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Youth Ministry under fire over RM19m for MIC-linked chilli project

The Youth and Sports Ministry is under fire over alleged conflict of interest in the disbursement of RM19 million for a chilli planting programme to a foundation headed by its deputy minister M Saravanan.

This comes as the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) continues to investigate the RM107 million embezzlement case involving the Youth and Sports Ministry.

A written parliamentary reply to Batu Gajah MP V Sivakumar states that the government disbursed the funds to Yayasan NAAM.

Yayasan NAAM, or New Affirmative Action Movement, is a registered company chaired by Saravanan, with other MIC leaders in the board of directors, Companies Commission of Malaysia records show.

"The awarding of government funding to an NGO effectively controlled by a political party is totally unacceptable and unethical," DAP's Serdang MP Ong Kian Ming said in a statement today.

"One can imagine the furore that would have been caused if the Penang state government had channelled state funding to an NGO that was controlled by DAP, and has a free hand to use the funds to conduct its political activities.

"MACC would have been unleashed to investigate this NGO immediately," he said.

Calling for an explanation from Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, Ong ( photo ) noted that Yayasan NAAM is not under the ministry's control, nor has it been audited.

However, when contacted, Saravanan, who is deputy youth and sports minister, said the funds were disbursed through the Prime Minister's Department and not by the Youth and Sports Ministry.

The Youth and Sports Ministry only plays a monitoring role to ensure the programme goes according to plan, Saravanan told Malaysiakini .

"Ong is the most stupid MP I know. He could have asked me in Parliament and I could have explained but instead he does this for political publicity," he said.

He added there was no conflict of interest and there was nothing wrong with him acting as a chairperson of the foundation.

Checks on the NAAM website showed that the chilli planting programme is part of the foundation's agriculture training programme.

"Upon their produce being harvested they can dispense with the middlemen as they will have direct access to the distribution network and marketplace via NAAM's programme," the website reads.

The foundation also offers industrial training in aircraft maintenance and the mechanical, automotive and oil and gas industries.

"Upon graduation, the industry-relevant programme will also cover job placements so that youths can carve lucrative careers in oil fields, offshore oil rigs and other industries at large," the website says.

The written parliamentary reply on the NAAM programme states that 1,330 ethnic Indian youths took part in the chili fertigation programme.

Of that, 129 have successfully started their own farming projects while more than 500 have secured land and are in the process of raising capital for their projects, the reply to Sivakumar stated.

Those running the fertigation projects earn RM4,000 to RM10,000 a month depending on the size of their farms, it added.

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