Months of verbal jousting on the ‘Penang land scam' culminated in a heated televised debate last evening between Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng and his predecessor Dr Koh Tsu Koon.
The debate titled ‘The truth on the land controversy in Penang', modeled after the US presidential debate system, lasted one-hour and was broadcast on two free-to-air channels.
Lim fired off his opening salvo by naming five cases of ‘land scandals' - which he claimed had cost losses of up to RM1.5 billion to the state - allegedly due to faults by the former Barisan Nasional administration led by Koh.
Both participants eventually focused most of their attention the one particular case involving the previous administration's approval of an application for a 4.25ha land in Seberang Perai Tengah district to a private contractor for quarrying activities.
This matter was referred to by both participants as the "RM40 million case" which is currently the subject of a legal battle between the state government and the private contractor.
Lim accused Koh's administration of committing a scam as documents indicated that nearly all technical departments have opposed the state's decision to award the land to a sole individual.
Koh however put the blame on an administrative error dating back to the 1960s and that the focus of the state government now should be on winning the court dispute.
When moderator Johan Jaafar quizzed both participants on the need to raise the ‘land scam' now and whether it was a witch hunt, Koh jumped to the opportunity and accused Lim of politicising the matter to damage the credibility of the previous administration.
Lim, also the DAP secretary-general, retorted that it was incumbent upon the new government to expose any wrongdoings by the previous administration.
"We formed a CAT (competency, accountability and transparency) government and you can't expect us to behave like the past government - cover things up and not let the public know," said Lim.
Why no action against the culprits?
Lim and Koh also sparred on why the civil servants responsible for the "RM40 million case" were let off with just a warning.
Lim also accused Koh of merely giving civil servants responsible for the "RM40 million case" a mere slap on the wrist.
Koh replied that the matter had been probed internally and by the Anti-Corruption Agency twice where no concrete evidence can be found to take action on anyone.
"If he is not satisfied with two ACA investigations in the matter, the chief minister should initiated another round of probes," retorted Koh, the Gerakan acting president.
This is the second time Lim and Koh faced off in a debate since 1990. Then the duo squared off in the Chinese Town Hall, Penang.
Today's debate was organised by Internet news-portal Agendadaily.com and televised live on two free-to-air television stations.
Veteran journalist Wan Hamidi Hamid and former Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka Abdul Aziz Rahim director-general were panelists brought by Lim and Koh respectively.