GEORGE TOWN (July 28, 2008) : By Himanshu Bhatt
Former deputy chief minister Datuk Seri Dr Hilmi Yahaya today admitted responsibility in the Penang State Assembly to a land deal blunder that will cost the state government some RM40 million.
Datuk Seri Dr Hilmi, the BN assemblyman for Teluk Bahang, surprised the assembly when he stood up to take responsibility for the "error" which occurred when he was the Religion, Land, Planning and Development Programmes Committee chairman from 1999 to 2004.
He said this when Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng (DAP-Air Putih) was reporting to the assembly about their findings into several land transactions that went awry because of "negligence" and poor decision making, costing total estimated losses of RM124 million to the state.
"I feel responsible because the error happened then," said Hilmi. "An error occurred and the decision was already made."
According to Lim, this particular case may bring losses worth RM40 million while losses from the other cases involving questionable land acquisitions (collectively investigated as they involved the same government officer) amounted to RM84 million.
Lim revealed in his winding-up speech that the previous administration had approved a 10.6 acres (4.3ha) plot to an individual, apparently a quarry operator.
"A plot of land as big as 10.6 acres is too large to be given only to an individual, which should not have happened," he said.
The case was brought to the courts when the state government cancelled the transfer of the land, he said. "Due to this, the state government incurred losses when the court’s decision sided with the concerned individual."
Lim said a negotiation process to settle the case out of court was held. "In the negotiation process, at one stage the concerned individual agreed to receive compensation that was far lower, which was RM1.8 million, but the previous state government did not agree."
He added the court later ordering the state to pay RM29 million (reduced from RM40 million on appeal).
With interests accruing at a rate of 8% per annum since 2004, the losses incurred from this case may touch RM40 million, Lim said.
"This is another case that has caused losses to the state government and wasted the rakyat’s money due to negligence and improper decision-making."
Lim said the other cases involved "embezzlement" in land acquisitions.
Although the acquisitions were done according to legal procedure, the state government was forced to bear RM84 million in subsequent losses, he said.
In one instance, the payment award by the land administrator was not in accordance with the amount recommended by the Valuation and Property Services
Department, Lim pointed out.
Lim said investigations are underway before appropriate action, including reports to the police and Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA), are made.
"While investigations are underway, the government officer suspected to be involved, has been transferred to another department."
He stressed that the reports must be based on evidence that is "beyond reasonable doubt".
Lim thanked Hilmi for confessing to the mistake in the quarry case and for taking responsibility.
"If you have new evidence, please raise them and we will see how we can help," he said.
Datuk Jahara Hamid (BN-Telok Ayer Tawar) stood up to ask how such cases could be prevented.
With a broad smile, Lim simply replied: "Gunakan CAT (use CAT)! Competency, accountability, transparency!"