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Khalid Samad: The Minister and The Myths

 

I used to enjoy reading fairy tales and all the myths found in them. But that was when I was a child. Little did I know that I would find myself surrounded by so many myths at my current age. And as a Minister at that! And I never thought either, that I would need or find the time to dispel them but here I am, in a flight, using my ‘power nap time’, to dispel the many myths surrounding my Ministry instead.

As there are quite a few myths to dispel, I will list them down one by one and explain it away, hopefully, to the best of my ability.

1. A new government need not honour the previous government’s commitments.

There is this myth that a new government need nor honour contracts and agreements made in the name of the government by the previous administration. All contracts and agreements signed by the previous government, especially when the previous government is stooped in kleptocracy, are automatically null and void. To carry on with these contracts and agreements would be to “follow in the footsteps of the government brought down by the people and as such is a betrayal of the people’s mandate”.
 
This, fortunately or unfortunately, is a myth.
 
If a new government was to do that, especially in cases wherein agreements are signed and sealed and worse, projects already underway, it would be sued by the aggrieved party and would have to pay compensation and damages. The best a new government can do is to renegotiate the contracts and with the agreement of the other party or parties, come to a compromise. This compromise being intended to minimise the ‘damage’.
 
To some, ‘compromise’ is a dirty word. I sympathise with them. They must find it hard living in the real world.
 
The mandate of the people gives you power as the executive but the judiciary doesn’t decide based on who is in power. Or at least it should not! The law is still the law and contracts and agreements must be fulfilled. If one breaks it, be prepared to bear the consequences, even if one is the government in power or one of its agencies.
 
I was told that as a Minister, I must not allow some of the projects approved by the previous Minister to proceed. Even though the contracts are signed. How I wish I could be so carefree, uncaring about the consequences. It is so much easier when talking as a layman.
 
2. If I am convinced it is illegal, it IS illegal!
 
The second myth pertains to the question of a contract being declared illegal. The myth claims that if one is convinced it is illegal, because it smells fishy, or because ‘so and so’ has business dealings with ‘so and so’, then it is illegal! They can’t understand why I am not convinced that elements of illegality exists so why do I persist on allowing these projects to continue?
 
Unfortunately reality differs from myth. Like it or not it has to be declared illegal by a court of law. The fact that one is convinced something is illegal doesn’t make it so. As such, my being convinced or otherwise is irrelevant. I need a court to say it is so.
 
Yes, IF it is illegal then everything can become null and void. No compensation needs to be paid. Very true BUT, BIG IF! Please get a court to declare it so. I will give you my fullest cooperation in your attempt to do so. And I have given you ample time as well.
 
For the time being the courts have declared various Development Orders, Contracts and Agreements in question as being valid. As a Minister I cannot govern based on the word ‘IF’.
 
The ‘IF’ word is a powerful word which can promise much delights. “If we can fly we would not have traffic jams. Nor would we need tolls for our roads”. Yes, the delights the word ‘IF’ can bring. But it can also bring pain. “IF I lose in court, I will be ordered to pay the developer what they have spent and more”! That too is an equally applicable use of the word ‘IF’.
 
In the case of the Federal Hill development, the developer has spent over a Billion ringgits. So let’s use this fact to make some sentences with the word ‘IF’, if you please.
 
3. If I have not seen it, it is a myth.
 
Just because one has not oneself seen certain invoices and receipts, it doesn’t make a claim a myth. It would be best, before declaring it a myth, to ask to sight the invoices and receipts. Not having seen it oneself does not make it imaginary nor a myth.
 
I think the erroneous nature of this myth is self-evident and needs no further clarification.
 
4. If I tell someone to do his homework, I do not need to do mine myself.
 
We tell others to do their homework but have we ourselves done ours? The myth says that there is no need because we are just telling others to do their homework. Whether we do our homework or not is irrelevant. Quite a myth.
 
I was told to do my homework in relation to the Taman Rimba Kiara project. I wonder, have they done theirs? Do they know how much was the land premium and the development charges paid? Have they asked? Do they believe in a myth which says it was all free?
 
I humbly suggest that they should do their homework first before implying I have not done mine.
 
5. If he has a different opinion he has not had legal advice.
 
This myth pre-supposes all lawyers agree on everything. Just because I do not agree with a particular lawyer’s opinion doesn’t mean I have had no legal advice! Surely!
 
Do I need to dispel this myth? Anyone and everyone who has dealt with lawyers will know that in many occasions, lawyers have different opinions about a certain legal issue. Otherwise you would find all lawyers on the same side in the courts all the time! And that would a sight.

Taman Rimba Kiara is a case in point. One says it is a myth, others say it can be proven illegal as there are dubious issues so cancellation will not have financial implications while yet another, and just recently, says it will only cost the government RM115 million. Which is it, or is it all three?
 
So please let us not be so presumptuous. I know I have not checked with you but you are not the only lawyers in town. Of that I am sure.
 
6. I decide how much the government will have to pay.
 
I am sure the courts will be surprised with this myth. The only way one will know how much one has to pay is to go to court if the estimated amount is disputed. Some expenses you consider not being claimable, such as interest charges on monies earlier paid, and it is no small sum involved, may be considered claimable by the court. They may so decide based on principles of ‘Universal Justice’ no less. Then there are other expenses, such as legal fees, consultant fees and the such. Yes, you may say it is not claimable but sorry, you do not get to decide. That is only a myth.
 
Yes I know I mentioned RM 150 Million. That is based on the list of expenses earlier provided. That is as an indication while I know full well the courts will decide. It may be less and it may even be more because according to the developer the list is of their direct expenses only.
 
Conclusion.
 
There are so many equally pressing issues that we could use the money to handle. Rather than giving it to the developer so as to cancel the project. The question of urban poverty for example. It may not be at your doorstep but again, it is not a myth.
 
And this brings us to the longhouse residents. It was implied that like the previous Minister, I am only using them as an excuse. After all, who gives a damn, right? If they are mentioned, it can only be as an excuse, right? After all, I am pictured, rather irresponsibly and inaccurately, as one coveting Ferraris and Porsches! Demonising someone just because you do not agree with him? Can’t come up with a better argument? I thought that was the BN’s and their new found ally’s tactic. I hate to end the ‘hate campaign’ but the image doesn’t fit me. Another myth? Or probably your own private and suppressed desires?
 
And I hate to spoil the mood but I do care about the longhouse residents. They have been deprived too long. If the project is stopped, not only will we have to pay the developer a yet to be finalised amount, with an agreed minimum being RM 115 million, we will also have to pay for the building of new houses for 100 families and another 100 for their second generation.
 
After negotiating with the developer, they are willing to scale down the project. The scaled down version would leave 17 acres of the original 25 acres untouched. This means the developer gets 8 acres instead of 12 acres, including the 4 acres on which the longhouses are currently located. And 17 acres is a lot more than what many areas have, not taking into consideration the 370 acres of parkland only a stone throws away! So is it fair to paint a picture of an end to nature’s assets as we have known it if the scaled down version is approved?
 
I know that many more myths abound. However I am already at my hotel and having completed this article, I now have to attend to other issues. But before I leave the issue of myths, I would like to humbly suggest, and with all due respect, “put your money where your mouth is”.
 
Give me a written commitment that you, and all those who believe it is a myth, will pay all the imaginary and mythical charges in the event I am ordered to do so by the court if I cancel the agreements, contracts or Development Orders. Or at least a significant portion of it.
 
My sincerest apologies but I have to look after the welfare of KL as a whole. And RM150 million is a lot to use for a place which already has much. And it takes courage to do the right thing for the many.

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