9Bio and more scandals in the closet.

 

So, instead of correcting an obvious wrong, more public funds were piled into the project to cover it up and this decision could only have been approved by the Fourth Floor. The decision to do so was so hush-hush and the cover up so brilliantly successful that even YB Lim Kit Siang did not get a whiff of the stench emanating from Putrajaya.

 

THE CORRIDORS OF POWER

 

Hakim Joe

 

Not many Malaysians have heard of 9Bio let alone know what this company is all about but what they should know is that it is a wholly government owned company that has misused, wasted and siphoned away public funds equivalent to the cost of erecting the Petronas Twin Towers.

 

Ninebio Sdn. Bhd. or 9Bio was launched and conceptualized by the then Minister of Health, Dr. Chua Soi Lek (aka Pornstar), in 2003 but did not receive official government sanction as a National Project until September 2006 when a budget of RM350 million under the 9th Malaysian Plan (9MP) was fast tracked and infused into the company to create an environment whereby research and development of halal vaccines will eventually lead to the mass production of such medicinal products for the Islamic world, making Malaysia the hub of halal vaccine R&D and production worldwide.

 

Good intentions, superb conceptual marketing, plentiful of funds to kick start the project, officially sanctioned by the Malaysian Government and ably managed by a group of medical professionals.

 

 What could possibly go terribly wrong?

 

Well, nothing because nothing substantial was achieved during the subsequent five years except for the changing of its company name from 9Bio to the Malaysian National Institute for Natural Products, Vaccines and Biologicals, signing a JV agreement with Emergent Bio Solutions Inc. of the US, getting the recognition of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) as a key center for halal vaccinations, and the tiny issue of a bill submitted by Ekovest-Faber Sdn. Bhd. (a 60%-40% JV company owned by Ekovest Berhad and Faber Group Berhad) to the Government for RM1.9 billion in their capacity as the turnkey contractor for the design, construction, completion and maintenance of the research and development facility on a 784 acre plot in Nilai, Negeri Sembilan (called the Enstek Park).

Inflation works wonders especially in this part of the world.

 

Apparently 9Bio started off with just one individual – Datuk Dr. Nor Shahidah Khairullah from the Malaysian Ministry of Health who was seconded from the MOH to become the pioneering CEO of 9Bio in January 2007 (with a RM 45,000 monthly salary) and nothing irregular was detected until the Jabatan Audit Negara (JAN) reported otherwise in their 2008 Auditor General’s Report, bearing similarities to the National Feedlot Center case.

 

In the report, the AG accounted failures, mismanagement, weaknesses, false claims and financial irregularities on the part of 9Bio’s CEO and a special MOF Tribunal was convened to investigate these findings by the Auditor General.

 

Part of the AG’s findings also stated, “Datuk Dr. Nor Shahidah binti Khairullah had intentionally:

(1) Transferred money from Company’s account in the form of payments to her personal Credit Card account for a totaled sum of RM108,747.60 ( USD 8,000, GBP 6,000, EURO 7,700);

(2) Transferred money from Company’s account in the form of Traveler’s Cheque under her personal name for a totaled sum of RM21,484.10;

(3) Transferred money from Company’s account in the form of Bankers Cheque under her personal name for a totaled sum of RM128,648.40; and

(4) Transferred money from Company’s account in the form of Cash via Cash Cheques for a totaled sum of RM208,979.80.”

 

The Auditor General also recommended that “Datuk Dr. Nor Shahidah should be found guilty for criminal breach of trust (CBT) and cheating when she purposely and intentionally siphoned Company’s money for a totaled sum of RM 467,859.90 without the approval of the board of directors.“

 

Dr. Shahidah did not possess carte blanche when acting on behalf of 9Bio as Dato’ Sri Dr. Mohd. Nasir (MOH Secretary-General) was the 9Bio Chairman and the board of directors included Tan Sri Dr. Ismail Merican (MOH Director-General) and Datuk Ir. Dr. M.S. Pillay (MOH Deputy DG). How was it then possible for Dr. Shahidah to give authorization (for anything to be done that is above the limitation order) without board approval unless it was actually approved by the board of directors?

 

One. Dr. Shahidah approved the full payment of RM 4.1 million consultation fees to Frost & Sullivan, a consultant appointed by 9Bio to prepare a working paper for the proposed manufacturing and process control of the new 9Bio facility in Nilai, even before a single piece of A4 paper was completed by the consultancy firm at the quoted price of RM 3.9 million.

 

Two. The appointment of Frost & Sullivan was done only after twelve months of inactivity by the CEO and the board of directors. 9Bio has failed to submit its business plan to either the MOH or MOF since its inception but company records showed that Dr. Shahidah has already collected RM540,000 in wages and has 52 days of paid leave by the first year on the job.

