Saturday, March 19, 2011

50 per cent “rebate” from the advertising agency

By Shazwan Mustafa Kamal and Boo Su-Lyn

Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen should be sacked as tourism minister following fresh allegations by an advertising agency that it was asked for bribes in exchange for a promotion contract, Pakatan Rakyat (PR) lawmakers said yesterday.

Integrated Strategic Communications’ (ISC), the advertising agency behind the award-winning “Malaysia, Truly Asia” tourism campaign said yesterday that it withdrew a bid to renew its contract with the Tourism Ministry after allegedly being asked for bribes in exchange for the deal.

“Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak should fire her as a minister. This is embarrassing to the Malaysian government. She should be fired... A confession has been made by the company that is clear,” said PAS vice-president Datuk Mahfuz Omar.

“It’s clear enough to enable her to be fired, or at least she should be suspended until investigations are done. The government should show that it is serious with this,” he said.

Calling the incident “disgusting”, Mahfuz told The Malaysian Insider that the new allegations cast Najib’s Cabinet in a “bad light.”

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) is investigating complaints by the agency, which said it was disputing Ng’s denial of “ambiguity” in the tender process for the advertising and promotions contract worth a total of RM381 million.

ISC founder and chief executive officer Austen Zecha alleged that both he and his deputy were jointly approached on January 19 to “offer the client” (the ministry) a 50 per cent “rebate” or an annual share of the firm’s income from the account.

In exchange, he said, ISC would then “re-win” another three-year Tourism Malaysia contract for the Europe, North America and Oceania tender.

“This essentially led ISC to decide to withdraw its tender on Wednesday, January 26,” Zecha said.

He added that ISC’s founders, shareholders, directors and management had unanimously agreed that the incident was a “grave insult” and that it added further suspicion to the ambiguity of the tender process on a whole.

Today, PR leaders also said they were “unsurprised” by the allegations, citing their consistent criticisms on Ng’s ministry for questionable monetary practices.

This latest episode, according to them, further compounded an “escalating” level of complaints against the Tourism Ministry.

DAP Socialist Youth chief (Dapsy) Anthony Loke agreed with Mahfuz’s views and demanded Najib take immediate actions as “the image of the country” had been affected by ISC’s statement.

Loke added that Ng should be hauled up and questioned by the MACC over the matter.

“The MACC should ask a statement from her. She’s the minister in charge of the ministry. When her ministry is said to be asking for bribes, the minister should be investigated as well,” Loke told The Malaysian Insider.

Both PR lawmakers accused the minister of lying in Parliament earlier this week when she said that there was no corruption involved in the awarding of contracts by the Tourism Ministry.

“This is proof that the statement given by the ministry in Parliament is a lie. It’s a lie. I think the answer is an insult to the Dewan. Ng Yen Yen said no corruption. It’s an insult to the Dewan and an insult to the Speaker,” said Mahfuz.

Yesterday, Zecha had said that Ng’s remarks in Parliament on Tuesday contradicted her earlier statement that she was unaware of the five companies that were each awarded three-year contracts by her ministry, totalling RM381 million or RM127 million per year.

“Previously, the minister was quoted in the media as saying she did not even know any of Tourism Malaysia’s five tenders were awarded to any of her ‘friends’ but now she seems to acknowledge knowing at least two of them,” he said.

Ng had been forced to explain the situation to Parliament when she was questioned by the DAP’s Jelutong MP Jeff Ooi on whether the five contracts had been awarded to “crony” companies through the use of political connections.

One of the tender winners was Impact Creations Sdn Bhd, which is said to have been selected because Juni Ewe, the managing director of Impact Challenger Sdn Bhd, allegedly related to the first company, is a friend of Ng’s.

Ng denied that the two companies were related.

Ooi had also asked if the award to Naga DDB Sdn Bhd was made with political consideration as its founder and executive chairman, Datuk Vincent Lee Fook Long, was also the executive deputy chairman of the MCA-owned Star Publications (Malaysia) Bhd.

Ng is a vice-president of the MCA, the second largest component party in the ruling Barisan Nasional.

The five recipients of the tenders were Naga DDB for the Asean market with a contract value of RM25 million a year, SMASCOM & Designs Sdn Bhd for East and North Asia (RM25 million), Sen Media Sdn Bhd for South Asia, West Asia and Africa (RM26 million), M&C Saatchi Sdn Bhd for Europe, America, Oceania (RM21 million) and Impact Creations for domestic and events (RM30 million).

Ng was also urged to clarify her denial that her ministry was now under MACC investigation and had its offices raided last Friday.

She explained that she was the one who invited the MACC in order to clear the ministry’s image following ISC’s “lies”.

“We cannot say that just because a company has failed to secure a tender, after getting it for 12 years at a value of more than RM160 million, and now it has raised all kinds of things.

“As a minister, it is my responsibility to ensure that the truth is told, not only the lies,” she was quoted as saying in theSun daily.

But Zecha argued that ISC had not “failed” to secure the tender but had withdrawn itself from the bid on January 26, long before Tourism Malaysia decided on and announced the winners on February 7.

He asked if Ng’s statement meant that the latter had already known even before ISC withdrew its bid who would win the tender.

“Is that why only this time there were no actual agencies’ presentations called for, which, as she has said publicly too, was what Treasury told her ministry to do? This should now receive the MACC’s fullest attention, indeed, because something here does not jive,” said Zecha.

The MACC raided the offices of Impact Creations and the Tourism Ministry last Friday following ISC’s complaints on the tender process.

PR MPs have vowed that they would bring the matter up at every possible opportunity during the current Parliamentary session if no immediate action was taken against Ng,

“If the PM does not do anything, or if she (Ng) does not resign, we will make her answer these allegations, one way or another.

“There will be a chance to ask her about this in the coming two weeks, during debate sessions with the various ministries... her time will come, and when it does, we will grill her,” said PKR vice-president Chua Tian Chang.

Like his PR counterparts, he too expressed the view that the allegations were “not new.”

“The tourism ministry has had a controversial record... Datuk Seri Azalina Othman has been investigated before, and now Ng should be investigated too... enough is enough,” Chua told The Malaysian Insider.

DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng said that ISC’s allegations along with the recent arrests and charges against two former senior ministers from MCA showed the “irresponsible” manner on which public funds were being managed by the ruling coalition.

“The DAP urges the MACC to pursue these allegation without fear or favour.

“We also call for the federal government, and the Ministry of Tourism in particular, to prove their commitment to fiscal transparency as preached in the prime minister’s New Economic Model, by immediately instituting open tenders for all government projects henceforth,” said Lim, who is also the Penang chief minister.

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