Sabah State Water Department corruption probe
The Sabah State Water Department corruption probe (Malay: Siasatan Rasuah Jabatan Air Negeri Sabah) refers to a 2015 to 2016 widespread investigation by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) over the alleged abuse of power inside the Sabah State Water Department resulting in the arrest of two senior officers in the state agency along with the confiscation of RM3 million which had been kept inside a safe deposit box in the office of one of the suspects, together with a total of RM52 million cash were seized from various more places, including from the officials' house which also includes gold and stone jewellery, luxury brand watches, 94 branded handbags, nine luxury cars and folders containing 127 land grants of the two officers. Another businessman with the title of "Datuk" (one of the officials brother) and his accountant were also arrested in connection with the case. During the confiscation of the RM52 million, the MACC members of 30 people took 15 hours to go through, using the serial numbers to estimate some of the sealed stacks.
The total confiscation then increase to RM53.7 million, RM112 million and finally to RM114.5 million with more deposit box are awaiting to be opened, and the case been considered as the largest ever confiscation by MACC in the country corruption history. Until 12 October 2016, the four people remain arrested, with another five people been called to help facilitate the investigation following the record statements from 40 people, including department officers and contractors. Three of the witnesses surrender a total of RM1 million to MACC after giving their statements on the probe. Further investigation revealed another RM30 million in foreign banks with money trail leading to Singapore, Australia and New Zealand and another RM30 million in land titles. For over 5 years, both of the two main suspects had took 60% of state funds channelled by the federal government that supposedly been used for water supply works.
Responding to complaints over the unfair distribution of water development project contracts in the department, the MACC spent over a year investigating the two suspects who appeared to be living in upper-middle-class lives. According to the investigations by 70 MACC personnel since 2015, both suspects are linked to 38 different companies since 2010, with the department director is linked to 17 companies owned by his siblings and proxies, while his deputy is connected to 21 companies owned by his family members. Almost every water development projects in the state were awarded to both suspects linked companies. The department were also seen as did not auditing its infrastructure projects since 2002. A check by local newspaper, New Straits Times on the auditor general (AG) reports from 2002 until 2015 found that the department had only been audited seven times, with the records only focusing on its non-revenue water (NRW) management and privatisation of supply.
Based on the 2015 statistics from the National Water Services Commission (Malay: Suruhanjaya Perkhidmatan Air Negara (SPAN)), 87.9% of Sabah residents received a treated water supply compared to the state of Kelantan with only 64% as many Kelantan residents mostly depends on alternative water resources. The Sabah State Water Department are mostly poor in the handling of NRW due to theft, leakage, burst pipes, faulty meters and maintenance works, with Sabah's rate was 55.1%, the second bottom from Perlis with 56.3%.
Following a series of investigation for years, a team of MACC then raid the office of Sabah State Water Department on 4 October 2016, arresting the department's director Ag Tahir Ag Talib (age 54) together with his deputy Teo Chee Kong (age 52) on the spot along with the confiscation of RM114 million worth of assets and RM53.7 million in "cold cash", with further investigation revealed a money trail leading to Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. The shocking revelation led the MACC deputy chief commissioner saying:
In the 49 years since the commission was set up, we have never seen this amount of money. The thought that this involves government servants is very bad.— Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) deputy chief commissioner (operations) Azam Baki.
Both suspects account have since been frozen, with the money confiscated are believed to have been siphoned from federal government allocations to the department for infrastructure projects worth RM3.3 billion since 2010. The MACC deputy chief commissioner said that they would be using ASEAN's Mutual Legal Assistance Agreement (MLA) to get co-operation from neighbouring ASEAN country to get the money back in a bank account linked to both suspects. On 13 October 2016, a former deputy director for the department was arrested to assist in the ongoing investigation. The suspect has held the post for 11 years until 2015 before appointed as technical and engineering advisor in the Sabah Ministry of Finance. During his term, the suspect had received money from contractors. One of the two main suspects was however been released on bail in 16 October after his 12-day remand order had expired, thought neither of them can be working in the department anymore and were blacklisted from leaving the state of Sabah. Another two suspects that were arrested earlier released in the next day.
On 19 October, 19 district engineers was arrested in connection with the probe for allegedly taking 30% of contracts value which were awarded to proxy contractors. A total of RM2.4 million were also seized from them along with procurement files from 27 locations around the state. Three other suspects who work as officers in the department was arrested in 20 October, while the position of the former director was replaced by a new officer in the same day.
Until 1 December, the MACC has spent nearly a month to analyse 8,000 payment vouchers between 2008 and 2016 from “tens of thousands of documents” as part of their ongoing investigations. The MACC stated that it will complete the investigation soon with investigations papers would be submitted to the Attorney-General.
The arrestment has been applauded by most of the public as well by the international anti-corruption organisation, Transparency International (TI). Thought the corruption issue also has led to many conspiracy theories and finger pointing, with attempts by politicians to link both suspects to political parties and their political opponents. The corruption within government officials has led the federal government to impose a new law to every development projects that costing more than RM500 million to involve the country Auditor General (AG) and MACC. TI has urged MACC to investigate any politicians involved in the corruption, with MACC has promised earlier to conduct further depth investigation as the corruption could be including any politicians.
Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman ordered a review on the management of external funds channelled to all state ministries, departments and agencies following the arrestment of its state government officials. Musa also urged the public to stop making speculation until the investigation is finished. Sabah Deputy Chief Minister Joseph Pairin Kitingan was shocked when heard of the arrest and assured that his ministry would leave no stone unturned in investigating the two officers suspected of corruption and abuse of power. Minister in the Prime Minister's Department, Abdul Rahman Dahlan expressing regret over the case but said "a total revamp is not necessary as not all government staff in the department were involved". Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak support the arrestment and said "Malaysians, especially Sabahans, fully supported MACC action to expose corruption and abuse of power in the department" while also urging the public to refrain from making any further speculation. Foreign Minister Anifah Aman denied allegations that the two officers arrested are linked to his ministry and the Kimanis United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) division. Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) religious harmony bureau chairman Ti Lian Ker said the scandal shows that the government's check and balance system has failed and needs to be overhauled.
Neighbouring Sarawak State Secretary Mohd Morshidi Abdul Ghani has warned of "dire consequences" if civil servants in Sarawak fail to uphold their integrity pledges, citing prior to the corruption case in Sabah. Chief Secretary to the Government, Ali Hamsa called on the public to not regard all the 1.61 million civil servants in Malaysia as corrupt because of the malpractices of a few individuals shortly after the revelation in the case. Tenom UMNO Member of parliament (MP) Raime Unggi said the case is "unlikely to be limited to state officials" as the corruption of such scale must logically involve collusion at the Rural and Regional Development Ministry given that the case involved RM3.3 billion in projects was handed out in 2010 during the time the ministry been headed by Shafie Apdal.
Penampang MP Darell Leiking has called on MACC to investigate every completed and on-going projects in Sabah for elements of corruption and hopes the commission will uncover many more abuses that had happen in the state for a long time. Darell also demands probe on the Kaiduan Dam project as officials in the water department before had ignored the complaints of villagers most affected by the projects with the state government has vowed to go ahead with the project to solve state water crisis despite claims by activists that the dam will displace and threaten the livelihoods of potentially more than 1,000 indigenous villagers when it submerges 12 square kilometres of forest and parts of the Crocker Range. While the founder of Sabah division for State Reform Party (STAR) Jeffrey Kitingan says the seizure of millions of money justifies calls to channel all development funds for federal projects to the Sabah state government for implementation. The statement by Tenom MP (see above) was responded by Likas assemblyman Junz Wong suggesting the "MACC should also probe the local Finance Ministry (MOF) for the corruption case" than solely blame the federal government as been preferred by Raime before, he instead suggest the authorities should firstly investigate all state-level ministries to find more details on the corruption.
Former Rural and Regional Development Minister Shafie Apdal denied that he and his former ministry had any links with the corruption in the awarding of infrastructure projects worth RM3.3 billion during his term, and said he is prepared to co-operate with the MACC. Sabah Democratic Action Party (DAP) Chairman Stephen Wong Tien Fatt demanded Joseph Pairin Kitingan to resign over the corruption case as the department was under his purview. Wong statement was then responded by the President of Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) Yong Teck Lee, citing "it is too early to determined the political responsibility" in the case. Sabah People's Justice Party (PKR) lawmaker and sole opposition member in the Public Audit Committee (PAC) Dr. Roland Chia has indicated that he intends to table the report on the "Auditing of Infrastructure Projects" undertaken by the State Water Department since 2010 at the committee forthcoming meeting.
Ba'kelalan PKR Assemblyman and a senior lawyer Baru Bian commenting on a local news report from The Borneo Post that asking the opinion of Sarawak leaders if the issue would have an impact on Sarawak, said "one could say that nobody is surprised anymore about corruption scandals in our country", citing the MACC report following the investigation that "the wealth of the two officers involved was not commensurate with their salaries" is similar with the case of wealth of the former Sarawak Chief Minister. While former PKR leader Anwar Ibrahim blamed the corruption issue on "Sabahan nativist attitude", with his statement is believed to referring to the recent decision by several Sabahan politicians to quit federal-based opposition parties of DAP and PKR to join new Sabah-based political platforms.
The corruption issue were met with criticism by most Sabahan peoples as many of the allocation by federal government that were supposedly been used to improve the poor water services in the state were instead been taken by corrupt officials in the state government. Local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as Task Force Against Kaiduan Dam (TAKaD) spokesperson Mary Giun has said a Kaiduan Dam project by the state water department in Ulu Papar should be cancelled as the project had always been shrouded in controversy, while Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (JOAS) secretary Jannie Lasimbang said the disclosure has called into question all existing, implemented or proposed projects and contracts by the Sabah Water Department, and in particular the proposed Kaiduan Dam project. The corruption also become the reason on why the Malaysian ringgit getting weak due to persistent corrupt practice within the country officials with the public viewing the case as just "one of the many hidden corruption cases in the country".
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