Hari Raya light-up organisers under CAD probe

(Main, from left) the vendor Mr Salleh Sam, Mr Zakaria Abdul Gapor, secretary-general of Majlis Pusat, and Mr Saharuddin Kassim, president of Majlis Pusat, during a press conference on April 2. (Top left) The dismal decorations in 2013. (Top centre) The decorations in 2012. (Top right) Mr Zulkifli Mohammed, former MP and president of Majlis Pusat.

SINGAPORE - The Commercial Affairs Division (CAD) is conducting a probe into Majlis Pusat Singapura, the Malay-Muslim non-governmental organisation (NGO) believed to be the organisers of the annual Hari Raya light-up at Geylang Serai. CAD confirmed that investigations are ongoing, but did not provide further information.

Malay-language daily Berita Harian (BH) reported that CAD's investigations involve several main executive committee members of Majlis Pusat, also known as Central Council of Malay Cultural Organisation.

According to a BH report, CAD recently raided the Majlis Pusat office in Toa Payoh Central and seized several documents and computers.

When approached by BH, Majlis Pusat confirmed that investigations are ongoing.

In a press statement released Wednesday night, they said: "Majlis Pusat is assisting the CAD with investigations on the light up projects for 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013.

"To ensure the effectiveness and transparency of the proceedings, the executive committee of Majlis Pusat has collectively agreed to be relieved of all duties and responsibilities until investigations have concluded.

"For the duration of the probe, Majlis Pusat will be under the administration of an advisor and ex-president, Mr Zulkifli Mohamed."

According to Majlis Pusat's statement, the current executive committe was appointed in July 2012.

Mr Salleh Sam, the owner of MCC Events & Production, the vendor for the light-up, was also reported to have been questioned by the CAD.

When BH contacted him on Wednesday night, Mr Salleh Sam confirmed that he had been summoned to provide information to CAD regarding the light-up projects. According to him, his company had won the tender for the project for 2013, 2012 and 2011.

"I was questioned for around four hours and I co-operated with CAD. If they need further information, they can contact me again," said Mr Salleh Sam to BH.

Problems between the vendors and Majlis Pusat were first known to BH on March 15. BH learned that the MCC has not been paid in full by Majlis Pusat for the Hari Raya light-up project in 2011 and 2012.

Outstanding payments owed to MCC amount to around $125,000 for the project in 2012 and more than $20,000 for the project in 2011.

President of Majlis Pusat, Mr Saharudin Kassim, later explained that he had told the MCC that the remaining balance owed will be paid when Majlis Pusat receives their grants from funding agencies.

However, the two funding agencies, the Singapore Tourism Board and Singapore Tote Board, later confirmed to BH that they had released all of the grant money. BH learned that Majlis Pusat had also received grants from other funding agencies.

In a joint press conference with Majlis Pusat and MCC on March 30, Mr Saharudin said he agreed to pay arrears to the MCC in stages until August.

Despite the payment issue that has not been resolved, Majlis Pusat still gave the tender to MCC to do the light-up project this year.

Yet, the decorations and lights at Geylang Serai this year disappointed a lot of people who visited, as well as many Berita Harian readers who wrote complaint letters to the Forum. Some described the light-up as lifeless, unattractive and embarrassing.

Responding to feedback, Majlis Pusat said that two years ago they decided to focus more on the activities and content of the event, and less on decorations. They described this as a middle approach to meet the diverse needs and tastes of the local Malay-Muslim community.

Spotlight on Hari Raya light up issue

The case of the Hari Raya light-up project in Geylang Serai involving the organiser, Majlis Pusat, and the company owned by Mr Salleh Sam that won the tender, MCC Events & Productions, came under public scrutiny when BH first reported the matter in May 2013. The following is the series of events that led to CAD's current investigation of Majlis Pusat and the vendor.

Chronology of Events

The issue of the Geylang Serai Hari Raya light-up project involves the organizers Majlis Pusat, and the company that won the tender to carry out the project, MCC Events & Productions, owned by Mr Salleh Sam.

Berita Harian had urged the MCC to make claims for the overdue payments for the completed projects of 2012 and 2011.

Majlis Pusat told the MCC it will pay the remaining balance when it receives grants from funding agencies.

However, the two agencies, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and the Singapore Tote Board, revealed that they have already released the grant money. BH understands that Majlis Pusat also received grants from other agencies.

March 15 - BH revealed that the MCC has not been fully paid by Majlis Pusat. Balance of outstanding payment amounts to about $125,000 for the project in 2012 and more than $20,000 for the project in 2011.

March 17 - Majlis Pusat issued a joint statement with the owner of MCC, Mr Salleh Sam.

In the statement, the president of Majlis Pusat, Mr Saharudin Kassim, stated that Majlis Pusat will make payment upon receiving grants from funding agencies. This joint statement was published by Berita Harian on March 21. However, Mr Salleh's lawyer, Mr Ahmad Khalis, told BH that Mr Salleh did not agree to make the statement.

March 21 - STB revealed it has released all of the grant sum to Majlis Pusat for the project.

March 28 - BH reported that the Parliamentary Secretary for Transport and Health, Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim said that Majlis Pusat must resolve the Hari Raya light-up issue fully as the project is important not only for the Malay community but for Singapore as a whole. Any scandal will certainly draw unwanted attention to the community and affect their reputation, said Dr Faishal.

March 30 - Majlis Pusat held a press conference with Mr Salleh Sam, who denied the BH reports on the issue.

Majlis Pusat also said that they will pay fully the remaining balance by August. Mr Salleh agreed with the joint statement that was issued on March 17.

April 2 - BH reported that a large part of the payments made to Mr Salleh by Majlis Pusat was made after the article was first published in paper. BH also disclosed that the original source of the first report was none other than Mr Salleh himself.

April 14 - BH sent an email to Majlis Pusat, among others:

- requesting clarification on Mr Salleh's initial letter of demand to Majlis Pusat, with a stated amount that is much higher than the initial sum agreed upon.

- and also to ask how the Tote Board grants were spent between 2012 and 2013.

These questions have not been answered till today.

April 15 - BH published Tote Board's statement confirming it has released the grant money to Majlis Pusat for the 2012 and 2013 light-up projects.

BH also published an interview with Mr Salleh Sam during which he explained the reasons for the change in his stance regarding the 'joint statement' by Majlis Pusat.

July 12 - BH visited Geylang Serai after receiving numerous feedback from readers who expressed dissatisfaction with the Geylang Serai Hari Raya light-up decorations this year.

More than 15 people were interviewed and none of them expressed approval with the light-up this year. Some described it as dull in colour, uninteresting and dim. They said that it does not reflect the atmosphere and culture of Singapore's Malay constituency. They remarked that it was embarrassing and showed the lack of funds.

July 16 - Majlis Pusat responded to the readers' reaction and visitor's disapproval. According to Majlis Pusat, they decided two years ago to focus more on the activities during the event and less on the decorations.

"For many years, Majlis Pusat has given a lot of support to the light-up and the decorations. In 2011, Majlis Pusat decided to shift our focus to the activities and the programmes going on around the light-up," said Majlis Pusat.

September 5 - BH reported that the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) is investigating the executive committee members of Majlis Pusat, who are connected with the Hari Raya Geylang Serai light-up project. Police confirmed to BH that the CAD investigations are ongoing but did not give further details.

Also questioned by the CAD is the vendor for the projects, Mr Salleh Sam, the owner of an event management company MCC Events & Production.