Witness denies Covid-19 food aid was managed by GPS reps’ service centres

The court complex in Kuching.

By Dorcas Ting

KUCHING, May 9: Former permanent secretary to the Ministry of Welfare, Community Wellbeing Women, Family and Childhood Development Dr Sa’adiah Abdul Samat denied that the RM200,000 food aid allocation for each State constituency was to be managed by the respective GPS elected representative’s service centre, to the exclusion of opposition-held constituencies.

Sa’adiah is the first witness to take the stand in the defamation suit filed by Sarawak United Peoples’ Party (SUPP) president Dato Sri Sim Kui Hian against Sarawak Democratic Action Party (DAP) chairman Chong Chieng Jen. Dr Sim filed the legal suit over a Facebook post and press statement authored by the defendant on April 2020.

Sa’adiah who was cross-examined today by the defendant’s counsel, Chong Siew Chiang, said that it was untrue to say that with reference to the Memorandum issued by the Minister of Welfare, Community Welfare well-being, Women, Family and Children Department dated April 3, 2020, that the RM200,000 food assistant allocation per State constituency (DUN) was to be managed by the respective GPS ADUN’s service centre, to the exclusion of opposition-held constituencies.

Seen are the defendant’s counsels (from right) Kong, Siew Chiang and Brenda.

She was also questioned about a letter issued by the secretariat of the Food Supply Chain Committee dated April 3, 2020 which had been sent to all ADUNs, including ADUNs of opposition parties as Chieng Jen had used certain sections of the letter in his Facebook post.

When being asked by the defendant’s counsel Michael Kong whether she had any email trace or WhatsApp records as evidence that the letter dated April 3, 2020 was sent to all ADUN members, she said she had contacted her former staff at the Ministry of Welfare Community Wellbeing, Women, Family and Childhood Development but they were unable to trace and provide such evidence.

She said this case happened more than two years ago when the Movement Control Order (MCO) was in force and their communication basically was conducted through phone calls and online meetings.

However, she said she is sure the ministry had sent the letters to all the ADUN members irrespective of whether they are from Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) or opposition parties.

During cross-examination by Siew Chiang, Sa’adiah agreed that in the official letter dated March 31, 2020, which was issued by the Ministry for Women, Childhood and Community Wellbeing Development to all the Sarawak Legislative Assembly representatives (ADUNs) of Sarawak, it was stated that all State ADUNs would be given an allocation of RM200,000 to buy food aid for the target group which has been set by the Divisional Disaster Management Committee (DDMC).

She also agreed that the letter also stated that all State ADUNs were advised to take immediate action to order basic food supplies from their respective suppliers and the type of basic food to be determined by their service centre and DDMC.

However, she disagreed that subsequently on the same day, March 31, 2020, another official letter was issued by the ministry to State Implementation Monitoring Unit (SIMU) to cancel the effect that the RM200,000 food aid allocation originally directed to be given to opposition-held constituencies and instead to be allocated only the GPS ADUNs’ service centres.

She said the RM200,000 allocation was done for budgeting purposes. No funds were given or disbursed to any ADUN’s service centre, whether they were in GPS or the opposition.

When referred to the annexure of the memorandum issued by the ministry, she agreed that Dr Sim’s service centre had been reallocated RM1 million.

When asked by Siew Chiang what ‘N14 Batu Kawah’ stands for in the annexure in connection with the RM1 million, she said the annexure shows the adjacent constituencies including opposition constituencies.

She stressed that the funds were never channeled to any ADUN service centre but to DDMCs within the area.

She also explained that the opposition constituencies that she referred to were N9 Padungan, N10 Pending, N11 Batu Kitang and N12 Kota Sentosa.

She also agreed that originally all 82 constituencies in Sarawak were allocated RM200,000 as budgeted for in the said food aid programme irrespective whether they were represented by GPS or opposition representatives.

When questioned by Siew Chiang how did the figure of RM1 million appearing in annexure 1, under the column “Jumlah Peruntukan Mengikut DUN (RM)” come about, she said the RM1 million is for N9 Padungan, N10 Pending, N11 Batu Kitang, N12 Kota Sentosa and N14 Batu Kawah. For these five constituencies the budget that the ministry put up was RM1 million.

When asked whether the annexure mentioned anything about DDMCs, she said the annexure is an attachment to the letter, and as such it does not stand on its own.

She disagreed when asked whether the RM1 million was reallocated to the service centre of N14 Batu Kawah for it to be managed.

Siew Chiang then asked the witness whether the defendant’s second Facebook post as a whole was referring to Dr Sim’s service centre, to which she said the second Facebook post is targeting Dr Sim.

When referred to line 3 of the said Facebook post, “Sim Kui Hian’s service center”, the witness stressed that it was directed to Dr Sim personally and the witness disagreed that it was her own interpretation that the said Facebook post was directed at Dr Sim personally.

Siew Chiang put it to the witness that she was not an honest witness, but she disagreed.

When asked how many staff there were in Dr Sim’s service centre, she said she did not know and she did not know the name of Dr Sim’s assistant who managed the service centre for N14 Batu Kawah.

When asked, as the witness had on a number of occasions said the second Facebook post by the defendant on April 18, 2020 was false, misleading and untrue, she reiterated that the whole publication is false, misleading and untrue because the funds were never channeled to any ADUN service centre but to DDMCs which had full control on the management of the said food aid programme.

Shankar Ram Asnani

On April 21, 2020, Dr Sim had started legal action against Chieng Jen and several State DAP leaders for defamation over the allocation of funds for food assistance amid the Covid-19 crisis.

Dr Sim’s lawyer had issued a letter of demand dated April 30,2020 and the letter was served to Chieng Jen on May 2, demanding an apology from him and payment of damages to be made within seven days from the date of the letter or before May 7, 2020.

Chieng Jen had instructed his lawyers to also counter-claim and claim against Dr Sim for several allegedly defamatory statements against Chieng Jen.

Chieng Jen had alleged Dr Sim wrongfully took control of the Covid-19 food aid allocations amounting to RM800,000 for four constituencies.

Dr Sim was alleged to have taken control of the allocations for the State constituencies of Padungan, Batu Lintang, Pending and Kota Sentosa.

Dr Sim was represented by counsels Shankar Ram Asnani, Russell Lim and Yiu Ying Ying whereas Chieng Jen was represented by counsels Siew Chiang, Kong, Brenda Chong and Sim Kiat Leng. — DayakDaily