Make use of available talent

By R. Nadeswaran, The Sun

AS much as many are making valiant efforts – covertly and overtly – to bury the Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ) fiasco, it returns periodically like a restless ghost to haunt many. While some principal players have been charged, others who had put their hand in the kitty are wondering when there will be a knock on the door from the authorities. Even if the long arm of the law does not reach them, there are other options available to the powers-that-be to recoup the billions that have ended up where they shouldn’t be.

While the directors of the Port Klang Authority (PKA) are dragging their feet over plans to institute legal proceedings against their predecessors for their inaction, they can now breathe a sigh of relief because their former colleague who knew port affairs like the back of his hand will no longer be there to question and push for transparency and accountability. Datuk Mylvaganam Rajasingam, a career port man and former general manager of PKA, and a one-term board member has been told that “your services are no longer needed”. He is no ordinary Joe. It was under his tenure that the North Port was privatised and the West Port built. And when he retired in 1997, he left a healthy balance of about RM500 million in PKA’s coffers. Today, the authority has become insolvent and is only afloat because the Treasury keeps pumping money to meet past obligations.

And no one can explain what he did or did not do for this unceremonious exit. There are many who suspect that someone in high office did not want a knowledgeable person who will continue to point out spurious spending and questionable decisions. As a matter of fact and due credit to the man, PKA chairman Datuk Lee Hwa Beng had recommended that Rajasingam’s term be extended. But somehow, lobbyists and interested parties got their way because having a knowledgeable person on the board would make their kind of business activities quite difficult to operate.

Here we are setting up the Talent Corporation, going around the world trying to lure Malaysians back home and yet we fail to utilise the talent that is available locally. It is an irony that the knowledge, skills and experience of people like Rajasingam are not put to good use by the government which is trying to portray that there is some semblance of meritocracy. We are sending this wrong message to people we’re trying to lure – if you are good, you won’t last long. Why are we wasting money on delegations to London and other cities to talk to Malaysians with a view to coming back and serving the country? The question to ask is: Why have people with no experience been appointed to boards of government agencies and statutory bodies when there is so much talent around?

This writer is not status-conscious and would not look down on people’s professions. In the UK, golfing buddies include a university professor, a postmaster, a taxi driver, a house painter and even a grave digger. I am glad to associate with them, but what on earth does a retired teacher or a forklift driver know about port affairs? No disres-pect to anyone serving presently or in the past, but some of them wouldn’t know what a TEU means or which side of the ship is the star-board side, or be able to read simple accounts!

But herein lies the problem of political party representation in such positions. People are nominated and appointed because of party affiliation and loyalty. The time has come to put competent, honest and trustworthy people in such positions. We need people with integrity in positions of power so that they safeguard the interests of the government and its people.

While it is wrong to paint everyone with the same brush, let it be said that the RM12 billion in losses in the PKFZ project is a result of having some people on the PKA board who did not show any form of accountability or transparency – the cornerstones of good governance. I have always been pushing for them to be held accountable, including filing civil suits for failing in their fiduciary duties as directors. These include two former ministers, an MP and even senior civil servants. Were they asleep when all that money was spent and all those guarantees given? The all encompassing question is: Have we not learnt enough lessons from the fiasco and if so, why do we keep repeating them?