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Azalina’s statement that she is adamant with the RM490 million London Sports Centre has raised many eye-brows as it is an open defiance of the Prime Minister who has virtually turned down the project short of saying “No”
After Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting, when asked about the proposed RM490 million Sports Training Centre in Brickendonbury in Hertfordshire, Abdullah as good as announced that the sports mega-project was off, when he said that the “initial response” from the British authorities showed that they would not allow the Tun Abdul Razak Research Centre (TARRC) in Brickendonbury outside London to be turned into a High Performance Sports Centre.
Saying that the British authorities would not allow any extension to the present building as they wanted to preserve the area, Abdullah said:
“It was just a suggestion. It didn’t work out. So far there’s no official response.
“We want to implement it but if the authorities in London say no, then it’s no.”
This appeared to be a very diplomatic face-saving way out for Abdullah to shoot down the first mega-project under his premiership and the end of the controversy over the RM490 million Sports Complex in London, which seemed more motivated to establish a “forward base” and “home-away-from-home” for sports and Ministry officials rather than to raise Malaysian sports standards and achievements.
Concerned that the proposed Brickendonbury Sports Centre must not be seen to have been issued with a “death certificate” by the Prime Minister, Azalina and her backers must have mulled over the Prime Minister’s comments for four days and decided on a special announcement yesterday to send out the message that the RM490 million London “home-away-from-home” project is still very alive – even if it gives the impression of a Cabinet Minister giving a public slap to the Prime Minister.
Why is such public dissociation from the Prime Minister’s statement on the London Sports Centre proposal so urgent that Azalina cannot wait until the next meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Sports in September to seek guidance?
Very complex factors and forces, which have nothing to do with raising Malaysian sports to international standards, seem to be at work.
In fact, there are those who wonder whether the RM490 million Brickendonbury Sports Complex will mark the first Cabinet split and revolt in the Abdullah premiership.
The Hertfordshire daily, Hertfordshire Mercury, carried an article on the RM490 million Brickendonbury Sports Centre, which added more fuel to the controversy, with the heading: “Arms deal link with £73 million Leisure centre?”, on Malaysian government plans to use the arms deal with Britain to buy two frigates and other military hardware as leverage to persuade British planners to approve the sports centre in the Green Belt in East Herts.
The Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak will be asked in Parliament next month whether there is any basis to such speculation, which will be reminiscent of the Pergau Dam arms scandal in the early nineties, in which the Malaysian government entered into billion-ringgit purchase of British arms in exchange for British aid for the Pergau Dam.
It is a mockery of Abdullah’s pledge to an administration of accountability, transparency and good governance that the Youth and Sports Ministry is still coy about the RM490 million tag for the proposed Brickendonbury Sports Centre, virtually blaming me for concocting the figure.
In his New Sunday Times interview (16th July 2006), the National Sports Council director-general Datuk Dr. Ramlan Abdul Aziz as good as admitted that the RM490 million figure came from official sources. This is from the Q & A in the interview:
“Q: So it may end up costing more, is that what you’re saying.
“A: I would be very careful at this point. The RM490 million, even though its speculative, is a good guide. That’s about £70 million at the present rate of exchange.
This figure, will serve as a guide. We can go to the Cabinet Committee, and say, “Look, these are our plans, and this is how much it will cost.”
They might say cut it down or forget about it. I cannot see beyond this point.
All I can say is that it’s good visionary idea which I’d like to see to fruition.”
It is time that Azalina and the sports officials come clean and frank with the Malaysian taxpayers about their “white elephant” mega project in London, making public the proposal paper as to its costs, whether short-term, mid-term or long-term; how the eight “core sports” of squash, hockey, badminton, football, aquatics, athletics, bowling and gymnastics will benefit; and why RM490 million could not be more productively spent to achieve a long-term and sustainable improvement in sports standards and achievements.
Most important of all, how much has been spent in the feasibility and other studies for the proposed Brickendonbury Sports Centre, whether it is true that the preliminary expenditures are already in million-ringgit figures, as Malaysians do not want another bad experience with the scandal of the cancelled RM1.1 billion crooked half-bridge where the costs of the cancellation is not much different from building it!
Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic
Planning Commission Chairman
Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman