Thursday, November 13, 2008

Umno in way of open tender and transparancy- The Malaysian Insider

NOV 14 — Just after the general election in March, a clutch of Umno MPs stopped a minister along the Parliament lobby, badgering and threatening him. Their bone of contention: their multimillion ringgit projects and contracts had not been approved.
A government official who witnessed the unsavoury encounter recalled to The Malaysian Insider: "It was not pleasant at all. The MPs were not interested in hearing any explanation. They were making all sorts of accusations and complained that they needed funds to carry out their political activities for the year.''
After being abused, the minister marched into Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s office in the tower block to seek guidance. Since then, senior government officials and other ministers have also complained of being pressured by elected representatives and Umno warlords over the award of contracts.
This anecdotal evidence suggests that Datuk Seri Najib Razak will face a tough task of making the open tender system the norm and making the procurement system in government more transparent when he becomes the prime minister in March.
In the past few weeks, he and other government leaders have sprinkled their speeches liberally with the open tender system. In his first meeting at the Finance Ministry, he made it clear that direct negotiation will be the exception rather than the rule.
In doing so, he sounded much like Abdullah in his first 100 days in office. The PM promised to dismantle the opaque manner of awarding contracts, which resulted in bloated concessions and privatisation projects being given to well-connected individuals and companies during the Mahathir era. But if he is honest, Abdullah will admit that he fell far short of his targets.
Despite leading the Barisan Nasional to a handsome victory in March 2004 and having a 91 per cent approval rating among Malaysians, more often than not he succumbed to pressure from Umno warlords and awarded contracts on the basis of direct negotiations.
A government official said: "I don't think there were threats involved because the PM's position was secure. It was a case of rewarding supporters and understanding that it is expensive to become a politician here.''
The pressure is going to be just as intense on Najib and Umno officials who occupy senior positions in government to deliver the largesse. More so in this election season where millions of ringgit are being spent by individuals who want to be elected as deputy president, vice-president, supreme council member, division chief, branch chief, etc.
In 2004, those vying for a place on the relatively unimportant Umno Youth exco spent close to RM1 million to buy support. This time, more than 40 individuals are competing for a place on the 20-seat exco.
The winners and losers expect to recover their "investment'' after the election season. The easiest way to do this is to enter direct negotiations with the government to build schools, bridges and other infrastructure. More senior party members will have their eye on more lucrative projects including the transmission cable to send electricity from Bakun to Peninsular Malaysia and the plan to develop prime real estate in Jalan Cochrane.
Yes, it is going to be tough to say no to these warlords bearing big brown envelopes. But some government officials argue that Malaysians should also accept that the open tender system is fraught with weaknesses.
"Our open tender system is not always transparent. Some parties seem to have access to inside information and know how to tailor their bids accordingly. What the government needs to do is ensure if there is direct negotiation, then parties have the capability to carry out a contract and do not profit excessively. And when there is an open tender, it must be a truly clean process. Only then there will be confidence in the government procurement system, '' said a senior government official.
Can the open tender system become the norm in Malaysia? Perhaps, one day when Umno politicians lose their sense of entitlement and political patronage is not so prevalent. Until then, we can only hope.