Monday, April 1, 2013

Mr Five Percent

As Bank Pertanian’s project manager for its 26-storey head-office building, I also acted as the secretary of a tender committee formed specially for this project. The committee functioned at three levels. The chairman of the bank chaired the highest level and it required the presence of a senior representative from the Treasury to deliberate on tenders, since the bank is a statutory body. The second level was also chaired by the chairman of the bank with the GM and a few key divisional managers as members. The third level comprised the GM and a few department managers. The level to which a tender is presented depended on the size of the tender, in monetary terms.

It was a RM20 million project - considered big by the standard of the day. By the time I joined the bank, the main contract had already been awarded. However, most of the main prime cost and provisional sum items had yet to be awarded. Each of these awards was worth a few hundred thousand ringgits.

Naturally, I became the subject of many keen lobbies. My principle had always been this: Everything being equal, you put in a few good words for friends.

One day, an old friend came to visit me in my house. He enjoyed mentioning to acquaintances that he was my long lost brother. His surname was also Lim. But it was with his given name – “Yew Bin” – that he felt attached to me, since we share the same initials YB! I did not really mind since he meant no harm.

That evening, he handed me a cheque for the sum of RM8,000, drawn payable to Y B Lim.

“What’s it for?” I asked.

“For you, the Langkawi Marble contract,” he replied.

I did not want to have anything to do with it, thereby causing him some embarrassment although we did not discuss the subject any further.

* * * * *      

Months later, another friend Steven Lee, who had been a SEAP Games shooting event champion, called and after some pleasantries asked, “Wybie, do you want the RM12,500 now…?”

He went on to say that YB brother of mine had asked him to honour the 5% early, claiming that I needed the money as I was preparing to go overseas to do my MBA.

* * * * *   

I had to get to the bottom of things…
A dinner was arranged and the venue was Steven Lee’s home. My YB namesake was naturally invited, so were a number of other friends and acquaintances.

Sometime during the dinner, I raised the issue of RM12,500 payment with Steven Lee and my “brother” YB.

All hell broke loose. It was 5% here and 5% there. Langkawi Marble had actually paid out RM22,500 and not RM8,000 to one YB Lim. Even if I had kept the RM8,000, my YB namesake would still be 14,500 richer, thanks to his “connection” with me.

I called for a meeting with all the contractors the following day. Few owned up. Langkawi Marble said they did not pay. But didn’t I tell them that YB fellow had owned up on the matter? Maybe these people have their code of ethics.

* * * * *    

Some of these people must have held me in great contempt before the meeting – a very difficult 5%-man, for I had the reputation of being extremely uncompromising on contracts, as far as quality and speed of delivery were concerned.

* * * * *   

And you cannot afford to be too trusting.

I liked Wong. He was very knowledgeable about strong rooms and safe deposit boxes. He was working for a new entry into the Malaysian market. Convinced that Mosler’s vault doors offered the best value for money, I recommended to the bank to purchase them for its strong room. As for the other equipment for the strong room, we needed more time to compare the competing offerors’ prices and specifications.

Shortly after getting award from us, Wong came to say that he was leaving to work for a competitor. I wished him well.

But he had also assumed that we would award the next package to his new employer, Pernas Plessey, which happened to be partly government-owned. 

We decided on Mosler again, since it represented the best value-for-money offer. As a matter of fact it was submitted by Wong before he left for Pernas Plessey.

He called; I told him I had to disappoint him, notwithstanding the friendship which we had built up.

On one of my routine visits to Encik Bakar, the General Manager of the bank, he showed me a costing sheet. He told me it was from the chairman of Pernas Plessey.

It was a photocopy of an internal Mosler document. It showed how they had arrived at their offer. And right at the bottom of the page was written: Kick-back $10,000. No name was mentioned.  

It was easy to clear yourself, if you had not done anything wrong.

I asked for Mosler’s file. The original of this document was there. But it was without this extra line: Kick-back $10,000.

Wong must have promised that he could deliver. He obviously needed when he couldn’t.

* * * * *    

I ran into Wong a few times; he would always avoid me.

Ditto that YB Lim.

* * * * *


  1. Many of our mutual friends come from the same mould.

  2. CEO has to be ever vigilant in this ever competitive corporate world,
    And "cannot afford to be too trusting" too ... so full of intrigue ... and with a swirl and a twirl!
    Two YB Lims ... one a CEO and the other "a long lost brother",
    Langkawi Marble ... with their code of ethic to silence and to smother!
    Oh dear, oh dear ... "5% here and 5% there" ... so tempting,
    My head is spinning ... my head is spinning!

    1. "code of ethic" should read as "code of ethics"! My apology!