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2012-06-08 08:25

'LOOK AT ME, I'M IMPORTANT': Car registration plates such as this are drawing public anger over wasted state funds.

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - Political self-aggranisement doesn't seem to be just a South African malaise: a Malaysian minister has provoked outrage with a $7 600 bid for a special number plate for his official car.

He at first said he didn't know who paid for the item, then claimed it was free.

Malaysia's Road Transport Department has sold off plates prefixed WWW - an Internet-related allusion to technology - to raise funds. It released a list of winning tenders, showing health minister Liow Tiong Lai had secured "WWW 15" with a bid equivalent to about R61 000.

'THE PLATE IS FREE'

However, with questions being asked over whether official funds were being spent on a vanity acquisition, Liow reportedly at first said he did not know who paid the money as he had asked his officials to secure the plate. Then he tweeted that the RTD had told him there was no need for payment.

"I have received official notification from RTD that the plate is free. There is no payment involved. Any further Qs pls refer to RTD. TQ," he wrote.

RTD officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

The department earlier that it had made 12 million ringgit through selling the plates. The highest bid was from the sultan of the southern state of Johor, who offered 520 000 ringgit for "WWW 1".

Police are investigating an opposition lawmaker for sedition after he tweeted the sultan's investment could have been used for the benefit of the poor.

'CRIME TO EXCITE'

"520 000 ringgit could be spent to help Johor's Malays, many of who are still poor and need help," Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party wrote in Malay. The sultan's son responded that none of the public funds allocated to the royal family were used and the lawmaker apologised.

Under Malaysian law it is a crime to "excite disaffection" against the country's nine royal families, who each benefit from substantial government allowances.

Opposition and activists frequently highlight reports of government unaccountability and corruption in Malaysia. Prime Minister Najib Razak has pledged to crack down on graft.

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