Salahuddin Ayub has admitted writing a letter to Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to award a RM1.4 billion padi subsidy contract to the National Farmers Association (Nafas). -STR

GEORGE TOWN: Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Salahuddin Ayub has admitted writing a letter to Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to award a RM1.4 billion padi subsidy contract to the National Farmers Association (Nafas).

The minister, however, defended his action by saying that he did nothing wrong as no decision had been made by the Finance Ministry on the matter yet.

As long as no decision had been made, the open tender process is still ongoing, he explained.

“What I have done (for Nafas) is according to the rules set. That is my responsibility. I am adamant that I had done nothing wrong and there is no evidence to proof any wrongdoing.

“There are allegations that we are involved in a RM1.4 billion scandal. What scandal? Will my wife be getting branded handbags?

“If you talk about scandal. The best example is the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB). That is really a scandal. A scandal is when money entered into my account or my wife or children or cronies. Or my deputy, Sim Tze Tzin also joined me.

“In this case, the RM1.4 billion is for Nafas, for the welfare and development of some 920,000 farmers who are still in the lower income bracket. Is that scandal?

“Come on. We are professionals. We are senior politicians. So, they should be careful with the use of the word ‘scandal’,” he said.

Salahuddin was replying to an allegation by Ayer Hitam member of parliament Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong who had questioned the awarding of the of the padi farming project to Nafas.

The MCA president claimed that the deal was given through direct negotiations despite Nafas losing out in an initial open tender.

Wee had also claimed that the minister had made a request to the Prime Minister, in a letter dated Nov 7, for Nafas to be appointed for the project for a period of three years, beginning 2020.

The Barisan Nasional component party leader had also challenged that if the letter was false, then the Agriculture and Agro-based Industry should lodge a police report.

Elaborating, Salahuddin said he would continue to champion and fight for the right of the farmers.

“Nafas is not an ordinary organisation. It cannot be likened to a mere contractor. Nafas has no social obligation.

“But Nafas, with the profits obtained, will hand out dividends. They will look after the welfare of our farmers.

“This is an organisation, overseen by the ministry, to manage the welfare of our farmers. So, please don’t liken that if they (Nafas) get the job,” he said, adding that in this case, the ministry had done whatever necessary according to the procedures set.

Salahuddin also said there was no proof to show that the ministry had cancelled those who succeeded in getting the contract.

“That has not been finalised yet. It will be finalised by the Finance Ministry. So they have the final say.

“That is what I want to explain so that we won’t be caught up in an issue, supposedly we want to give the contracts to our cronies,” he added.

He said Nafas had also entered into the open tender process but stressed that he nor the ministry does not interfere in the tender process except to call for one.

Asked if it was true that money from the Nafas deal was used to fund Parti Amanah Negara’s campaign in the recently concluded Tanjung Piai parliamentary by-election, Salahuddin’s response: “Prove it”.

Earlier, Salahuddin was met at the 125th anniversary celebration of the Fisheries Department.

Present were Sim and the department’s director-general Datuk Munir Mohd Nawi.