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Under heavy public attack, Health Minister Liow Tiong Lai announced he would surrender his coveted WWW 15 car plate registration number that he was accused of paying RM24,200 for.
But no, throwing the baby out with the bath water will not help Liow, say opposition critics from the Pakatan Rakyat.
"I think he and MCA are panicking. It is not right to run away like this, it will only crystallize an image of him being a weak and irresponsible leader - someone who doesn't practice what he preaches or say what he means," PKR vice president Chua Jui Meng told Malaysia Chronicle.
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Guilty as charged? Did Kong 'pasang kaki' someone else's bid for Liow?
Indeed, the manner in which Liow had handled the entire matter compounds the already-strong public perception of endemic corruption amongst the ranks of BN leaders. News he had won the number had sparked protests as to how he could lavish so much money on a number plate based on his salary.
Trying to damage-control, Liow had initially denied tendering for the number plate. Then when the Road Transport Department confirmed that he did indeed submit a bid, he denied paying for it although the winning price was clearly stated as being RM24,200.
When MCA colleague and Transport Minister Kong Cho Ha confirmed that Liow did not pay a sen for the number because as a Minister, he was entitled to it for 'free', the controversy blew even hotter - prompting accusations of a BN conspiracy to help out Liow who is the MCA deputy president.
“Let me reassert that I did not bid or tender for WWW 15. Following the proper procedures, my office had requested for the registration number to use for the minister’s official car,” Liow said in a statement out on Monday.
“My office received an official letter dated June 6 from the Road Transport Department (RTD) confirming the free registration number. As I now know there was bidding for this number, it is only right that I do not exercise my option. The number should go to the highest bidder.”
His comments are likely to spark another onslaught of angry public ridicule, given that he has now suggested someone else had tendered for the number.
"To me, this reeks of an admission of guilt. Is Liow now saying the RM24,200 is not his price? Or did someone else offer higher but Kong 'pasang kaki' (intercepted) and gave the bid to Liow. Whatever it is, it only shows how corrupt and un-transparent the system is. There is a need for a total revamp," Eddie Wong, a veteran political analyst told Malaysia Chronicle.
Grassroots upset their hard work wasted: Who will vote for MCA now?
This is not the first time Liow has been embroiled in a fiasco harking at his integrity and credibility. During July 9, 2011 Bersih 2.0 rally, he had stoutly defended the police, insisting that they had not fired tear gas into the compound of the Tung Shin Hospital. That turned out to be untrue, earning the MCA No. 2 his 'Liar Liow' nickname.
In 2009, Liow was accused of accepting a 'free' Toyota Alphard costing RM 574,884.10 from a contractor, Axis Construction Sdn Bhd. The Alphard car number plate is WSB 15. According to Liow, '15' was his grandfather's favorite number.
Liow denied the allegations and both he and his wife were later cleared by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission of wrongdoing.
The latest incident has whittled away MCA's last remaining shreds of popularity and trust with members of the Chinese community as well as among MCA grassroots.
"We have been working hard to revive the party, brainstorming the latest ways to take MCA back to its former glory - then now this. How can Liow be so thoughtless? Doesnt he know the general election can be anytime? Who will vote for MCA now - our hard work has gone down the drain," an MCA supporter told Malaysia Chronicle.
Wastage and abuse of power
BN coalition boss Umno has also been dragged into the scandal. Umno had been hoping to capitalize on comments made by PAS leader Nizar Jamaluddin that the RM520,000 paid by the Johor Sultan for the WWW1 number plate could have been better spent on helping the poor and needy.
However, with Malaysians now able to compare the story behind WWW1 and WWW15, the only picture they can conjure up is one of wastage of wealth and perhaps abuse of power.
Last week, RTD director-general Solah Mat Hassan said in a statement that the department had received an application from Liow in a letter dated May 14.
“The WWW series registration number booking evaluation committee then decided to offer Liow the WWW15 at the highest bidding price of RM24,200,” he said, adding that Liow had three options in the matter.
“He could get it for free, pay at the highest offered bidding price, or he could also reject the offer."
But Solah's best efforts at defending Liow only brought out greater sarcasm at the BN's lack of respect for the people's intelligenc.
"If Liow could get it for free because he is a minister, that's it. Full-stop, finish. Why would he need to submit a bid or tender the winning price of RM24,200 or reject the offer. Something smells real fishy as they say. I guess they must think we are real fools," said Jui Meng.