WHEN Tan Sri Hamzah Abu Samah was appointed the country’s first sports minister in the seventies, he was deemed to be the best person for the job. Besides being an all-round sportsman, he understood management, intricacies and politics in sports. Besides, having partaken in sports and the fellowship which usually followed, he had first-hand knowledge of the needs of players; the development of talent at grassroots level; and no one could give him bull on any aspect of sports. He was hands-on when it came to administration through his years of experience as a judicial officer and often used his knowledge and experience to sort out issues.
Today, some 40 years later, the ministry is at a crossroads. The objective of setting up such a ministry has been blurred. Its vision and mission have been hijacked by parties with vested interests. Money is the name of the game and over the years, billions have been spent with non-tangible results to show. From an organisation which was supposed to supplement and help national sports associations (NSAs) to further their causes, it has changed into one which is more apt at creating multi-layers of officialdom and spending large sums of money in other roles.
Instead of being the backbone of sports for the masses, it has become selective and elitist. Instead of being involved in enhancing the standard of sports, it has ended up being embroiled in the politics of NSAs. Instead of being neutral and non-participant in the affairs of NSAs, it has sometimes gone to the point of taking sides. Instead of being focused, it has been sidetracked by setting up various mini-organisations within, thereby spending more money. The National Fitness Council is just one example.
Just because there is funding, money has been strewn on all kinds of projects that do nothing to enhance the level of sports. Paying RM10 million for a 24-minute sports news segment is one of them. Giving away RM17 million for the Champions Youth Cup was another. The list of "abuses" is long and when asked to justify such expenditure, everyone – the secretary general, the directors and even the minister – goes into a silent mode as if one is talking to a bunch of deaf people.
Therefore, it is not surprising that the ministry and some of its agencies, especially the National Sports Council (NSC) make headlines almost every week for all the wrong reasons. It has been given 21 days to respond to a show-cause letter from the disciplinary board of the ministry over the purchase of chalets which cost taxpayers RM850,000.
I am convinced nothing is going to come out of it and please do not expect heads to roll. For too long, the ministry and some of its agencies have become the personal domain of a selected few whose "godfathers" have always afforded protection.
The ministry’s secretary-general, Datuk Yasin Salleh, chairs the disciplinary board. And that’s where the problem starts. Was he not aware of the purchase made by the NSC? This would be capital expenditure and surely, as head-honcho of the ministry, he should know of all assets of the ministry. Are we to assume there is no "register of assets" as such in government departments? I have nothing personal against Yasin but wasn’t he the same man who signed the agreement with ESPN and posed for cameramen with the documents when the deal was made? Can he justify the millions spent and the "return on investment"?
In April 2008, theSun reported that the Women’s Sports and Fitness Foundation Malaysia received RM9.72 million from the NSC and another RM1.5 million from the ministry – good money, people’s money that was squandered on staging the games where aerial dancers were brought in from Australia to the tune of RM800,000 for the opening ceremony. Former Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said distanced herself from the million-ringgit fiasco by saying that as the mere patron of the foundation, she "just cut ribbons".
"I don’t get involved with management and I don’t have a say in funding," she was quoted as saying. So, if she had no say in the funding, then who did? So, who decided on who got what and how much; and who signed the cheques? Surely, it is not beyond Yasin’s knowledge.
And that’s why I am repeating the call for a team of external auditors to thoroughly examine how our funds were managed. The abuse and misuse may not be to the extent of the Port Klang Free Trade Zone, but according to my sources, it could run into a few hundred million ringgit. That’s enough for some alarm bells to ring.
R. Nadeswaran is passionate about accountability in sports as it involves taxpayers’ money. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org