CAT principles in action: Chief Minister’s emphasis on due procedures


THE proposed project concerning the construction of five blocks of workers’ hostel and an amenity block on the now unutilised portion of vacant land which also houses the Silver Jubilee Home For the Aged has seized the spotlight today.


The land in question belongs to the Penang and Province Wellesley Silver Jubilee Fund (“Corporation”), in which Chow is the current Board of Trustees chairman, by virtue of his position as the Penang Chief Minister. This is also stated in Section 3(1) of the Penang and Province Wellesley Jubilee Fund Act 1965 (“Jubilee Fund Act”).


Chow, in a media conference this afternoon, said three Trustees, namely Tan Sri Tan Kok Ping, Datuk Loh Yeow Boo and Bernard Kok, commenced preparatory work (in respect of the proposed project) earlier on their own back in September 2021.


Chow addressing the media in Komtar.


“I was later briefed by them during a meeting in April 2022. The briefing also included verbal clarification on the proposed terms and conditions of agreements relating to the proposed project.


“Then in July last year (2022), my office received the draft documents – Master Contract, Tenancy Agreement, Lease Agreement, and Power of Attorney (POA).


“The draft documents were to formalise contractual relationships between the Corporation and a company known as Magnificent Emblem Sdn Bhd (MESB). MESB was subsequently replaced by another company identified as Winbond Holdings Berhad (Winbond).


“The Corporation is unrepresented in the Master Contract, Tenancy Agreement, and Lease Agreement, except for the draft POA,” Chow revealed.


Chow said: “In legal speak, reference to a party being ‘unrepresented’ indicates that the Corporation is not legally represented by any registered legal firm. At all material times, both MESB and Winbond were legally represented by the same legal firm.”


Chow noted that based on the draft documents, it was clear that the proposed project was to be carried out by way of direct engagement with MESB, and then subsequently Winbond.


“The proposed project did not go through an open tender process.


“And, seeing that the Corporation was without legal representation, and in line with CAT (Competency, Accountability and Transparency) principles, I directed my office to send the draft documents to the State Legal Adviser for advice and comments,” he said.


Chow said the State Legal Adviser’s opinion, dated Aug 22 last year (2022), emphasised protecting the Corporation’s interests in the proposed project.


“It advised on ensuring adherence to trust principles for land use and cautioned that any rights granted to Winbond must align with trust principles.


“Contrary to claims, the opinion did not advise against the project due to ‘trust and integrity concerns’.


“Considering the State Legal Adviser’s opinion and the Corporation’s lack of legal representation, I suggested engaging a lawyer for independent advice.


“Despite an email sent to a Trustee who is also a practising lawyer in August 2022, there has been no action taken on this suggestion, and as of now, no update confirms the Corporation’s engagement with an external legal firm,” Chow lamented.


Secondly, Chow said he was obligated to inform the Penang state executive council (exco) about the proposed project.


“Under the Jubilee Fund Act and my role as Chief Minister, I am obligated to inform the state exco about the proposed project.


“Regardless of Tan’s opinion, I must seek the state exco’s consent to sign the necessary documents relating to the proposed project.


“Despite requesting the Corporation’s General Committee chairman (Loh) to present the project in a state exco meeting, this has not been acted upon to date,” he said.


In a related matter, Chow mentioned that, in May this year, he was asked to sign a Trustees’ Resolution to resolve that Tan is fully authorized to be in charge for all matters related to the proposed project and to make all decisions on behalf of the Corporation.


“The resolution also has other (clauses) which include that Tan shall handle and manage all affairs related to the proposed project as any ordinary and prudent businessman would.


“How can I (in my capacity as the Chief Minister and the current Corporation’s Board of Trustees chairman) grant full authority to Tan Sri Tan Kok Ping for the proposed project by signing the Trustee’s Resolution?” Chow questioned.


Chow emphasised his responsibility as Penang Chief Minister and Corporation’s Board of Trustees chairman to ensure that all actions under his watch adhere to due procedures and the proper legal framework.


“In this matter alone, I have proposed for engagement of independent legal advice and presentation to the state exco for better accountability and transparency.


“Though my proposals may not be well-received as some may deem them unsuitable or pose additional obstacles, my conscience will not allow me to decide otherwise,” he stressed.


Meanwhile, Tan in an earlier press conference, announced his resignation as a Trustee of the Corporation. It is understood that he served a six-month notice with effect from June 2 this year.


Meanwhile, Kok’s resignation as Trustee came into effect on Jan 1 this year; outgoing treasurer and member of the General Committee Ong Jin Sin with effect from Dec 31 this year; and outgoing Trustee and General Committee chairman Datuk Loh Yeow Boo with effect from Jan 1 next year (2024).


Chow recorded the state’s appreciation for their service to the Silver Jubilee Home.


“We will strive to nominate committed individuals for Tuan Yang Terutama Yang di-Pertua Negeri’s consideration to appoint them as new Trustees.


“The Silver Jubilee Home was founded decades ago thanks to the philanthropic aspiration of the late Cheah Leong Keah to care for the aged and destitute in Penang.


“I sincerely hope that the new Board of Trustees will continue to be equally driven in promoting that vision and ensure that the underprivileged elderly will always have a home,” Chow said.