COMMENT | It was billed as the clash of the titans on the eve of the 14th general election. The then caretaker prime minister Najib Razak addressed the nation. Almost simultaneously, Pakatan Harapan chairperson Dr Mahathir Mohamad gave a ceramah in Langkawi.
Najib's address was beamed live on TV3, TV2, Astro Awani, HyppTV and Bernama TV. Mahathir's speech at Dewan Ho Peng in Langkawi was live-streamed on social media.
But at the same time Mahathir spoke, a mega-concert was being held at Dataran Lang in Langkawi. The concert was supposed to be a distraction to upstage Mahathir's event. The cost was estimated at RM4 million.
Where did the money come from? It has now emerged that the Human Resource Development Fund (HRDF) coughed up money, which was part of a huge war-chest aimed at defeating Mahathir.
This and other abuses of employers’ funds are emerging on the eve of its the annual general meeting which will be held tomorrow, June 28. This will be preceded by a meeting of the HRDF board of directors.
In a twist to the unfolding drama, the journalistic fraternity has been consciously or unwittingly drawn into the controversial use of employers’ funds.
Astronomical costs incurred for the course
Accusations of impropriety have emerged after two batches of 25 “journalists” each took part in the “Industry 4.0 and Digitalisation Programme” in September and December last year. But the costs incurred for the course proper were astronomical – running into seven figures.
National Press Club (NPC) president Mohtar Hussain in a WhatsApp response said that as far as NPC is concerned, “we have done nothing wrong” with regard to our participation as coordinator of the two programmes in Germany.
If NPC was the coordinator, who selected the participants and what criteria were used in the selection process? What measures were taken to ensure only qualified and eligible persons were accepted?
This is one area where the culpability of senior HRDF officers is under a cloud. Money can only be used for training of employees of organisations that contribute levies. In the case of the German trips, employees of non-contributors were also financed.
But one question that requires an immediate answer is the quantum of money paid out by the HRDF. Although the HRDF is tight-lipped, sources within the industry said about RM2 million or RM40,000 per participant was paid directly to the local training provider who arranged the trip.
And some masqueraded as journalists
Those in the know say that a five-day course of a similar nature costs about 2,000 euros (RM9,373). The HRDF only funds the course fees and all other expenses, including travel and accommodation is to be borne by the participant or his or her employer. However, it is learnt that participants did not fork out a single sen and the leader of the group travelled on business class.
What is more alarming and shameful to the profession is the permitting of some who masqueraded as journalists. Many had not written a single word, but “qualified”! Besides, there were ineligible participants because their employers had not contributed to the HRDF. And not all were NPC members either.
At a time when the profession rejoices at our new-found freedom and the ability to write and report without inhibitions or reticence, this episode will certainly be a blot on journalism and its practitioners.
Yes, we demanded freedom of expression and got it. But have we looked at ourselves constructively and asked ourselves if we are doing the right thing?
While we have been constantly sorrowful, moaning, groaning and lamenting on the lawatan sambil belajar and other abuses in the civil service, it is embarrassing and disconcerting that the journalistic profession has come down to such levels.
The NPC has posted two dozen pictures on Facebook on one of the trips, which included a trip to the Mercedes Benz factory in Stuttgart. Also on the trip was former HRDF head honcho CM Vignesvaran, again paid by employers’ funds. Why was it necessary for him to be in attendance?
on the trip
What next? Will the guilty parties or their employers agree to make restitution to the HRDF? After all, the levy is contributed on behalf of employees. If their funds have been misused or abused, shouldn’t there be repayment?
R NADESWARAN says journalists must practise what they preach. Any deviation is gross violation of unwritten rules and ethics. Comments: [email protected]
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