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RM300 “gift” mystery unsolved

With over a dozen witnesses, and a police report that names him, why can’t the media centre staff be identified?

ON 16 Jan 2009, during the Kuala Terengganu (KT) by-election, more than a dozen journalists were asked to list their names, organisations, and telephone numbers on a blank piece of paper. The request was made by a staff member at the KT by-election media centre. At around 3.50pm on the same day, each of the journalists was given a white envelope containing six RM50 notes.

A number of journalists later returned the envelopes to the media centre staff. Two journalists from Chinese-language online news portal Merdeka Review immediately lodged a police report at the Terengganu police headquarters. In their police reports, they provided the name of the media centre staff who distributed the white envelope. They were later informed that the case would be referred to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) for investigation.

After this incident, I submitted a question to Parliament, seeking an answer from either the prime minister or information minister. My question was worded thus:

Puan Teo Nie Ching [Serdang] minta Perdana Menteri menyatakan atas arahan siapa pegawai bertugas memberi sampul surat yang mengandungi RM300 kepada wartawan-wartawan di pusat media Kuala Terengganu pada 16 Januari 2009 dan apakah tindakan/siasatan yang telah ataupun akan diambil ke atas insiden ini.

I had requested for my question to be answered on 17 Feb 2009. However, I was informed by the secretary of the Dewan Rakyat that my question was rejected on grounds that it violated Rule 23(1)(c) of the Standing Orders:

A question shall not contain any argument, interference, opinion, epithet or misleading, ironical or offensive expression nor shall a question be frivolous or be asked seeking information on trivial matters.

Until now I still can’t figure out how or why my question breached Rule 23(1)(c) of the Standing Orders. Does my question contain any argument, interference, opinion or epithet? Or is this a frivolous or trivial matter? Or perhaps, the minister simply found my question too offensive to answer.

The information minister through his press secretary Hisham Abdul Hamid has denied making any payment to journalists covering the by-election. He claims the ministry had never directed any of its officers to do such a thing.

Where did the money come from?

However, when questioned about the source of the money, the media centre staff could not offer any answers. Why? Did the envelopes just fall down from a tree like durians? Did the staff suddenly decide to play Santa Claus after waking up that fine morning?

“Envelope” journalism

Information Minister Datuk Ahmad Shabery Cheek boasted in Oct 2008 that Malaysia did not practise “envelope” journalism — a norm in certain developing countries where journalists are paid to highlight certain stories. In less than three months, Shabery was proved wrong in the KT by-election media centre.

It is easy to still preserve the accuracy of his statement and to clear the name of the ministry. What he needs to do is simply take the initiative to investigate the matter and tell us who instructed the staff to offer the envelopes to the journalists.

It is equally important for him to prove that the Barisan Nasional (BN) government is all out to fight corruption and that the prime minister is not the only person apparently concerned about this. The information minister should immediately sack the media centre staff and the individual(s) who instructed the staff to give out the envelopes. Sadly, none of this has been done.

It is also sad that the MACC on 20 Jan 2009 decided not to investigate the case because it said the reporters could not identify the media centre staff.

What is so difficult about identifying the staff member implicated?

This is such a lame excuse. The reporters from Merdeka Review had provided the name of the staff. Furthermore, there were more than a dozen journalists in the media centre that day. What is so difficult about identifying the staff?

Did the MACC call the rest of the journalists and investigate to the best of its ability before concluding that the culprit could not be identified? There is a suspicious lack of initiative on the part of the MACC to respond to what was clearly an attempt to bribe journalists covering the by-election. This is totally unacceptable.

People are smarter

Voters in KT were apparently not influenced by these dirty tricks and the Pakatan Rakyat won the by-election with a 2,631-vote majority. This does not prove that there were no attempts to bribe voters and journalists in KT. It just shows that people are cleverer these days and bribes like the one attempted in the by-election media centre were not successful.

The approaches adopted by the information ministry and MACC make a mockery of the so-called reforms towards a corrupt-free society belatedly announced by the prime minister. It further shows that the BN government is only paying lip service to the principle of honesty and the battle to fight corruption.

Even though the KT by-election is now over, it is important to ensure that real actions are taken against the dirty trick that occurred in the media centre. To demonstrate zero tolerance towards corruption, the information minister should assure the public that serious action will be taken against the media centre staff. Additionally, he should guarantee that such an incident will not repeat during the upcoming by-elections in Bukit Gantang, Bukit Selambau and Batang Ai.

Without this assurance, the battle against corruption will ring hollow and false.

Teo Nie Ching is DAP Member of Parliament for Serdang.

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19 Responses to “RM300 “gift” mystery unsolved”

  1. Maozi says:

    Biasalah, since when have you seen MACC investigate ANYTHING about BN?

    Well, allow me to ask a lame question: why can’t the journalists just disclose the name in their news?

  2. Andrew I says:

    Well, apparently, some evidence is stronger than others.

  3. Justine says:

    MACC or ACA, the names may change but the core is still infested …

    If the MACC can label the VK Lingam case as NFA, what lah is this Mickey Mouse bribe!

    If the rakyat still votes BN in the coming election, then they truly deserve the government they get. Looks like Malaysia can’t be saved.

  4. Hamba says:

    The MACC will only investigate if the RM300 was attached to a cow when it was given to the journalist. Only then is there evidence of bribery in this matter. No cow, no investigation. MACC – Malaysian Agency for Cows and Cars.

  5. Joeawk says:

    On the eve of election day, 8 March 2008, folk of Kepala Batas were treated to a full course dinner at two Chinese restaurants. I went back from KL to vote but I did not attend the feast. However, my father and sisters attended.

