SIBU, Sept 14 — Datuk Seri Wong Soon Koh told the High Court here yesterday that he had issued a press statement merely to seek an explanation from the Sarawak government on Petronas paying RM2 billion in State Sales Tax (SST) instead of RM3.897 billion as stated in the state budget.
Testifying at the defamation suit brought against him by the state government due to the press statement, the Parti Sarawak Bersatu president said as an elected people’s representative, he was entitled to ask questions on the matter after the state government and Petronas issued a joint statement on it.
“SST is revenue for the state. Anybody, not just the representative of the people, in fact any ordinary person could raise such a subject matter because it is of public importance and public interest,” he said.
The last witness to be called to testify in the defamation suit, Wong was cross-examined by the plaintiff’s counsel Dato Sri JC Fong.
The Bawang Assan assemblyman told the court that the state government could easily respond to him instead of suing him in an attempt to suppress him from asking further questions.
He also repeatedly told the court that the figure RM3.897 billion stated in his statement on May 9 last year — a day after the joint statement was issued by the state government and Petronas – was based on the annual budget for 2019 as it was the only official document he could rely on.
He further explained that the state budget proposal comprised the revenue to be collected for the year and the expenditure for 2019 and the chief minister had also outlined various programmes and projects to be implemented during the year.
Wong said some revenues to be collected would be estimated revenue, others are the specific amounts to be collected.
“As I said, for the year 2019, some are the draft estimates but as far as SST to be collected from Petronas for the year 2019, it was a definite sum because it comes under the column ‘disemak’ which means the sum has been verified and proved correct.
“At that material time, I can only depend on the official record when I issued the statement and the official record which is the Budget presented by the Chief Minister to the Legislature,” he pointed out.
Fong: I put it to you that when you issued your press statement, you did not verify with PW1, Datuk Sharifah (Datuk Sharifah Hasidah Sayeed Aman Ghazali) or the SAGC (State Attorney General’s Chambers) on the amount in dispute in the legal proceedings that were to be settled by the parties as announced by the joint statement.
Wong: The joint statement which is a public statement telling the whole world that the amount payable by Petronas is only RM2 billion. I take it that it is a true statement from the government.
Fong: Isn’t the RM2 billion payment related to the settlement of the court cases which was announced in the joint statement?
Wong: Whether or not the RM2 billion payment is related to the settlement of the court cases is again immaterial because Petronas under the joint statement is to pay through its subsidiary companies ‘dengan penuh RM2 billion’ (RM2 billion in full) which is stated very clearly in the joint statement.
Fong: Did PW1 Datuk Sharifah in her press statement say that the precise amount of SST due from Petronas for the year 2019 is still under computation?
Wong: That should have been mentioned in the joint statement in the first place.
Fong: But she clarified that in response to your statement that the amount is still under computation, do you agree?
Wong: I gather in the joint statement that the settlement sum is RM2 billion ‘dengan penuh’ (in full). I took it that it is the full amount of RM2 billion to be paid through its subsidiary companies of Petronas.
Fong: Before you issued your press statement, there was this clarification by Sharifah that the precise amount is under computation. Why did you not state what PW1 said in clarification of the amount to be paid by Petronas, being under computation, in your own press statement?
Wong: As I said, that should have been stated in the original joint statement in order not to avoid any misunderstanding or the statement can be misleading.
Fong: After the clarification, were you still misled?
Wong: It is not the matter of being misled. I am deeply concerned with the big amount to be paid for SST amounting to RM3.897 billion as against RM2 billion which was the amount to be paid by Petronas. Again, I would like to emphasise ‘dengan penuh’ – full payment, as stated in the original joint statement.
Wong also explained to the court that when he was Second Finance Minister, he adopted the figure of RM3.897 billion in his winding-up speech as it came from the chief minister.
He also said that he knew exactly the figure of RM3.897 billion because he trusted all the departments and officers concerned who provided him with the figure.
The state government is claiming that Wong had defamed it in the statement issued on May 9 which questioned the settlement with Petronas on the SST.
It is suing Wong for RM5 million.
The hearing continues today. — Borneo Post