Glaring discrepancies revealed in Selcat probe

Written by Chan Kok Leong, The Edge   

It was not meant to be a witch-hunt but by the end of the first day of the public inquiry, it was apparent that anomalies abound in the way Selangor assemblymen spent their allocations.

Even the district officer for Gombak, Huzaini Samsi, agreed.

During the four-hour inquiry, district officers Huzaini and Datuk Zulkepli Ahmad (Petaling district) were grilled by the Selangor Select Committee on Competence, Accountability and Transparency (Selcat).

In both districts, most of the state allocations for assemblymen were fully utilised. Some had even exceeded the allocations.

In Selangor, state assemblymen are each given a RM500,000 allocation to be spent on their constituencies while state executive councillors get a RM600,000 budget.

According to Huzaini, who joined Gombak in July 2007, the spending was “extraordinary”.

Candid and frank in his testimony, Huzaini said that it was difficult to reject an assemblyman’s request for funds and hence the no-questions-asked approvals were given by his office.

When asked by Saari Sungib (Ulu Kelang) if he thought that the funds were used to fund election campaigns, Huzaini said: “The possibility is there.”

Pressed by Azmin Ali (Bukit Antarabangsa) on whether it was right, Huzaini said it was “morally wrong”.

The Land Office chief also admitted that it was extraordinary that a year’s allocation would be spent within two months.

“But there are no limitations or rules to say that the allocation cannot be finished within two months,” he added. “As long as the application meets the criteria, we cannot reject it.”

But Huzaini denied that there was direct pressure from anyone to approve the applications. “We are not pressured but we don’t want any confrontation with the assemblymen,” he added, saying that it was a Catch-22 situation. It was hard to approve but difficult to reject.”

Selcat chairman Teng Chang Khim (Sg Pinang) reminded Huzaini to report to the committee if any assemblymen were to pressure his office to approve applications for state allocations.

In the Batu Caves state seat under the Gombak district, 90 applications for RM496,509.48 were made on Feb 12, 2008. Of these, 57 (RM196,510) were paid on Feb 15, 2008 while three (RM10,000) were paid on Feb 20. The remaining 30 (RM290,000) were paid on Feb 21.

District officer for Petaling, Zulkepli asked for more time to explain the anomalies in his district.

When asked why approvals were given after the state assembly had already been dissolved on Feb 13, 2008, Zulkepli said that the expenditure and the programme had already been conducted.

“We were only paying out after the expenditure was already made,” he added.

Apart from the anomaly that most of the state allocation for assemblymen in 2008 were already fully utilised before last year’s general election, there were also payments being made to single person and overspending.

In Datuk Lim Yuen Keong’s Sri Kembangan for instance, expenditure had exceeded by RM63,500. And of the 150 applications for funds made, 145 were paid out to him.

In Paya Jaras, all 165 applications for funds (RM504,500) were paid out to the assemblyman Muhammad Bushro Mat Johor.

Another discrepancy was over the use of allocation to pay for the assemblyman’s office.

While each assemblyman is allocated RM1,000 each month, Taman Medan, Batu Tiga, Seri Setia, Sri Serdang, Paya Jaras, Sri Kembangan, Bukit Lanjan, Kg Tunku and Damansara Utama had already made claims for the full year.

Directing his question to Zulkepli, Teng asked if the Land Office had asked the former assemblymen to return the sum.

“We’ve written to them but they haven’t paid us back yet,” said Zulkepli’s assistant Yahya Hassan.

“Maybe, the land office should try to use legal means to get back the money,” said Teng.

Because of the many discrepancies, both district officers were given two weeks to return with the proper documents.

Besides Teng, Azmin and Saari, the other Selcat members are Selangor deputy speaker Hanizah Mohd Talha (Taman Medan) and Edward Lee (Bukit Gasing).

The public inquiry began yesterday and is scheduled to end Monday.