Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Is cowing a whistleblower a good idea?

AUG 1 ― If not for his arrest today, one would only remember that Rafizi Ramli has been going at the Ampang LRT line extension project with hammer and tongs over its systems contract, insisting for months that it would go to the George Kent joint-venture despite the consortium failing both the technical and commercial evaluation.
And, of course, Syarikat Prasarana Negara Bhd confirmed the contract said to worth more than RM1 billion has been given to George Kent, a water meter- and tank-maker whose biggest deal before was just RM40 million.
But that was up to yesterday.
Today, Putrajaya reminded us of Rafizi’s first explosive exposé ― that RM250 million in public funds was used to buy luxury condominiums and other properties instead of being fully invested in its intended use for a national cattle farm project.
This morning, the PKR strategy director was arrested and later brought to court over charges of violating the Banking and Financial Institutions Act (BAFIA) for exposing financial details of the National Feedlot Corporation (NFCorp), which runs the National Feedlot Centre (NFC).
The NFCorp is owned by the family firm of Wanita Umno chief Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil.
Only a court can decide if Rafizi has broken any laws when exposing the scandal that led to Shahrizat losing her Cabinet post after her senatorship was not renewed earlier this year.
But a few questions come to mind. The authorities took their time to investigate the NFC scandal despite alarm bells rung by the Auditor-General in his report last year.
The authorities have only charged Shahrizat’s husband, Datuk Seri Dr Mohamed Salleh Ismail, with criminal breach of trust (CBT) and cheating nearly RM50 million.
But what about the others involved? Or even allegations of money laundering in their quest to buy properties in Kazakhstan and Singapore rather than cattle from Australia?
Why the gentle treatment for the NFCorp owners and the witch hunt for whistleblowers who have exposed how public funds were abused?
For that matter, what use are whistleblower protections laws if those who provide information are instead hunted down and later charged in court?
Wouldn’t such action cow future whistleblowers? Or is this a warning to those in the civil service and government agencies to keep their mouth shut and not reveal the chicanery in their respective units?
This government is going down slippery slope by pursuing whistleblowers, especially a credible whistleblower like Rafizi, whose exposés in the NFC and Ampang LRT contracts have shown how public funds have been wasted for the benefit of the few. Especially with the prevailing view that the NFC culprits have been treated with kids gloves.
Rafizi became a hero today, thanks to Putrajaya’s missteps in handling the NFC and Ampang LRT extension project and, now, prosecuting him.
It would be little surprise if he wins the Pandan federal seat in the next general election, barring a quick judgment that he is guilty of the BAFIA offences.
And it would be even less a surprise that those who run Putrajaya now feel the anger of voters upset that a whistleblower is treated as a criminal.

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