Ruckus in Sarawak assembly over appointment of Pan Borneo Highway contractor

KUCHING: Bring the controversial appointment of Lebuhraya Borneo Utara Sdn Bhd (LBU) as the contractor for the Pan Borneo Highway in Sarawak to Parliament, a state minister tells the Opposition leader.

Infrastructure Development and Communications Minister Datuk Seri Michael Manyin (pic) said Chong Chieng Jen (DAP-Kota Sentosa), who is Bandar Kuching MP, should bring the issue to Parliament as the highway was a Federal project.

Debates between the state minister and Opposition leader led to a 10-minute argument in the Sarawak Legislative Assembly here on Tuesday morning.

"With regard to the decision to award the Pan Borneo Highway project to LBU, it was a Federal Government decision for a Federal Government funded project," Manyin said during his ministerial winding up speech.

"The answer should be sought from the  Parliament," he added.

Unhappy with the short answer, Chong posed three more questions including why LBU "is controlled by West Malaysians rather than us Sarawakians"; how much profit would the company make, and whether sub-contractors would be determined by LBU or the Public Works Department.

Manyin attempted to answer some of the queries. 

"The appointment of the sub-contractors is not finalised. That was what I was told - that it's not finalised. Who decides has not been finalised.

"As to the first and second question, the Kota Sentosa assemblyman, who is also member (of Parliament) for Bandar Kuching, why didn't you raise the issue in Parliament? It must be because he wanted publicity (by raising it here) and to be a hero," he said.

A loud commotion followed, prompting Speaker Datuk Amar Mohamad Asfia Awang Nasar to call for order multiple times.

Manyin went on to talk about a project by the DAP-led Penang government in relation to private sector profits.

This only causes more unhappiness from the Opposition bench. Asfia told Chong that Manyin was drawing a parallel to Penang to explain the situation.

Manyin dismissed Chong's question on LBU's profit from the highway construction as "stupid".

"How could I know how much profit? It's not for me to answer. Stupid. This is stupid. It's (highway) not done yet ... If you have not started the project, how could you know how much is the profit? That is stupid," he said.

The Sarawak portion of the Pan Borneo Highway was unveiled on March 31 by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak near Bintulu and the Bakun Dam where construction has begun.

The state's highway is about 1,000km and with a cost estimated at RM15bil. It is scheduled for completion in 2023.

Not much is known about LBU.

In a related development, the Sarawak Building and Civil Engineering Constractors Association (SBCECA) has issued a hard hitting statement this week calling for more open tenders involving works by the Federal Government.

"SBCECA urges the Government to ensure all future projects are openly tendered and awarded to the lowest qualified tenderer in a transparent manner," its chairman Lau Kah King said in a statement.

"Open tenders will save the Government at least 30% in construction cost. 'Selected tenders' and direct negotiation procurement methods, not only cost more to the Government, it also doesn't guarantee timely completion and better quality," Lau said.

The statement used the example of the Batang Samarahan Bridge as an example, which via an open tender is being built at a cost of RM93mil, a much lower cost compared to the aborted selected tender price of RM150mil.

"Our members also believe that the state Public Works Department (JKR) is more than capable to implement projects speedily and within the Government budget to benefit the Rakyat," Lau added.

Before the Pan Borneo Highway became a public-private partnership project, it was to be entirely carried out by the Public Works Department.