Virtual summit saved millions


Making a point: Azmin in his speech at the Parliament building in Kuala Lumpur, stressed that it was crucial to host the Apec 2020 Summit as it had been two years in a row that global economic leaders failed to achieve a joint declaration, . — Bernama

HOSTING the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) 2020 Summit virtually due to the Covid-19 pandemic has saved the government RM233.4mil, says Datuk Seri Azmin Ali.

The Senior Minister also said that due to travel restrictions, only RM66.6mil out of the allocated RM300mil for the summit was spent.

The RM66.6mil consisted of RM7mil for the Finance Ministry, RM4.1mil for the Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry, RM2mil for the Home Ministry, as well as RM53.5mil on various meetings in the run-up to Apec 2020 Summit.

“The savings of as much as RM233.4mil had since been returned to the Finance Ministry to support economic recovery efforts through several economic stimulus packages to assist Malaysians affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, ” said Azmin.

He was speaking during his winding-up speech at the committee stage in Parliament yesterday.

Azmin, who is also the International Trade and Industry Minister, said the Apec summit was a year-long conference involving international leaders that began in Langkawi in December last year, pointing out that 146 meetings involving international senior officers and various ministries had since been held.

Prior to Azmin’s speech, Datuk Seri Ahmad Maslan (BN-Pontian) also asked for an explanation regarding the RM25mil allocation under Budget 2021 for the Apec 2020 Summit, questioning why was there a need for an allocation of that amount because the conference was held virtually.

Ong Kian Ming (PH-Bangi) raised the same question, saying that the RM25mil allocation could be better spent for frontliners battling Covid-19.

Datuk Seri Wilfred Madius Tangau (Upko-Tuaran) also filed a motion on Wednesday to slash RM20mil for the proposed Apec 2020 Summit in Budget 2021.

In response, Azmin said the RM25mil allocated for the Apec 2020 Summit in Budget 2021 was to cover the various costs that the conference would incur in 2021.

According to Azmin, the figure consisted of RM5.02mil for emoluments and operational costs for 2021, and a remaining of RM16.2mil for the RM49.5mil branding contract that is set to end in January next year.

The figure also consisted of RM63,494 for online website contracts and RM3.71mil for media purchase contracts.

“As a whole, RM24.99mil is needed to fulfil remaining payments for 2021.

“I would like to stress here that if the commitment for every contract isn’t fulfilled, the government will be facing legal action by service providers which will incur severe financial burden.”

Azmin also stressed that it was crucial to host the Apec 2020 Summit as it had been two years in a row that global economic leaders failed to achieve a joint declaration.

“This year, Malaysia successfully gathered 21 global leaders to issue a joint statement. It is also important because Apec needed a new vision and direction for the next 20 years, which has to be agreed by the 21 leaders.

“As a result, Apec launched Putrajaya Vision 2040, which will be used in Apec summits up till 2040.”

At the same time, Azmin took the opportunity to point out that RM635mil was approved by the former Pakatan Harapan administration for the Apec 2021 Summit in October 2018, as he showed an approval letter by the Finance Ministry, which was helmed by Lim Guan Eng then.

“It was approved by Bagan (Lim) and the former government. There is also a RM30mil allocation for 2021, ” he said.

This triggered an outcry from opposition MPs as Azmin defended himself saying that he was merely stating the facts.

“I was in the Cabinet and Alor Gajah MP (Datuk Seri Redzuan Yusof) as well. I have no problems and only in 2019 we revised the allocations approved in 2018 and lowered it to RM350mil.”

He explained that when the former Pakatan administration decided to lower Apec 2020 Summit allocations to RM350mil, then the government decided to make payments in three different phases to contractors – RM20mil for 2019, RM300mil for 2020 and RM30mil for 2021.

Azmin’s explanation appeared to not satisfy Lim, as the former finance minister interjected and asked whether it was wrong for the former Pakatan administration to conduct a stringent scrutiny to slash down Apec 2020 Summit allocation to RM350mil in 2019.

“The issue here is why did it cost so much when the Apec 2020 Summit was conducted online?

“Are you ready for this matter to be investigated by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) or the Audit Department to ensure that the RM25mil is spent transparently? Because it is hard to believe that a virtual meeting costs so much, ” said Lim.

MPs from both sides of the divide were then embroiled in a mini-shouting match, which abruptly ended after Azmin said he would provide further answers in a written reply.Allocations for the International Trade and Industry under Budget 2021 were subsequently approved after a bloc vote that saw 110 voting for, 104 against with six MPs absent.

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