By P PREM KUMAR & DASHVEENJIT KAUR
The government has rebutted claims that the Council of Eminent Persons (CEP) and its members had overstepped their roles by negotiating with foreign governments without authorisation.
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Liew Vui Keong (picture) said the CEP does not have any executive powers and it functions as an advisory body to the government.
He said the previous government had also created many advisory bodies for companies like 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) and special advisory to other bodies.
“But the question of accountability or locus standi of this CEP does not arise. The CEP is only in an advisory capacity and does not have executive powers, and whatever they recommend to the government is not necessarily binding,” he said in Dewan Rakyat yesterday. He added that the issue of accountability lies with the Cabinet.
“The CEP is doing a national service by providing their expertise without any salary,” said the minister.
He was responding to a supplementary question from MP Khairy Jamaluddin (BN-Rembau), who asked whether the CEP had overstepped the roles of federal ministers in negotiating contract terms of mega projects in the country.
Khairy was referring to CEP chairman Tun Daim Zainuddin’s visit to China recently and claimed the former minister had overstepped his advisory role by representing the Malaysian government in discussion with China’s authorities.
Liew said Daim’s visit was intended to get direct views from the Chinese authorities on related and pertinent issues, and his trip was on the instructions of Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Khairy had questioned the powers vested in the CEP since it was not elected and the body was not unaccountable.
“Looks like the CEP is not just an advisory to the government, but this CEP had summoned the former chief judge and told him to resign from his position, that was not just an advisory but was an instruction of immediate resignation,” Khairy said.
“In terms of negotiation with a foreign nation, the CEP chairman has been sent to China to conduct negotiation between the two governments. This was not just an advisory.
“The other point is whether there exists any conflict of interest, or really a national service? Whereby a member of CEP is appointed as chairman
of Permodalan Nasional Bhd (PNB) and Sime Darby Property Bhd (SD Property)?” he said.
Khairy was referring to CEP member and former Bank Negara Malaysia governor Tan Sri Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz who was recently named as chairman of PNB and SD Property. Zeti replaces former PNB chairman Tan Sri Abdul Wahid Omar, who was the previous chairman of SD Property.
Liew said the CEP will be disbanded after 100 days of the new government.
“We will look into the proposals that they send and we will make the final decision.
They will only be here for the first 100 days and they will be disbanded after that,” he added.
The CEP has met 340 individuals from 220 organisations to find out information on how to improve the country.
Daim had visited China and met key officials in Beijing. Much of the focus of the discussions were believed to be related to a few mega projects and the billions of ringgit of loans taken from China to finance the projects.
The two main projects are the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) and two gas pipeline projects under Suria Strategic
Energy Resources Sdn Bhd. Both projects, which are financed by Beijing, have now been suspended.
Malaysia also wants to renegotiate the deals, which Putrajaya viewed as being lopsided and too expensive for the country to bankroll. Both deals were signed by the former government.
The cost of the ECRL had ballooned to RM81 billion compared to the initial RM55 billion announced by the previous government. For the pipeline projects, the government had paid about 80% of the cost, but works on both infrastructures are less than 20%.