Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak has asked the Public Works Department (PWD) to explain to the Cabinet on why no request was made for allocations to repair the roof when Parliament House underwent an extensive RM90 million renovation in 2005.
Four questions immediately come to mind:
Firstly, will the reference to the Cabinet of the scandal of Parliament as “House of Leaks” end up as unsatisfactorily as last week’s reference to it of the outrage of sexism in Parliament where two Barisan Nasional (BN) MPs, Datuk Mohd Said Yusof (Jasin) and Datuk Bung Mokhtar Radin (Kinabatangan) made crude, derogatory, sexist and gender-offensive remarks in Parliament last week, bringing shame and dishonour to DAP MP for Batu Gajah, Fong Po Kuan, Parliament, Malaysian women and the nation’s international reputation — resulting in fake apologies which are really no apologies at all?
Secondly, why the extraordinary departure from the principle of Ministerial responsibility with PWD going over the head of the Works Minister to report directly to the Cabinet, when such a report is customarily and by convention made to the Cabinet by the Minister responsible for the department, namely Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu as Works Minister?
Has the Cabinet has lost all confidence in the capability of Samy Vellu to perform effectively as the Works Minister and to bear full and direct responsibility for PWD in Cabinet, especially as Samy Vellu’s is completing his 20 years as Works Minister in shame and ignominy with a helter-skelter of collapse of government buildings and public constructions, whether falling ceilings, cracked walls, air-conditioning breakdowns or power disruptions in spanking brand new buildings or renovations costing hundreds of millions of ringgit!
Or is Samy Vellu utterly fed up with the disgraceful performance of PWD and he is washing his hands to dissociate himself from its failings, leaving PWD to directly explain to the Cabinet on the latest scandal of Parliament as the “House of Leaks”?
Whatever the reason, the time has come for the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to terminate Samy Vellu’s long tenure as Cabinet Minister, spanning 27 years and six months, with 20 years as Works Minister short of five months.
Thirdly Najib – who will be chairing the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday as Abdullah will be making his fifth official visit to Japan since taking over as Prime Minister – does not seem to have been properly briefed about the background and history of the Parliament renovation.
Najib said yesterday that if repairs to the Parliament roof had been included in the RM90 million “massive one-year interior restoration and renovation” in 2005, the leaking roof problem now could have been avoided.
Najib was wrong when he said it was a RM90 million “massive one-year interior restoration and renovation” of Parliament in 2005.
As the Government did not intend to relocate the Parliament building to the federal government administrative centre in Putrajaya, the Cabinet approved on July 18, 2001 an allocation of RM41.8 million for renovation of Parliament House to upgrade the facilities and provide better comfort to Members of Parliament of both Houses.
The Public Works Department was instructed to draw up plans for the renovation and upgrading of facilities at the tower block and the main block of the Parliament building. Work began in November 2002 and the renovation was scheduled to be completed within 12 months.
How could Samy Vellu now say that the renovation of Parliament building did not include repair of the roof as it was not damaged then?
In the event, the Parliament renovation took three years to complete and at double the original costs.
Even now, nobody is very sure what were the costs of the Parliament renovation.
It was only when the roof of the Dewan Rakyat sprung a leak in April 2005, forcing parliamentary proceedings to a halt with water pouring into the chamber disrupting the power and communications systems, that conflicting claims about the renovation costs surfaced.
The Speaker, Tan Sri Ramli Ngah had at the time cited the cost of Parliament renovation as RM60 million, which was backed up by Samy Vellu — but which conflicted with the RM85 million figure quoted by Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, in response to my query in May 2004, as the total cost of renovation with R57 million already spent.
Later in May 2005, the Dewan Rakyat House Standing Committee was informed by the PWD of the true costs of Parliament renovation – from the original RM49,625,000 to RM85 million (with RM74.5 million spent so far) and a new tranche of expenditure totaling RM14 million awaiting Treasury approval, which would bring the total cost of Parliament renovation to RM99 million!
The total costs of the Parliament renovation would have now exceeded RM100 million and it is most regrettable that a detailed itemizing of its RM100 million renovation has not been given to MPs.
When the renovated Parliament first sprung its first leak in April 2005, Samy Vellu made a dramatic inspection on his return from an overseas visit and declared that the Parliament leak was “a small problem” despite drenching the Dewan Rakyat chamber and bringing its proceedings to a halt — quite similar to his recent arrogant and complacent remark after Parliament turned into a “House of Leaks” on May 9 that leaks after RM100 million renovation is “common!
Why is Najib unaware of this background to the trouble-prone Parliament renovation?
Fourthly, why had the House Committee, under whose jurisdiction the matter of Parliament renovation falls directly under, been completely sidelined without any role whatsoever?
At least, the House Committee had a meeting immediately after the first Parliament “leaks” in April 2001, but there are no signs of any House Committee meeting to address the second Parliament “leaks” on May 9, 2007.
Why have MPs been treated as strangers in their own institution, when MPs through the House Committee should be intimately involved in all decision-making with regard to Parliament renovation?
The Parliament Building had stood for over forty years from 1962 without any leaks but after renovation costing some RM100 million, it has shamed Parliament and the nation with two major leaks in the past two years.
It marks a terrible erosion of Malaysian standards and culture, and it is a national disgrace that such plunge in standards and benchmarks, which would have been unthinkable in the first 45 years of national independence, is now regarded as commonplace and no cause for surprise!
With Parliament stamping an international notoriety as a “House of Leaks” — heads must roll in PWD and Works Ministry or let Samy Vellu’s head roll before Parliament reconvenes on June 18 to end the third-world culture of impunity and usher a new era of first-world responsibility.