 

During the subsequent MOF Tribunal, Dr. Shahidah argued intensely that JAN had no right or executive privilege to question her alleged excessive travel expenses as it was covered by a special Research and Development grant and not by 9Bio. Dr. Shahidah also claimed that prior approval was given by the Ministry of Health’s Director General, Tan Sri Dr. Ismail Merican, for her to travel to Germany and Switzerland. When questioned as to why she was accompanied by a (male) consultant from a different company (Mr. Julian Ding of First Principles Sdn Bhd) on the trip, Dr. Shahidah stated that she needed the consultant for matters relating to a special project negotiation with Emergent Bio Solutions Inc.

 

When questioned further as to the reasons why she had 9Bio pay for

the consultant’s travel expenses when the 9Bio is already paying First Principles RM1.2 million in consultation fees, Dr. Shahidah finally admitted that she had personally approved it without prior obtaining authorization from the 9Bio Board of Directors.

 

Datuk Dr. Nor Shahidah was subsequently terminated as the CEO of 9Bio and a police report was made with the PDRM and yet another report with the ACA. When Dr. Shahidah was sacked from 9Bio in May 2008, thirty other 9Bio staff resigned voluntarily from the company and (coincidentally) joined Ekovest-Faber.

 

One question why Dr. Shahidah, a relatively unknown researcher/doctor from the MOH, was specially selected from a group of better qualified and far more experienced candidates to head 9Bio and how she could have accomplished the things (as reported in the 2008 Auditor General’s Report) she attempted within sixteen months as the CEO of 9Bio. Additionally, why was the Director General of the Ministry of Health (Tan Sri Datuk Dr. Hj. Mohd. Ismail Merican), the Deputy DG (Datuk Ir. Dr. Mukundan Sugunan Pillay), and the Secretary General (KSU) of the MOH (Dato’ Sri Dr. Hj. Mohd. Nasir Bin Mohd. Ashraf), as the controlling officer, all protecting and covering up for her?

 

After the departure of Dr. Shahidah from 9Bio, the MOF decided to take control of the project (from the MOH) and appointed Prof. Dr. Mohd. Azmi Mohd. Lila to become the new CEO of 9Bio. Datuk Ir. Dr. M.S. Pillay was then appointed as the Chairman of 9Bio after retiring from the MOH, the first non-medical (engineer) individual to rise to the number two post in the MOH.

 

What influence and control did Dr. Shahidah hold over the three men, even to the extent that Tan Sri Dr. Ismail Merican reappointed her as a consultant to the MOH to supervise 9Bio’s purchase of specialized medical manufacturing equipment, irrespective of the on-going PDRM and ACA investigations and regardless of the damning report by the Auditor-General, and for Dato’ Sri Dr. Mohd. Nasir (9Bio’s Chairman) and Datuk Ir. Dr. M.S. Pillay (9Bio’s Executive Director) to agree to this appointment?

 

It was during this transitional period that Ekovest-Faber hit the MOF

with the RM1.9 billion bill. Included with the invoices were six Variation Orders (VO) approved by Dr. Shahidah. So, instead of attempting to determine the basis for the super-duper inflated cost to build the 9Bio facility, the government decided to sweep it all under the proverbial carpet and pay the asking price instead. What’s a couple of billion between friends anyway? Additionally the MOH was just slowly only recovering from its Minister’s admittance of being a porn superstar and the federal elections being around the corner did not help either.

 

The Abdullah government was also concerned by the upcoming PKFTZ scandal in which quite a few Tun(s) were involved and how the accumulation of these losses of public funds could be detrimental to his government seeking another 5-year mandate from the people.

 

So, instead of correcting an obvious wrong, more public funds were piled into the project to cover it up and this decision could only have been approved by the Fourth Floor. The decision to do so was so hush-hush and the cover up so brilliantly successful that even YBLim Kit Siang did not get a whiff of the stench emanating from Putrajaya.

 

Another thing that was not reported in the AG Report was that when Dato’ Sri Dr. Mohd. Nasir became the 9Bio chairman, one of the first things he did was to approve the rental for temporary office space at Metropolitan Square in Damansara Perdana until the 9Bio facilities in Nilai were completed. It was then reported that 9Bio’s rental (for two floors) amounted to RM61,193 a month and that another RM 2 million were spent renovating it (renovation contract awarded to Environ Ventures Sdn. Bhd. by Hotel Ninety Six from Melaka). Hotel Ninety Six?

 

Questions remained unanswered and to this day, Dr. Shahidah remains free as both PDRM and MACC has yet to complete their respective investigations. Could the Gang of Four somehow have managed to get away with it?

“No matter how noble the objectives of a government, if it blurs decency and kindness, cheapens human life and breeds ill will and suspicion – it is an evil government”.                                      

                                                         – Eric Hoffer,