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Big Lies Or Big Cock Up? More Evidence Of Political Manipulation Of Sarawak's Disaster Fund

12 April 2020

The Sibu-based Adun, Dr Annuar Rapaee, came out fighting yesterday after Sarawak Report continued to expose issues with regard to the confused distribution plans for Coronavirus disaster supplies to the most vulnerable communities in Sarawak. He called our reports ‘Big Lies’.

However, today Sarawak Report has obtained further evidence to show that the state government has given control over the spending of disaster funds to selected GPS Aduns only, including him. And in is own words Dr Annuar has corroborated much of the evidence.

Aduns and activists mainly from opposition areas have been increasingly raising the alarm in recent days that thousands of desperate families in their areas, who have been trapped by the on-going MCO restrictions, have not been receiving promised supplies.

On 5th April Sarawak Report alerted that opposition Aduns had been originally called by Welfare Department officials and told that the announced RM200,000 disaster relief money announced for each state constituency would be entrusted to them to manage the purchase and distribution.

However, we reported, “two days later ‘opposition’ Aduns were to receive a second call apologising and explaining that in fact it would only be GPS supporting YBs who would get to control these substantial funds.”

At that time opposition Aduns were left angry and confused about how to proceed and on that same day we also reported a statement by DAP leader YB Chong saying that for the past week Kuching opposition service centres had given details to the Welfare Department of over 3,000 families in need who had contacted them for help.

By that date, no help had arrived and now furious opposition politicians were threatening to disobey MCO restrictions themselves so as to deliver help through their own funds.

Changing Plans That Left Opposition Areas Out Of The Equation

In this original report Sarawak Report had cited Dr Annuar as one of the GPS Aduns who was known to have received access to the RM200,000 support grant for his area. Also that four neighbouring opposition party Aduns from the area had been led to understand that it was he who would be controlling the supplies to their constituents also.

In response, Dr Annuar went to the press to denounce the suggestion as a lie. All the money had gone to the local disaster committee headed by the Sibu Resident, he said and he had no control or involvement over how provisions were obtained or distributed. In effect, he implied that he as a GPS Adun had no more control over the spending of the RM200,000 for his area than other opposition YBs.

Tuesday Dr Annuar denounced Sarawak Report's concerns

Tuesday 7th (Day 21 of Lockdown period) Dr Annuar denounced Sarawak Report’s concerns

However yesterday, April 11th, Sarawak Report reported we had obtained a leaked confidential memo dated April 3rd from the Department of Welfare that seemed to undermine those claims. The memo confirmed there had been changes to the original planned management of the disaster funds and set out what was described as a new system:

Please note that a recent change has been made on April 2, 2020 to the effect that all allocations will be forwarded to the Division Disaster Committee (JBB) and all payments will be made by the JBB. [translation]

The memo said, which appears to confirm opposition claims that the original plan had been to send the money direct to the Aduns themselves.

The next paragraph in the memo also made clear that Aduns would through their ‘Service Centres’ continue to play a pivotal role in the purchase and distribution of the funds, which they would ‘control’ for their areas. The memo invites them to place their receipts back with the disaster committee for repayment.

“The Assembly Service Center will manage all purchases of food items and confirm the purchase bills, submitting an application to JBB for payment.”

Furthermore, the annex to the memo specifically named only Dr Annuar as the Adun responsible for his own and the four opposition seats in Sibu – specifying that the total RM1 million for the five constituencies was under his name.

Dr Annuar named as the responsible Adun for opposition areas, but not GPS areas

Welfare Dept Annex on disaster relief control – Dr Annuar is named as the responsible Adun for opposition areas, but NOT for GPS areas (constituencies no 52, 52, 53 and 54 are represented by opposition YBs, no 59, 49, 50 and 55 are with GPS)

Throughout the annex the pattern was repeated, with GPS Aduns being named in control of their budgets and the budget for opposition seats placed under the control of neighbouring GPS Aduns instead.

Despite this, Dr Annuar came out again yesterday denouncing Sarawak Report’s revelations as ‘Big Lies’.  At the same time, according to quotes by the online news site Free Malaysia Today the Sibu-based Adun made a number of remarkable admissions that only serve to confirm what SR has been reporting and revealed even more about what seems to have happened.

During his press conference Dr Annuar refuted what he alleged were “claims that RM1 million in Covid-19 aid from the state government was deposited into his service centre’s bank account”. However, Sarawak Report had already made clear this was not the eventual arrangement although opposition Aduns had originally been advised they would receive the money.

