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12:11pm 04/10/2022
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Rumblings of corruption in Penang
By:Murray Hunter

The Malaysian news has been full of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) financial scandal, which eventually led to former Prime Minister Najib Razak being jailed, after all his appeals had been exhausted.

Focus upon the 1MDB scandal has overshadowed endemic corruption across the country, where even the Democratic Action Party (DAP) has not been spared.

Behind Penang’s well maintained infrastructure and services, unmatched by any other state, there are rumblings of corrupt practices within the state government.

The first inkling of corruption in Penang was in 2015, when former Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng purchased a bungalow from a Penang businesswomen at RM2.8 million, well under current market value.

Lim had rezoned agricultural land to residential land for a company called Magnificent Emblem, which Phang was a director.

Lim was charged by the MACC for abuse of power while Phang was charged with abetting Lim.

However, when Pakatan Harapan won the 2018 general election, both Lim and Phang were acquitted of charges on the request by the prosecution.

Soon after the Pakatan Harapan government fell in 2020, Lim was arrested over corruption allegations concerning the RM1.5 billion undersea tunnel planned for Penang.

A MACC investigation alleged that Zarul Mohd Zulkifli, chairman of Consortium Zenith Sdn. Bhd. had paid Lim 10 percent of the cost of the project reported to be in the vicinity of RM3 billion.

The MACC investigation also found that other Penang state executive council members also received bribes.

The trial of Lim is still continuing in the Sessions Court.

During the ongoing trial, a testimony recorded by the MACC of the late Ewe Swee Khang, the founder and executive chairman of Ewein Bhd., who mysteriously died last year after falling from the 17th floor of his Penang condominium, provided more revelations.

Ewe claimed in a hand written disposition that he sort reclaimed land to develop. In exchange for Lim’s assistance and goodwill he would provide either condominium units or a share of the profit.

Ewe also claimed that Lim assisted him to gain approval from the Penang City Council to develop a housing project in the City of Dreams.

This has been a personal tragedy for Lim who went to jail for 12 months over sedition charges, where he purportedly defended an underage girl who was allegedly raped by a former Melaka Chief Minister who was never charged.

Today Lim is heavily criticized by some Penangites for his perceived arrogance and allegation of corruption that have been long hanging around him.

Lim’s tarnished reputation upon the DAP’s clean image has been partly repaired by the unassuming leadership of Chow Kon Yeow. However, there are some in Penang who believe the DAP should be kept in check.

Many questions are being asked over the escalating costs of Penang infrastructure projects, currently in construction. The 19.5 km Pan Island Link (PIL-1) is projected to cost RM 7.5 billion, equivalent to RM385 million per kilometer, the highest costing highway ever built in Malaysia.

The construction costs for the Paya Terubong Twin Road project are reported to exceed well above the RM545 million estimate.

The Gurney development project cost has risen from RM175 million to RM200 million.

Informed sources in Penang told the Asia Sentinel that opposition members within the state assembly have been given pieces of land to develop within their constituencies as an implicit method to silence dissent.

The DAP has held power in Penang since 2008 and controls billion of ringgit in funds.

When governments hold power for long periods of time with large parliamentary majorities, they very often become complacent. This is where corruption creeps in.

According to MACC Director-General Azam Baki interviewed recently, there were 919 complaints made against Penang civil servants accepting bribes, abusing power, or making false claims within the state from 2019 to now.

According to Azam, some civil servants have been awarding contracts to family members.

Top DAP stalwarts made public statements demanding Azam show proof of his corruption claims, rather than take the criticism seriously.

Unfortunately, there are no statistics or court case records to verify the above claims and rebuttals in the public domain.

Lack of transparency at state levels is a great hindrance in determining the real magnitude of corruption within the civil service.

Due to the DAP’s lackluster performance under the Pakatan Harapan federal government and hints of corruption, there is risk the party may lose considerable support in the coming general election although this is unlikely to lead to any loss of parliamentary seats.

The DAP secured 2.1 million votes in GE14. Their aggregate vote in the coming general election will be a major test.

Today the DAP is the second largest party within the Dewan Rakyat, and a partner in a number of state governments.

However, the rumblings of corruption could damage the good reputation of the DAP in the minds of voters, particularly the young.

Many young members of the DAP are already complaining that candidates are being selected on presentation rather than competence to do the job.

The DAP’s commitment to meritocracy is in question. This hybrid favoritism has become a major disconnect with the party faithful.

The DAP must be very careful that its attacks on corruption within Umno’s kleptocratic leaders doesn’t backfire upon itself.

The DAP is very quickly becoming the “towkay’ party like the MCA once was.

Lost is the firebrand spirit non-racial, democratic socialist party that believed in social and economic justice.

(Murray Hunter has been involved in Asia-Pacific business for the last 40 years as an entrepreneur, consultant, academic and researcher. He was an associate professor at Universiti Malaysia Perlis.)

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