In 2018, this was reported: “Massive stealing from a government fund, the HRDF”. So, with today’s shock announcement, are we back to the bad old days of Umno-Baru?

On 1 January 2019, Noor Farida Ariffin, Malaysia’s former Ambassador to The Netherlands, was made the new chairman of the Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF), which is a government agency. Her task was to clean up the agency because there were several allegations of graft. There were claims that RM300 million had been misappropriated from the fund.

But first, what is the HRDF? Linkedin lists the HRDF as “Starting life as an institution that collected levy and disbursed training grants…to contribute significantly in providing training and up-skilling interventions to key industries in Malaysia especially the Small and Medium Enterprises’ (SMEs) sector.”

Today, 1 April 2020, 14 months after Noor Farida was installed as the chairman, we received this shock announcement.

This is the excerpt from the Malay Mail.

Human Resources Minister, M. Saravanan, has removed Noor Farida Mohd Ariffin from her position as the chairman of the Human Resource Development Fund (HRDF).

Speaking to Malay Mail, Noor Farida confirmed that five other out of the 18 board of directors members, including the chief executive officer (CEO) Elanjelian Venugopal, were also removed.

“Yes, we have all been removed from the HRDF board by the new minister of Human Resources,” Noor Farida said when contacted.

“Myself and the directors who had our contracts prematurely terminated, had been appointed by the previous minister, M. Kulasegaran, to help implement the recommendations of the Governance Oversight Committee, to get rid of the conflicts of interest situations and abuse of power which were allegedly prevalent under the old management.”

Here is the background to the allegations concerning the HRDF.

This article was first published in Malaysiakini on 13 Jun 2018.

They were interesting events indeed. In span of a couple of hours, there was suspense, drama and indecision as the events involving a multi-billion ringgit government agency unfolded.

First, there was the hijacking of a media conference with highly-paid bogus reporters asking irrelevant questions. This was followed by two-high profile directors quitting the board. Then came the news: each of the high-flying directors and its chief executive officer (CEO) taking home about RM1 million in salary and bonuses last year.

The Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF) is one of the many government agencies making the news. The revelation that former Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai paid about RM800,000 to Pemandu Associates to ghost-write his column in The Star pales in comparison to HRDF, which has more than RM1 billion in its coffers and collects about RM700 million annually.

News has emerged that some of the directors approved all-expense paid trips to New York, Frankfurt and London on business class for themselves. One would have thought these lawatansambilbelajar was restricted to local councils. This is a case of grown up, gainfully-employed men and women travelling on money which belongs to the people.According to its 2017 statement of accounts, the CEO, CM Vigneswaran, was paid RM996,638 in salary and bonus and HRDF paid RM167,268 as employer’s contribution to his Employees Provident Fund (EPF).

According to industry sources, he and two other senior managers were paid six months’ salary each as “performance bonus.” The records also show that Vigneswaran’s (photo) emoluments were more than 55 percent more than the previous year’s.

“Some of the directors were well taken care of. They were given trips and generous allowances, besides their monthly salaries,” the sources said.

According to the accounts, directors’ fees amounted to RM870,667. There are 17 other directors besides the CEO and they include representatives from government departments and agencies. Working on an average, each director received RM51,200.

“They were each paid RM4,000 monthly and a meeting allowance of RM2,000. Some of them did not attend board meetings regularly but got substantial allowances when meetings were held in Kuching, Kota Kinabalu and Penang,” said the sources.

Vigneswaran did not reply to any of the messages left on his phone.

Meanwhile, a media conference outside the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) headquarters in Putrajaya turned into a farce when the accuser and the accused traded indictments in the presence of the “media”.

Sri Ganes of training provider SG Academy called the media conference after lodging his report claiming of irregularities in the HRDF system. He also claimed there were unfair practices in the selection of training providers.

‘Reporters’ planted by ‘interested parties’

Midway through, another training provider RA Thiagaraja, who was a HRDF director until he resigned last Friday, interrupted. He admitted to being the director who was referred to by Ganes. He claimed that he got (training) contracts fairly and disputed some of the claims.

It became a high-octane shouting match of sorts when so-called reporters became vociferous with their questions. They were believed to have been “planted by interested parties”. Reporters from newspapers and news portals said that they had never seen these reporters previously. Their line of questioning and their demeanour in putting across their views, as seen in a video posted on Facebook, appear to confirm this.

Elsewhere in Putrajaya, Human Resources Minister M Kulasegaran announced the resignation of two other board members.

“I am pleased to inform that three of the board members of the HRDF have resigned yesterday, we are looking to accepting these resignations,” he said at a press conference at the ministry headquarters.

Thiagaraja resigned last Thursday but the minister did not reveal the identity of the other two. Sources said they are Ganesh Bangah, the representative from the IT industry and Ruth Rajasher, representing women entrepreneurs.

The most telling point on Kulasegaran’s announcement was that “he was happy to see that they resigned and made our situation easier”.

Board members are appointed by the minister for a two-year term but the HRDF has in its midst a director cum training services head who has served for 12 years.

Rebuilding Malaysia

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