Indeed, the YB went on to ADMIT that (just as Sarawak Report had revealed) that it was “proposed internally” that the money for the four opposition constituencies should be placed in his own Service Centre account, presumably after it was decided to take it out of the hands of the opposition Aduns for what can only have been political reasons (see quote below).

To his credit the Sarawak Chief Minister had apparently intervened to prevent the bad optics of money going straight to the Service Centre bank accounts of local politicians, according to Dr Annuar:

“Initially, it was proposed internally that the allocations for the five constituencies be channelled to my service centre.”
This proposal, he said, was mentioned in a memo which has since been leaked, but Annuar says the proposal never materialised as the memo was retracted after Sarawak Chief Minister Abang Johari Openg disagreed with it. [Free Malaysia Today]

The state minister then went on to further deny he exercises any control over purchasing from these Sibu funds and yet admitted he WAS managing the actual distribution for his own area.

What’s more he acknowledged he has access to information that opposition YBs do not – information that he announced he is now willing to pass on through a WhatsApp chat group to which he has now added opposition Aduns at their own request!:

“So the money went to Siaw [the divisional resident], not me or any other assemblyman or MP.”  He said how the funds were used was up to Siaw.
“What purchases are made, which vendors are chosen … even I don’t know. I am only managing the distribution of the aid for my area.”
So, Annuar said, any claim that he was “controlling” the funds was a “big lie”.

Annuar said he had explained the matter to opposition MPs and assemblymen in the district in a WhatsApp group.
“This WhatsApp group was set up by Bukit Assek assemblyman Irene Chang. They requested to add me into the group so that I can update them daily on Covid-19 matters in the area.
“Earlier today, I invited all of them to join me at 10am tomorrow to look at the divisional disaster management committee’s accounts so they can see for themselves who the RM1 million was banked to.”

So What IS Happening To Distribution In Opposition Areas?

Sarawak Report is happy to accept YB Annuar is not making any of the purchases for the goods he is distributing in his own area and is leaving this to the Resident in charge of the disaster committee. However, he has failed to deny that the Welfare Department memo specifically gives the authority to him should he wish to exercise it:

“The Assembly Service Center will manage all purchases of food items and confirm the purchase bills, submitting an application to JBB (Disaster committee) for payment.” [Welfare Dept Memo, April 3rd]

Furthermore, he has at last admitted he is managing the distribution in his area, something opposition Aduns were told they would not be able to do after the change of plans came in.

He also admits that he is the one who is in the position to update other YBs on “daily on Covid-19 matters in the area“, meaning he has been receiving privileged information about this crisis affecting their constituents but they have not. Even worse, he admits he is in a position to invite them to “look at the divisional disaster management committee’s accounts“, which is therefore something he has been made privy to but they have not!

However, the Adun for Nanking has started to become inconsistent. In his previous interview for the Borneo Post he revealed considerable knowledge about apparent distributions in “we have achieved” opposition areas of Sibu, whereas in his latest statements he claimed he is only ‘managing distribution’ for his own area:

“Dudong is an opposition area where more than 100 applicants have received their assistance. Bukit Assek, we have helped over 100 applicants, similarly in Pelawan. So where did they (SR) get information that the opposition area does not receive help?,” he said. [Borneo Post 7th April]

Yesterday, the most terrible piece of information that this inconsistent and self-contradicting Adun apparently admitted to is that he has not after all been at all involved in the management of the disaster relief in any other area of Sibu but his own.

It raises the appalling possibility that non-GPS constituencies, whose Aduns have been left off the list of names of people to be involved in the disaster distribution have not received the same attention, may have been under-provided for or even by-passed altogether in the provision of supplies purchased by certain disaster committees!

In fact, it is not just a possibility but a probability, given the chorus of complaints recorded by opposition MPs that the needs of their constituents have not been met. Since, by his own admission, the Adun for Nangka has been integral to the distribution of the foodstuffs for his area but in none of the other districts, who has replaced the role of the Adun in those opposition areas?

Dr Annuar has now made plain he knows the other Aduns are in need of information about what is going on in Sibu and how the sums have been spent. He has the information and they don’t!

The first question the opposition will want answered is who has been distributing supplies in the opposition constituencies and based on what information, given the Sibu Resident has been buying food but the Adun has been distributing it for Nangka only?  Clearly, no one has been consulting the service centres of the opposition Aduns to coordinate plans.

Cat Out Of The Bag?

