Yen-ing for answers

By Terence Fernandez, The Sun

THE last time Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen got hot under the collar with theSun was more than six years ago when she was confronted by Citizen Nades and a then colleague Arion Yeow over her Australian permanent residency (which she had revoked in 1995).

On Wednesday we were in the firing line again when the tourism minister got upset at the pressing questions of our reporter Karen Arukesamy over the construction quality of the Malaysian Pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo. Karen was attending Ng’s launch of the eHomestay on Smartphones at the Malaysian Tourism Centre.

Anyway Ng got riled up when asked about the leaking roof at the pavilion which was reported with a picture of a bucket in this column on Sept 24. She denied that there ever was a leak. Perhaps I was mistaken. The bucket was part of the display on the Malaysian plastics industry and the durability of its products in capturing water from the heavy rain in Shanghai.

After all, Ng was reported as saying that: “I think it (leakage) happens when there is heavy rain, water will be coming in.”

So leaking roofs are the norm, as evidenced by the leaking roofs of our government buildings and we have exported this facet of Malaysian construction to China. I apologise for my ignorance.

Ng should have educated ill-informed journos like myself instead of lashing out as losing one’s cool can be misconstrued as being weak or defensive and no one knows this better than the once media savvy tourism minister.

For instance, is Ng saying Venturepharm Asia Sdn Bhd was not given the contract to build the pavilion since she clarified: “First of all it was never given to a pharmaceutical company. According to the Finance Ministry’s compliance, they are a contractor involved in building … they are involved in many businesses.”

So perhaps we can now be told who exactly built the pavilion? Is Ng saying that there is another company or a subsidiary we don’t know about which had built the red Minangkabau house? Perhaps the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission which had opened a file on the pavilion in June of last year knows something?

And what exactly is the cost? Am I mistaken to say it has shot up to RM40 million? After all both Ng and her deputy Datuk Dr James Davos Mamit had earlier this year given conflicting figures. He said RM20 million while she said RM35 million which incorporates construction and operation costs.

How much more is being spent to plug leaking roofs, replace non-functioning LED screens and repair golf simulators?

At the press conference Ng threw this challenge: “Do a comparative study on the expo on the cost of the Singapore, Saudi Arabian and UK pavilion.”

Well, she’s right. In terms of cost, we spent far less than our southern neighbours who forked out RM90 million for their pavilion; the Saudis (a whopping RM492 million) and the British RM123 million.

But these pavilions embraced the expo’s theme of “Better City Better Life” perfectly capturing the essence of their people and national identity while giving a glimpse of the future. These pavilions have welcomed between five million and 10 million visitors compared to the 4.7 million who walked through our doors.

It is a given that Singapore’s futuristic “music box” pavilion would need deep pockets with its sound-and-light show and musical fountains that capture the essence of the garden city.

The 6,000 sq m Saudi pavilion features a “flying carpet” and the world’s largest Imax screen with 1,600 sq m of pixels. And the UK Pavilion showcases the best of Britain’s past, tourism and industry in a fibre optic shell that makes up the pavilion’s exterior.

Does RM35 million constitute money well spent on an exhibition to showcase leather goods, furniture, massage chairs and 3-in-1 coffee over a 3,000 sq m venue?

Ng fired a final salvo when quizzed on my allegation that the construction of the pavilion was supervised by government officials instead of civil engineers. She said: “Why don’t you ask them (the contractor) or go visit for yourself. I have got no time (to) cushion-chair problems.”

She said it is unfair to talk about the pavilion and its cost after one year. What? There’s now a statute of limitations to question officials over the use of public funds? We will keep asking until we get satisfactory answers – and this includes the recipient of the ministry’s RM600 million advertising and promotions contract that is being decided.