Ad agency says was asked for bribes to win tourism contract
KUALA LUMPUR, March 17 — The advertising agency behind the award-winning “Malaysia, Truly Asia” tourism campaign charged today that it withdrew a bid to renew its contract with the Tourism Ministry after being asked for bribes in exchange for the deal.
Integrated Strategic Communications’ (ISC) complaints against the ministry are already being probed by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).
The agency said in a press statement today that it was rebutting Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen’s denial of “ambiguity” in the tender process for the advertising and promotions contract, worth a total of RM381 million.
ISC founder and chief executive officer Austen Zecha (picture) alleged that both he and his deputy were jointly approached on January 19 to “offer the client” (the ministry) a 50 per cent “rebate” or an annual share of the firm’s income from the account.
In exchange, he said, ISC would then “re-win” another three-year Tourism Malaysia contract for the Europe, North America and Oceania tender.
“This essentially led ISC to decide to withdraw its tender on Wednesday, January 26,” Zecha said.
He added that ISC’s founders, shareholders, directors and management had unanimously agreed that the incident was a “grave insult” and that it added further suspicion to the ambiguity of the tender process on a whole.
He pointed out that ISC had an “impeccable” record in its work for the “Malaysia, Truly Asia” campaign, which it has handled since 1999 through the terms of four successive tourism ministers — Datuk Leo Michael Toyad, Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor, Datuk Seri Azalina Othman and now Datuk Seri Ng Yen Yen.
Zecha also repeated ISC’s earlier allegation that it had been told by the ministry that it could only bill Tourism Malaysia RM3 million both in 2009 and 2010 for its previous three-year contract for Europe, which was actually worth RM18 million annually.
“It is only under this minister’s administration — never ever before, even prior to ISC’s past four contractual three years of service or its two predecessor agencies’ previous three contractual years of service covering the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s — did Tourism Malaysia allow ISC and its two predecessor agencies to bill it only one-sixth of any year’s stipulated contract’s worth, or only about 17 per cent.
“So what happened to the other 83 per cent of each contract year’s worth of the RM18 million in 2009 and 2010, and who authorised and benefited from the standard commissions of the other RM30 million of invoices over the past two years?” he asked.
“And does the government, especially the Treasury, allow for such hidden euphemistically-called ‘Direct Bookings’ to deprive bona fide and Treasury-registered companies to be basically ‘short-changed’ on contracts’ worth, and for which ISC duly paid Treasury the normal stamp duties based on its stipulated contracts’ worth?” said Zecha.