Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Zahid wasn’t transparent in extension of contract for VLN, court told

Prosecution witness says Zahid approved the contract extension in a short time without evaluating the performance of the company in question.

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The High Court was told today that former deputy prime minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was not transparent and did not follow procedures when extending the contract of Ultra Kirana Sdn Bhd (UKSB) for the foreign visa system (VLN) project.

Former home ministry deputy secretary-general (policy and control) Suriani Ahmad said Zahid, 68, who was home minister at the time, approved the contract extension in a short time without evaluating the performance of UKSB.

Suriani said the evaluation of a company’s performance was important because the company would carry the country’s image and it was the government’s responsibility to ensure that all processes were implemented properly.

Asked by deputy public prosecutor Wan Shaharuddin Wan Ladin whether the application was still approved even though no assessment was made, Suriani replied: “Yes.”

The fourth prosecution witness said this on the seventh day of the trial of Zahid, who is facing 40 corruption charges relating to the VLN.

Wan Shaharuddin: In this application, does UKSB follow procedures?

Suriani: For work procedure, it follows the procedure. However, in terms of approval, it is not in accordance with the procedure.

Wan Shaharuddin: Although Datuk (Suriani) did not have the opportunity to evaluate UKSB’s performance, why continue to extend the contract?

Suriani: Because the instruction from the minister was to extend the contract. As a civil servant, I complied with the instructions because at that time Zahid was the deputy prime minister.

Suriani also said Zahid took less than 24 hours to approve several applications for the extension of UKSB’s contract with the government.

Suriani said a letter from UKSB dated Oct 17, 2016 for approval to extend the contract period of the VLN and eVisa System for six years was approved by Zahid and minuted on Oct 18, 2016.

“Besides that, UKSB’s letter dated May 15, 2017 to Zahid for the one-stop centre (OSC) contract extension was also minuted by Zahid on May 16, 2017,” she said.

The witness also agreed with Wan Shaharuddin’s suggestion that there was no need to expedite the application for an extension of the contract.

She said the application made by UKSB was too early because the existing contract was still far from its expiration.

According to Clause 2.2.1 of the Agreement to Supply VLN Integrated System, the company could apply for a contract extension no less than six months before its expiry.

“But for this application, UKSB applied too soon, that is in October 2016, about three years before the contract expired. Therefore, the home ministry did not have sufficient time to evaluate the performance of UKSB to decide whether the contract should be extended or not,” she said.

During cross-examination by Zahid’s lawyer, Ahmad Zaidi Zainal, Suriani agreed with his suggestion that the VLN system managed by UKSB never received any complaints until the the Pakatan Harapan government took over.

The witness also agreed with the lawyer’s suggestion that Zahid had made the decision to shorten the contract extension period from six to three years after discussing with the relevant parties.

Zahid is facing 33 charges of receiving bribes amounting to S$13.56 million (RM42 million) from UKSB as an inducement for himself in his capacity as a civil servant and then home minister to extend the contract of the company as the operator of the OSC in China and the VLN system as well as to maintain the agreement to supply VLN integrated system paraphernalia to the same company by the home ministry.

For another seven charges, Zahid was charged as home minister with accepting S$1,150,000, RM3,000,000, €15,000 (RM75,663) and US$15,000 (RM62,115) in cash from the same company which he knew had a connection with his function as then home minister.

The trial before judge Mohd Yazid Mustafa continues on Oct 22.

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