MPs & Watchdogs Demand Answers From Saifuddin Abdullah Over Earlier 5G Awards

Minister Saifuddin Abdullah comes under scrutiny for his previous decision to directly assign 5G spectrum bands to five companies.

Cover image via Syarafiq Abd Samad/New Straits Times & Saw Siow Feng/Malay Mail

Following Communications and Multimedia Minister Saifuddin Abdullah's revocation of 5G spectrum awards, his predecessor is now calling for the government to explain their decision

On Wednesday, 3 June, Minister Saifuddin Abdullah uploaded a media statement revoking the 5G awards previously given to the five telecommunication companies: Maxis, Digi, Celcom, Telekom Malaysia, and Altel.

Former communications and multimedia minister, Gobind Singh Deo, urged the government to explain their decision to directly award the 5G spectrum rather than proceed with an open tender process on his Facebook page.

In his statement, he wrote, "We chose to adopt an approach with greater transparency and accountability in keeping with our agenda for reform and transparent governance."

Gobind continued by saying that this "is a matter of great concern which calls for an urgent explanation."

He added that "Amongst others, it specifically stated that the 700MHz band would be assigned through a tender process."

The award of the 700 MHz spectrum to five licensees by the Perikatan Nasional government through Ministerial orders...

Posted by Gobind Singh Deo on Wednesday, 3 June 2020

The impact of these procedures on citizens was also highlighted

Gobind elaborated in his post, "These steps were meant to ensure that Malaysians would be able to benefit from improved digital infrastructure coverage, high quality connectivity, while ensuring the cost of services remained competitive."

"Reasons must therefore be given for the need for a direct award, the criteria used to select the providers, the revenue to the government, and the benefits that Malaysians can hope to achieve," Gobind concluded.

Lembah Pantai Member of Parliament (MP) Fahmi Fadzil similarly pushed back against the MCMC's decisions

"The order raises a variety of questions regarding the processes involved in choosing those companies and the total amount of spectrum given to each," he said in a statement.

He drew attention to an interaction between Altel Communication Sdn Bhd (one of the five companies that was to receive 5G spectrum), whereby an Altel staff had suggested the 700MHz band be given to "a single recipient to simplify telecommunication infrastructure… and promote fairness". 

Fahmi also pointed out that, "We were not given information regarding the fees each recipient was charged." 

In a second tweet, Fahmi explicitly asks the MCMC to give an explanation, particularly pertaining to the companies and fees involved. 

Non-governmental organisation Malaysian Corruption Watch (MCW) doubted the initial decision to award 5G spectrum to Altel, but praised Abdullah's cancellation of the order

In an interview with BenarNews, MCW President Jais Abdul Karim said, "Big projects, which concern security issues like telecommunications, should only be given to companies that have the expertise. MCW was not clear on what was the reason behind this cancellation, but it was the right decision."

However, citizens are still interested in greater transparency and accountability

Political analyst Sivamurugan Pandian of Universiti Sains Malaysia was quoted saying in an interview with BenarNews, "A tender allows those who bid to compete with others and the best offer will be awarded."

On the matter, he added, "The public prefers transparency with full accountability and competency to reflect a good governance policy."

However, in the same interview with BenarNews, Sivamurugan noted that, "The minister's immediate action to cancel allows some room to address the issue in a more proper manner."

Previously, the MCMC had awarded 5G spectrum without a public announcement:

This is not the first time Gobind Singh Deo and Fahmi Fadzil have demanded accountability:

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