Wednesday, February 24, 2010

T'gganu to fight side by side with Kelantan on oil royalty

Wong Choon Mei

KUALA TERENGGANU, Feb 24: If Umno is now seeing stars due to the fierce onslaught from Kelantan PAS over oil royalty, it may soon go into a coma when Terengganu PAS raises its own battering ram on petrol money owed to their state and reveal the list of shady deals transacted under the 'wang ehsan' scheme.

“You can be sure that no other issue will take greater priority as far as Terengganu is concerned,” PAS MP for Kuala Terengganu Abdul Wahid Endut (PIC) told Harakahdaily in an interview.

“PAS has only two MPs in this state – PAS president Hadi Awang and I. You can be sure the two of us will fight to the end to get back the billions of ringgit owed to the Terengganu people."

The corruption of wang ehsan

In 1999, PAS won control of the Terengganu state government. The sweetness of its victory was short-lived as the then-prime minister Mahathir Mohamad promptly stopped all oil royalty payments to the state. He ignored the Petroleum Development Act under which Terengganu is entitled to five percent per annum in oil royalty based on the quantity of oil it produces.

Although, the PAS administration led by Hadi took Mahathir and national oil firm Petronas to court, the case has been repeatedly delayed and after 10 years, it is still pending.

In the meantime, Mahathir devised a new scheme whereby the federal government paid a form of welfare or ‘wang ehsan’ to finance state projects provided these were managed by federal agencies. This way Mahathir not only kept the PAS administration on a shoe-string budget, preventing it from developing the state effectively, he also retained control of Terengganu’s oil wealth.

But despite the huge oil income, Terengganu remains one of Malaysia's poorest and least developed states. This has been blamed on the large-scale corruption that set in at the federal agencies managing the wang ehsan. According to Wahid, despite widespread protest from PAS and the people of the state, these agencies had pushed through various questionable mega projects.

“The famous ones are of course the Monsoon Cup, the Taman Tamadun Islam or Islamic Civilisation Park and the Pulau Duyong transformation. These projects cost hundreds of millions and yet only a handful of the local contractors benefited. What happened? Something is fishy,” said the 52-year old Wahid, who is also the Wakaf Mempelam assemblyman.

“In the end, the oil royalty is not trickling down to the people and is instead used for wasteful projects. This should not be because the money belongs to Terengganu and should be used to benefit the ordinary people the most.”

Keeping the numbers secret

Statistics publicized by the federal government on the amount of oil royalty remitted to Terengganu also do not match. And from 2000 – the year the first and only wang ehsan payment of RM432 million was ever made to the PAS administration – till now, there has not been any clear explanation.

For example, former minister in the Prime Minister’s department Amirsham Aziz had told Parliament on May 13, 2008 that Terengganu had been paid RM7.364 billion from March 2004 to March 2007.

Yet Menteri Besar Ahmad Said had said in the state legislative assembly that Terengganu received RM6.218 billion from 2000 to 2008. And on a separate occasion, Ahmad also said only RM4.3 billion out of Amirsham’s RM7.364 billion had been received.

According to Wahid, this meant at least RM3 billion was still owed to the state. When Parliament reconvenes for 2010, he and Hadi plan to demand an explanation until they get a semblance of a proper answer from the authorities, no matter how uphill the task.

“This is totally unacceptable. The numbers contradict each other, even among the federal government officials themselves. Nobody knows what is going on and ten years have passed. Did the federal government use Terengganu's money for federal projects? Is this why they are keeping so quiet?” asked Wahid.

“PAS has called and will keep calling for a public inquiry or a White Paper report on all projects funded by wang ehsan. We want a full explanation on how the money was used from 2000 to 2008."

A real mockery

In June 2008, the federal government - then led by former premier Abdullah Badawi - had agreed to dismantle the wang ehsan scheme and revert to paying oil royalty of five percent per annum.

According to Abdullah, the federal government has been paying Terengganu wang ehsan from 2000 onwards, even though the amounts were less than the quantum receivable under the oil royalty calculation, which has been estimated at RM1 billion per annum.

But Abdullah's change of heart may have been due to the fact that Terengganu had reverted to Umno-BN control in 2004. In January 2009, just before the Kuala Terengganu parliamentary by-election, Finance Minister Najib Razak, who was then the deputy premier, had announced the establishment of the Terengganu Investment Authority to manage the state’s oil wealth. TIA has now been renamed the 1Malaysia Development Fund.

“Najib handed over a mock cheque for RM400 million. At that time, they said it was the first installment for the RM3 billion still owed to Terengganu. But so far, the money hasn’t come in at all,” said Wahid.

“The mock cheque has just been a big piece of cardboard. And that was more than one year ago. Really, enough is enough, Terengganu people must stand in solidarity with the Kelantanese folk. They must insist on their rights and not allow themselves to be bullied."


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