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Ex-CM seeks court declaration that State Water Director’s appointment is unlawful

KOTA KINABALU: Former chief minister Datuk Seri Yong Teck Lee is seeking a court declaration that the appointment of Sabah Water Department director Ir Amarjit Singh eight months ago is unlawful as it contravened the Sabah Water Supply Enactment 2003.

In their suit filed at the Kota Kinabalu High Court Registry here on Tuesday, Yong along with Tawau businessman Pang Thou Chung also sought a declaration that Section 3 of the Enactment spelling out that only members of the public service were qualified for senior posts such as directors senior posts was mandatory.

Former chief minister Datuk Seri Yong Teck Lee (third from left) and fellow plaintiff Pang Thou Chung (third from right) after filing their suit at the Kota Kinabalu High Court on Tuesday. Accompanying them were their counsels Darren N Punai (second left) and Yong Yit Jee (second from right) as well as SAPP secretary general Datuk Richard Yong (right). SNT Pix/Credit SAPP MEDIA

They also claimed in their suit that Amarjit’s actions since his Aug 10, 2018 appointment had jeopardised water supply in Sabah over the short, medium and long term.

These include the abrupt cancellation of two crucial water supply projects in Tawau and Lahad Datu in the state’s east coast on the same day Amarjit was appointed to the post.

Yong who is also president of Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) and Pang stated in their suit that the Enactment specifically stipulated that the department director should be appointed from among members of the State Public Service.

They claimed that Amarjit had never been a member of the state civil service and had never undergone proficiency training, competency assessments, professional development and government examinations as required for someone to be appointed to such a senior post.

Instead, they believed that Amarjit’s appointment as water department director was merely because he was a member and office bearer of the ruling Parti Warisan Sabah.

“This appointment of a non-officer, who is also an active member of a political party, contravenes the Peraturan Peraturan Pegawai Awam Negeri Sabah 2008 (PPANS 2008).

“The procedure and criteria for appointment of the director requires that the officer shall have achieved the set levels of performance, competency, possess professional qualifications and has been recommended by the Head of Department, said Yong and Pang said in their affidavit.

They also stated in their suit that Amarjit was unfit to be appointed to the post as he had been among those in probed in an anti graft investigation in connection with a water treatment plant project in the east coast Semporna district.

In their suit, Yong and Pang also that Amarjit’s inexperience and incompetence had resulted in several “questionable” actions by the Sabah Water Department over the past eight months.

They claimed that Amarjit canceled the much needed Phase III of the Tawau Water Supply Scheme costing some RM450mil on the very day on his appointment as director.

They said the project termination was “clearly improper” and unjustified and had resulted in the loss of Federal Government funds and Sabah government had been trying to get Tawau Water Scheme going for years.

They stated that Amarjit had “recklessly” cancelled the crucial project without understanding the water supply situation in Tawau as he had not received any proper briefing from department officers or even visiting the area.

The serious implications of the project’s cancellation was reflected by Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Christina Liew’s statement on Feb 21 of the frequent complaints from Tawau folk about water supply shortage in the district.

In their suit, Yong and Pang also claimed that Amarjit’s move of cancelling the Lahad Datu Water Supply System project would also jeopardise the efforts to ensure sufficient water supply in the district.

The plaintiffs also claimed in their suit that Amarjit’s move of terminating concession agreement of six firms operating water treatment plants was another consequence of his incompetence.

They said contract termination had exposed the Sabah government to lawsuits to a tune of some RM409.8mil.

In addition, they also claimed that Amarjit’s move of introducing a written competency tests for the licencing of pipefitters was “gross injustice” and had reduced the number of those qualified from 2,123 to just 104.

Yong said this had occurred as some conditions set out in the medical examination for pipefitters and pipelayers were arbitrary and irrelevant to the work of a water pipefitters or pipelayers.

Two glaring examples are the medical requirement that a pipefitter or pipelayer must not have difficulty seeing in the dark and alcohol abuse in the last five years.

So far, only 104 of the 2123 pipefitters and pipelayers have passed the test, Yong and Pang stated in their affidavit.

This lack of foresight and failure to understand the actual situation resulted in 90 per cent of pipefitters and pipelayers been arbitrarily disqualified without any justification, they said.

“This has put the entire Sabah construction industry in dire straits because it is abundantly clear that only 104 pipefitters or pipelayers are grossly insufficient to fulfil the needs of the construction industry for the whole of Sabah,” Yong and Pang stated.

The suit was filed through Yong & Punai Chambers. -SabahNewsToday