By Giam Say Khoon
KUALA LUMPUR (July 15, 2009) : Former Transport Minister Tun Dr Ling Liong Sik today told Parliament's Public Accounts Committee that the first and only letter of support he issued for the controversial Port Klang Free Zone project was not a government guarantee.
Ling's letter of support was probably the most important document to come under scrutiny during a three-hour inquiry by the PAC on the RM4.9 billion project, which reportedly benefited from three other similar letters issued by Ling's successor Tan Sri Chan Kong Choy who is scheduled to be summoned next week.
Ling, who was the longest serving MCA president, is the first former minister to appear before the PAC on the PKFZ issue, on which an independent audit report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) was made public recently.
After the PAC hearing, its chairman Datuk Seri Azmi Khalid told reporters that Ling told them he signed the letter of support issued on May 23, 2003, under the suggestion of the ministry's secretary-general and advice from legal advisors.
"It is not a letter of guarantee and it has no financial implication on the government," he said.
Ling had waved to reporters when he arrived for the inquiry, but evaded the press when he left.
The PKFZ project, one the Port Klang Authority could ill afford, is of public interest because it received a soft loan of RM4.6 billion from the government. The project was done in one go, instead of in phases, and there is not enough business generated there currently for the project to pay for itself.
It has been reported that Chan issued the three lettters of support on April 23, 2004, Dec 8, 2005 and May 23, 2006. He had also denied that they were government guarantees, although detractors have argued that the wording of the letters seem to suggest so.
Azmi said Ling was only involved in the initial part of the project and he was not involved in the implementation stage.
He said Ling was cooperative and gave his part of the story on the project and how the 405-hectare site (in Pulau Indah) was identified.
"We had posed a few questions regarding the decisions he made. He answered all except for some that he had forgotten as the incident happened years ago.
"The interview with him is part of our effort to summon all related parties, including all former ministers as well as current Transport Minister Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat, who will also appear before the committee tomorrow (Thursday)," he said.
Azmi also said among other issues raised by the committee included the purchase of the PKFZ land and why the bonds for the project were not issued on the government's guarantee as well as why the project was not developed in phases.
"The PKFZ had been developed at one-go with a large amount of expenditure. It has been completed but only 14% of the project can be rented out and because of that, viability of the project is affected.
"We want to know how the decision was made and by who. We also want to know why the Finance Ministry's officers had not brought the issue to their superior and let it happened," he said, adding that the committee will compile all the interviews into a report to Parliament in October.
As for Chan's turn to be interviewed, Azmi said Chan is to be summoned next week.
Asked what would happen if the parties invited to the hearing refused to abide, Azmi said the PAC invitation is an invitation by Parliament, and refusal to do so is deemed a contempt of Parliament.