Sarawak schools missing solar panels promised under S$419m project

SIBU (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - A headmaster of a rural school in Malaysia is wondering what happened to the solar power panels that were offered to his school.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said some officials visited his school in Balingian, Sarawak at the end of 2017 and said it was among those included in a solar hybrid project.

Malaysia's anti-graft agency is investigating a RM1.25 billion (S$419 million) solar hybrid project to generate electricity for 369 schools in Sarawak, which allegedly did not materialise.

"These people offered to install solar power panels as we have to rely on generators for power supply," said the headmaster. He did not know who they were and they went about surveying where to install the solar panels.

"They did not ask me to sign anything. They left without any follow-up. Until now I don't know what happened to the project," he said.

Online whistleblower site the Sarawak Report had recently reported that former prime minister Najib Razak had in January 2017 allegedly instructed the Education Ministry to appoint a politically-connected company with no experience in solar power to implement a solar hybrid project for 369 schools in the rural heartlands of Sarawak.

According to the report, ministry staff who raised concerns about the project were transferred out, while several reports lodged with the police and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission were ignored.

The anti-graft agency said it had begun a probe into the matter in early April - before the general election that ousted Datuk Seri Najib's coalition - following information it received from the public. It had also seized related documents from the Education Ministry to determine whether there were elements of corruption.

Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik said on Monday (June 11) that there might have been a serious breach in how the contract was awarded to Jepak Holdings Sdn Bhd, reportedly a car rental business.

He said that the project was supposed to be 51 per cent completed by May 15, if it had gone according to schedule.

He has ordered his ministry officers to find an immediate solution to ensure Sarawak schools under a solar diesel hybrid project will still have electricity when schools reopen in two weeks.

According to the Borneo Post, Jepak Holdings has denied any wrongdoing, saying the cost of the project is lower than comparable ones in neighbouring state Sabah. Its managing director Saidi Abang Samsudin said the company has yet to collect any payment under the project.