KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 20 – Former Transport Minister Wee Ka Siong today sought to clarify his involvement in procuring defective ventilators from China during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.
The Ayer Hitam MP now claims that his role was limited to the transporting of the ventilators instead of purchasing the faulty units. This is in contrast to statements he made to the Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee last September where he admitted to providing contacts in China to the Ministry of Health (MOH).
Wee stressed that the power to acquire the ventilators ultimately rests with the National Security Council (MKN) and the Cabinet, headed by then-Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin. Additionally, Wee said it was Chen Chaw Min, former MOH secretary-general (KSU), who made the procurement, based on the latter’s own admission.
“First, the source of the power to purchase the 800 ventilator units came from MKN and also Cabinet, on March 20 and 25, 2020, not Wee Ka Siong.
“Second, I did not help buy the ventilators. No. I helped transport back four things: face masks, ventilators, ICU (intensive care unit) beds – 100 units – and PPE (personal protective equipment). I am responsible. Not that I want to put it on Facebook, but because I feel responsible. When the items arrived, I had to inform the people. That is all.
“So, in the PAC report, you can read, not fair, because the former KSU said, ‘I, that is Chen Chaw Min, the KSU, who made the procurement decision.’ Nothing to do with Wee Ka Siong,” said Wee during the Health Minister’s winding up speech for the Supply Bill 2024 in the Dewan Rakyat today.
According to meeting transcripts, including sessions held with MOH officials, published in the PAC’s Covid management report released in Parliament last month, however, Wee had an “active role” in the procurement.
This included obtaining contacts, identifying suppliers, presenting quotations, and overseeing the transaction, in addition to arranging for the transportation of the ventilators to Malaysia.
Wee, who was responding to remarks made by Kampar MP Chong Zhemin, said his role ended upon the delivery of the ventilators.
Earlier in the Dewan Rakyat, Chong defended Wee’s role in the procurement of the 104 defective ventilators and called for former Health Minister Dr Adham Baba to be held accountable instead for the 104 defective ventilators purchased from China.
Contrary to the PAC Covid management report, which did not hold anyone accountable for the supply of the malfunctioning ventilators, the DAP lawmaker held that Dr Adham must be held responsible for the ventilators as he had the final say in the procurement.
“Who has the final authority because according to the PAC report, this is a wrongdoing that no one can be held responsible for? How can this be? This is the same as the Foreign Exchange Scandal in the 90s. Money had been lost and no one was held responsible.
“Where is the accountability here? Who was given the final authority? Final approval? That is the person who needs to be responsible. And to me, who is that person? That person is Perikatan Nasional’s Health Minister Dr Adham Baba. He is the minister that is responsible.
“It does not matter if Ayer Hitam (Wee) had to negotiate or went to company negotiations. He searched for the trading company, but the final approval came from the health minister. So, he has to take responsibility.
“So, I hope our Parliament can make a move because this does not only involve money, it involves lives,” said Chong during the debate on the Supply Bill 2024.
The bipartisan parliamentary committee did not hold anyone accountable for the supply of the malfunctioned ventilators due to the absence of a written contract between the Ministry of Health, Pharmaniaga Logistics Sdn Bhd (PLSB), and the ventilator suppliers in China on the procurement of the crucial equipment that was meant to save lives.
Chong held that media outlets sensationalised Wee’s involvement in the ventilator procurement and called into question the procedure that allowed the transport minister to negotiate an MOH contract.
“So, I want to ask, in the negotiations, if the MOH did not have a contract at all, Ayer Hitam (Wee) could just give the contract. But no, in the PAC report, Ayer Hitam helped negotiate.
“[The] Transport Minister negotiated [the] Health Minister’s contract. What is this procedure? Where can he negotiate and then buy? Not buy from the factory. So who is he buying from? Buy from a trading company – Ali Baba trading company.
“If [you] want to buy, we buy straight from the source. Why did we buy three times the price from a third-party trading company? And who negotiated? The Transport Minister.”
In the first week of November, Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa declined to confirm if the MOH is planning to pursue a legal case against PLSB for the reimbursement of defective ventilators supplied during the Covid-19 pandemic.