    On election day, after I had cast my vote, I met an election worker of MIC and he directed me to collect RM300.00 from the MCA rep who is also my friend, because I came back from out of town.

    My friend was nowhere to be found because MCA got hammered that day. Besides, he was angry with me for sending out SMSes to ask people to vote opposition.

  6. Hamba says:

    Another circular at the MACC HQ also state that any report that is attached to an effigy of a cow will not be entertained. This is important because although there is enough evidence but there’s nothing dropping (pun intended) on the rakyat.

  7. K S Ong says:

    BN is so used to playing host, renting crowds and making offers, that they find it difficult not to offer something for everybody. It is a habit difficult to discard as they think everybody expects something in return, whether it is their presence or their presentation. Maybe, it is to do with our culture of being nice to guests hoping that they will be nice in return.

    Incidentally, has anyone noticed that the MACC did not have the word independent in its name, which makes it very different from ICAC! So why do we keep expecting it to be independent?

    Some of the committee members were quite credible on their own but whether they can have any effect on its policies is doubtful.

  8. k.sam says:

    Well as long as crooks rule this country please don’t expect an answer from them if they and their cronies are involved. These people are going to sell this country wholesale , take the money for themselves and bankrupt the country and its people Those who still think that they are in the safe hands will only realise when they left in the cold.

    Pak Lah (a great mistake Mahathir made in appointing him as his replacement) at the helm has created great damage to the country that will take a million years to put right.

  9. albert lee says:

    Any reports made by others especially from opposition party members will be either to tell you off or is under investigation (until the cow comes home) but when the BN, especially Umno people made a report the authorities they will be very fast to act on it. Example: 1. Against the speaker of the Perak assembly 2) against the MB of Selangor on cows and car.

    Ai yah they don’t admit defeat, they think that they are still the taikor. But the people of today whether they are young or old are not the same as those of yesteryear.

  10. JQ says:

    Mana Ada Corruption Case? (MACC) He looks like a media staff, talks like one, but is not one. No further action as there is insubstantial evidence – any photos of him/ her? Videos? Fingerprints on the envelope? Oops, even if there is the case would probably still be closed.

    Reminds me of that day when I drove past the MACC State HQ; the original ACA signboard is still there, they just draped a new MACC cloth banner over it to signify the change; that speaks volumes of how the public view the change. Same substance, just drape something colourful over it to show that it has changed!

  11. Lainie says:

    I’d have a cow about this, but I’ve seen what can happen from that.

  12. aryllio says:

    After all that has been done, the party that gets more benefits is the envelope factory. Wonder if the factory is BN’s too. Hahaha.

  13. pilocarpine says:

    Pak Lah is not a mistake. He is the finder of mistakes well-hidden previously.

    Envelope journalism will never happen again in any by-election.

    Why spend millions distributing to the public, when you can focus on giving the elected ones to hop? That way it won’t be so easily caught.

  14. steven Ong says:

    Ms Teo, why not you gather all the journalists who were offered the money, and hold a peaceful demonstration in the street and display the name of the officer who offered the money. Surely there will be protests from him and his boss. Create a ruckus and see what happens next. Waiting quietly is not an option. Be pro-active. Initiating change by peaceful means is our responsibility as humans.

  15. alan foo says:

    This is already a screwed up country with corrupt ministers, murderers, government-backed robbers and gangsters, professional rapists and so what can we expect from them? Whether it is ACA or MACC or whatever you call them, it’s still the same Toms. Dicks and Harries. This country is already dead and gone to Umno, which is sucking our rakyat’s money.

  16. Daniel says:

    Man, it’s already so lame to think that someone thought that RM300 was enough to buy a journalist’s integrity. Haha, I guess when our slang for graft is “duit kopi (coffee money)”, it does signal to a certain extent the limitations of Asian greed.

    Perhaps the reason we see so many lame acts in this country is due to the flip side of being a “lemah-lembut (soft and gentle)” society 😛

    America, in contrast, is so straightforward and bold with its corruption that bankers will rip millions in bonuses from taxpayers after already having dragged the entire economy to the ground with their greed.

  17. Wave33 says:

    Dear k sam, Pak Lah is NOT “a great mistake Mahathir made”. Mahathir IS the mistake.

  18. Wave33 says:

    I think there is going to be selective prosecution till the cows come home. We are not able to depend on the federal government servants to act on their own masters. It will NOT happen.

    This might sound like a “crazy” idea but the alternative government should have a parallel investigation body. It would be similar to having a private detective or like Polis Bantuan which is much better than Polis Raja Di Malaysia.

    It shall be called the “Rakyat’s Corruption Investigation Agency”. It will be funded by the people, fund-raising activities, private companies and foreign funds. I am sure DiGi will give an ANONYMOUS contribution, it would be better this way or else there will be vengeance from the federal government to make business difficult for them. We need a lot of money to have this selective investigation team formed. That is the only way, because the cow has been slaughtered and it is not coming home. The rakyat has to take proactive action.

    The parallel agency should get approvals or the right to call suspects and witnesses to give evidence, and this would be a challenge, as we need the House to approve such parallel action.

    At the same time, we need to have more covert operation which has been very successful in cases like VK Lingam’s “correct, correct, correct” case.

  19. Eskay says:

    YES, Stephen Ong has a more viable plan of action to draw public attention over the MACC’s foot-dragging to investigate the “envelope journalism” incident during the KT by-election.

    Ms Teo should get the dozen or so journalist/reporters involved and do a peaceful demonstration with placards with the name or/and photo of the staff member of the KT by-election media-centre (concerned) in front of the MACC HQ. Maybe, only then, the MACC will take action.

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