Debate hots up as Selangor govt contract with minister’s husband continues to hog spotlight

Debate hots up as Selangor govt contract with minister’s husband continues to hog spotlight
"Debate hots up as Selangor govt contract with minister’s husband continues to hog spotlight"

The awarding of a contract by the Selangor government to a company belonging to the husband of a Malaysian minister has ignited fierce debate.

At the core of the issue is, should those related to decision-makers be allowed to enter into business deals with the government at the state, or federal levels?

Political analyst, Associate Professor Dr Azeem Fazwan Ahmad Farouk, said spouses and family members of those in power should not be involved in government contracts.

“Parti Keadilan Rakyat and DAP (the two parties within the unity government) were the leading voices against alleged nepotism and cronyism during Barisan Nasional’s rule. They should now walk the talk,” said Azeem, who is director of the Centre for Policy Research, Universiti Sains Malaysia.

Asia Mobility Technologies Sdn Bhd was one of two companies selected for the demand responsive transit (DRT) service, to provide first- and last-mile public transport services within Selangor. Asia Mobility’s chief executive officer, M. Ramachandran, is the husband of Malaysia’s Youth and Sports Minister, Hannah Yeoh.

Another company, Badan Bas Coach, was also selected to run the system following a presentation to the state transport committee, and based on their experience in rolling out their proof-of-concept.

Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) chief commissioner Tan Sri Azam Baki, earlier today, downplayed the issue, saying the contract was between the company and the Selangor government, not Yeoh’s ministry.

“While the MACC may have cleared Hannah, to outsiders, it looks fishy, as she was a former Selangor Assembly speaker, and her name carries weight in the state,” said Azeem.

“So, the perception out there is that he (Ramachandran) may have been ‘favoured’. That casts a shadow on his company, which may have already been perfect for the job (based on its capabilities).

“Family members of ministers should not be involved in state, or federal government contracts ... especially, where those in power are from the same coalition or party.”

Asia Mobility Technologies, in a statement today, defended its involvement in the project, saying only two companies in Malaysia were qualified to provide the service. It also added that an open tender in the appointment process for the Selangor Mobility programme – a “highly specialised new service” – would have created a monopoly in the state.

“This would have stifled competitiveness and robbed the state of the opportunity to pilot the service in a real-world setting, and assess the service providers’ performance over a reasonable period of time,” the company said.

Asia Mobility also noted that the appointment was only for nine months. The company also said that it took the accusations seriously and would exercise its legal options.

M. Pushpan, the chief executive officer of the Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4), said that in an ideal world, ministers’ spouses and family members shouldn’t be involved in business, with state and federal governments.

“But we cannot prevent an individual from taking part in business, simply because they are related, or married to a politician,” said Pushpan.

“However, we need to legislate a public procurement law to cover national, and state-level procurements. All tenders should go through a transparent, and open process to prevent an abuse of the system.

“The decision must be based on sound selection criteria, and be transparent to the public. There must be a grievance process to challenge any awarding of a contract that may be biased, or was given preferential treatment.”

He added that there must be laws to address potential conflicts-of-interest to regulate the process and eliminate any possible exertion of undue influence.

“The key issues are that they (the family members) have a right to take part in the economic activities in the country, but the outcome of their participation must be based on their ability, track record, fair competition, impartial evaluation, and financial capacity, and not through any undue influence, cronyism, quid pro quo, or abuse of power,” said Pushpan.

“There must be transparency in the entire process, and the decisions in awarding these contracts must be allowed to be challenged and evaluated by an independent party.”

Certain quarters had even called for Yeoh’s resignation following the episode.

In 2011, Tan Sri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, then Women, Family and Community minister, resigned over allegations that her husband, Datuk Seri Dr Mohamad Salleh Ismail, and their three children, had benefitted from a contract awarded to Mohamad Salleh’s company, the National Feedlot Corporation Sdn Bhd (NFCorp).

The government sued Mohamad Salleh, but on Oct 13, 2023, the Kuala Lumpur High Court cleared him and his three children, Wan Shahinur Izran, Wan Shahinur Izmir, and Wan Izzana Fatimah Zabedah, of all charges.

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