birthright to travel to all major games and events abroad. Hopefully, the auditor-general will also reveal the expenditure of these travelling officials and if money was well spent.

My seniors who have covered sports for decades have more tales to tell.

Oddly, we still hear of national athletes not getting their allowances on time and certain sporting events axed due to “lack of funds”. 

The latest RM100 million fiasco must serve as a wake-up call. Civil servants cannot be allowed to get comfortable in one particular position for too long. Standard operating procedures must be followed through at every level at all times.

No ministry should be taken for granted for that will only encourage corrupt practices and abuse. The people must be reassured their hard-earned money is being spent wisely. 

Hopefully, this RM100 million saga will not be quickly forgotten.

HARESH is executive editor of Malay Mail. He can be reached at haresh@mmail.com.my or on Twitter @HareshDeol


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