Comment by Arnaz M. Khairul
AS Malaysian National Cycling Federation (MNCF) president Abu Samah Wahab tries to comfort himself within the confines of his Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission (MACC) lock-up after being arrested yesterday over allegations of abuse of power, two more federation officials have been hauled up for questioning by the graft busters today.
Online banter over this revelation has mainly centred around how long it has taken the authorities to rise up to the long-standing mismanagement of cycling by its parent body or whether the slithery, well-drilled experts at getting out of trouble will again escape unscathed.
Whichever way you look at it, everyone in MNCF should have seen this coming, unless perhaps the decades of impunity had bred in them a blissful sense of immunity.
In 2013, the MNCF was rocked by a massive scandal which somehow they eventually managed to wiggle themselves out of, with even president Abu Samah Wahab coming out with his position intact.
Months after a dismal showing at the Sea Games that year and around the time the MNCF were expecting their annual millions from the Youth and Sports Ministry, masked behind development funds for their road squad, then Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin Abu Bakar had had enough questions that needed answers and ordered an internal audit into funds related to the ministry’s annual grant to the federation.
What Khairy described as multiple serious discoveries of financial mismanagement in the MNCF’s handling of millions of ringgit granted via an agreement under the joint organisation of Le Tour de Langkawi (LTdL) from from 2011 to 2013, eventually resulted in the MNCF being suspended for six months under the Sports Development Act 1997.
The LTdL co-organising agreement was a deal between the Youth and Sports Ministry and the MNCF that stretched back to 2007, where besides full funding for the annual event, a development grant was directed to the MNCF for the development of their road programme, where for this specific purpose between RM2.7 million and RM4.3 million was given to them annually.
With such lavish expenditure at their disposal during that period, it was bemusing that the results on the road and Malaysia’s ranking points on the UCI Asia Tour that resulted in qualification for the 2012 Olympics were delivered by riders from the ill-funded LeTua Cycling team and professionals like Adiq Husainie Othman, Loh Sea Keong, Ng Yong Li, Anuar Manan and Ahmad Haidar Anuawar, who were riding for foreign outfits.
The MNCF road programme itself raised questions as to the relevance of its months-long training camps in Chiangmai and limited racing for riders under this programme, compared to the professional riders who were on average running programmes of between 30 and 50 active race days per season.
After a solitary bronze medal was delivered from the 2009 Sea Games in Laos, not a single medal came from the road programme in the 2011 Sea Games and the 2013 Sea Games saw a rider’s revolt after failures to deliver a single gold medal uncovered ill-treatment of riders who stood up and voiced their displeasure and concern over the management of the road programme.
Results were obviously a far cry from the era between 1997 and 2005, when the Sea Games road race gold medal was dominated consecutively by Malaysia. MNCF seemed not to flourishing in the taxpayers’ millions at their disposal, but instead were drowning.
The MNCF’s focus seemed to be on acquisition of assets and equipment, including some questionable deals involving Abu Samah’s family members, while the rest of the annual funding seemed never to be sufficient, as Abu Samah was consistently voicing in press conferences, stating that he hoped the government would increase funding for them to improve the programme.
It was not entirely MNCF’s fault, as Khairy himself admitted the ministry too had allowed this rot to go unchecked and ticked off the ministry’s officials, some of whom were shown the entry to cold storage, for releasing taxpayers’ funds without regular check and balance.
Hence the MNCF served the suspension and at the end of it, Khairy issued a caveat on government funding to the MNCF which stands till today. The MNCF would from then on not be given access to taxpayers funds directly, with any funding coming from the government for the purpose of the road programme or other programmes under the federation, to be managed by the National Sports Council.
Khairy had decided against proceeding with criminal action. Instead the matter was dealt with by the then Sports Commissioner Ahmad Shapawi Ismail through provisions under the Sports Development Act.
However, it must be noted that the MACC, who had been monitoring the internal audit and investigations then, had held a session with MNCF, obviously with Abu Samah present, in which they had provided guidelines and directives for the federation to improve integrity in their management, most notably a clear note that the practice of handing out contracts to family members and members of the executive committee should be stopped.
So, fast-forward from 2014 to January 30, 2020, and Abu Samah finds himself arrested on allegations of abuse of power among which are the handing out of contracts to his family members and some to his own company.
That, is even humourous, but this episode is no more than what the MNCF have blatantly been asking for with trails of questionable communications including those with race organisers, where approvals of sanctioning come with notes that the organisers should utilise the “MNCF’s” staging services, which includes barricades, gantries and such. The issue is, the staging services are not provided by the MNCF, but by a company of some family member.
This, is just a fact-based instance of what might be behind the MACC’s sting operation on a sports association that over the past three decades has been no stranger to controversy, almost consistently over money matters. This episode, many observers of Malaysian cycling will agree, is merely the tip of the iceberg in terms of the gravity of the problem plaguing Malaysian cycling, which is the MNCF.
Hence, pending charges that are yet to be filed, if filed, there is no better time for those in MNCF to finally listen to advice, clean up house and ship out those who have long been ill-advised and inadvisable, before the MNCF itself finds itself at the sharpest end of the law and is disposed of entirely.