Sarawak Report suggests that the inconsistent and unwitting admissions of Dr Annuar have now shone considerable light on the unnecessary chaos and confusion surrounding Sarawak’s secretive distribution plans and their much criticised apparent failure to deliver adequate supplies to those in non-GPS areas.

The evidence now available suggests that an original plan by Welfare Department officials to get money out to all the Aduns, who (rightly or wrongly) have historically controlled much of the welfare in their area owing to the system of state funded political patronage established in Sarawak, was overturned a day or so later.

Political forces appear to have hijacked the plan to distribute the patronage equally, demanding instead that the power to offer publicly funded disaster relief to constituents should be removed from opposition Aduns leaving only GPS Aduns in a position to play bountiful with crisis provisions.

To give all the money directly to the GPS Adun’s service centre only under such a biased plan would indeed be scandalous if it became public, which was inevitable. So, after the apparent intervention of the Chief Minister himself, a decision appears to have been made to place it in the hands of the local JBB, whilst giving listed Aduns carte blanche to order and distribute what they liked and refund it from the RM200,000 allowance for his area.

Only GPS Aduns were named on that list, which clearly placed the allocations for opposition Aduns under their oversight. Who made that decision?

Today, Sarawak Report obtained further evidence to support the conclusion that this was indeed how the plans were changed in the form of  another memo from the Ministry of Welfare sent to certain Aduns (apparently only the GPS Aduns) on April 2nd two days after the original decisions were circulated:

All YB Members
Provision of provision for food supply… Our letter dated 31 March 2020 is relevant.
2 Please note that a recent change has been made today regarding the provision of prescriptions for food supplies.
In accordance with the instructions of the Hon. Minister of Finance, all allocations will be channeled to the JBB Disaster Management Committee and all payments will be made by the JBB.
3 Assemblyman Service Centres will handle all purchases of food items and confirm the purchase bills, submitting an application to JBB for payment. If the Service Center has made a payment for the purchase of supplies, a refund may be made by the JBB with the confirmed purchase bill.” [translated]

April 2nd - Plans of 31st March have changed

April 2nd – Plans of 31st March have changed

It therefore appears that the original decision to supply RM200k equally to all Aduns was made on March 31st, then the plan was altered to prevent these funds going into opposition hands.

Instead, on April 2nd the funds were directed to the disaster committees for each area and on April 3rd a further directive was given ensuring only GPS Aduns would then be able to claim from it as they saw fit. In the case of opposition Aduns, help to their area would by default apparently be controlled by the disaster committee and the named GPS Adun. Read more:

WhatsApp Image 2020-04-12 at 06.36.58

These unfair and secretive changes and the inconsistency of provision could only cause confusion. Thanks to the attempts to disguise what were clearly politically motivated interventions and favouritism, opposition Aduns were left unclear how food was going to be reaching their constituents from their RM200,000 allocation.

Were disaster committees any more clear about that matter or their role in the light of these official memos, when suddenly it emerged that some YBs could claim back receipts and others not? What were officials to make of the fact only the names of GPS YBs were listed on the annex sent out instructing them on authority over funds?

Hungry families deserve to know whether these disaster committees made plans to step in and take over distribution on behalf of opposition service centres or if they assumed that the named GPS service centres would handle it instead.

We now know, thanks to Dr Annuar’s own admission, that in the case of Sibu he did not assume responsibility for other areas, even though his name was the one listed as being responsible for the budget of five constituencies not just his own. On the other hand he has claimed supplies were sent, so how and why did he receive that information?

Does all this lack of clarity explain why the disaster committee/welfare authorities receiving requests from opposition Aduns in Kuching, appear to ignore requests? After all these Aduns were not listed as responsible parties in the Welfare Department memos.

The proof of this inevitable confusion is in the pudding, in that as the days ticked by after this selfish and politically motivated change of plan opposition areas were starting to sound the alarm that people were being neglected, compared to rapid and bountiful supplies reported to be flowing into GPS areas.

Dr Annuar may denounce Sarawak Report’s evidence as lies, but he has yet to deny any of the documents that have been published (in fact he seems to have acknowledged they are true) and he has today confirmed that opposition Aduns have been less informed than himself about their own budgets – that in fact, as we suggested, he is indeed being treated as the coordinator for his area by state government officials.

This is a scandal, it needs to be addressed immediately and Sarawak Report accepts no criticism for reporting it. Proper transparency must be introduced into who is managing the distribution of disaster aid and the rules. The ‘CONFIDENTIAL’ approach and the attacks on critics must end to save lives.

End the Sulut and come clean

End the Sulut and come clean

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