Agenda Daily



Judging from the series of formal consultations and private discussions that have been held recently, it would seem that the government is keen to get feedback from the people on its new series of policies and programmes. But now that the channel of communication is open, the rakyat’s views, requests and demands must be taken seriously, as otherwise, the repercussions could be far-reaching.

AFTER ANNOUNCING A SERIES OF POLICIES, programmes, expenditure packages and high-sounding slogans explicitly to transform the economy and the administration, which along the way provoked opposition by many parties, the government appears to have realised that it needs the cooperation of the people.

Suddenly, a series of formal consultations and private discussions have been held and many more are in the pipeline.

It must have dawned upon the government that leaving the thinking and planning of national policies and programmes to a small group of technocrats who make up the National Economic Advisory Council (NEAC) and Performance Management and Delivery Unit (PEMANDU) has its downside.

While Prime Minister Datuk Sen Mohd Najib Abdul Razak might not be wrong in allowing these technocrats to have a first go at framing the New Economic Model (NEM) and transforming the public sector management and delivery system, several key considerations have clearly been neglected.

From my limited contact with several members of the NEAC and from third-party briefings that I have had the occasion to attend, several important issues have emerged, suggesting that the information concerning NEM and the PEMANDU recommendations had not been accurately transmitted.

When the first installment of the NEM was announced, media reporting gave the impression that it was a formal government document and its proposals were final.

The confusion could have arisen because the NEAC report was announced and its contents released to the media by the Prime Minister himself.

Only after widespread objection and harsh criticism by the public, led by Bumiputera interest groups who feared that the affirmative elements of the New Economic Policy (NEP) were being disregarded, did the government and the NEAC start to back-pedal the NEM.

The Malay objections were particularly strident.Within weeks of the announcement of the model, several well-attended meetings of Malay organizations were held, leading to the formation of the Muflis Perundingan Melayu (Malay Consultative Council) by 76 Malay non-governmental orgarlisations and propelled the Datuk Ibrahim Ali-led Pertubuhan Peribumj Perkasa, in short Perkasa, into national consciousness.

Overnight, Ibrahim, an independent Member of Parliament for Pasir Mas, who ironically contested the 2008 general election using the Pan Malaysia Islamic Party (Pas) symbol, became the de facto spokesman for the distraught Malays.

Even within Umno and among members of Umno- affiliated NGOs and trade organisations, the objection to the NEM was widespread.

Since then, Mohd Najib has made several clarifications and overtures that have pleased the Malays but angered the non-Malay-dominated trading communities and, understandably so, some members of the NEAC.

While admitting that the affirmative plan was not a key consideration of the NEAC when framing the NEM, two members of the council told a recent workshop in Kuala Lumpur that the NEM was neither an official government document nor are its recommendations final.

‘Our task is to make recommendations to the government. It’s up to the government to accept, reject or modify them. The NEM document is in no way a done deal. It’s just one of the many documents and processes that the government is studying,’ they said.

There’s nothing wrong should the Prime Minister want to acknowledge that, in his enthusiasm to do good for the country and be different from his predecessors, he has neglected to consult a broader spectrum of the population.

But now that he has opened doors for the people to give feedback, he must consider their views, requests and demands seriously, as otherwise, he could end up incurring the even greater wrath of the rakyat.

Safeguarding Bumiputera interest

TAKE, for example, the recent demand by the Malaysian Malay Chamber of Commerce (DPMM) that at least 30% of government contracts be guaranteed for the Bumiputeras.

The straight-talking DPMM president, Syed Ali Alattas, said while the Chamber backed Mohd Najib’s 10th Malaysia Plan (10MP), the welfare and development of Bumiputeras needed to be taken care of.

He said, under the 10MP, RM63 billion would be used for development and hoped all the contracts would be awarded through open tender.

Syed Ali urged the government to reserve for the Bumiputeras a minimum of 30% of the value of the projects to be tendered out, although more would help.

He told reporters that the ioMP needed to identify the roles that could be played by Malay entrepreneurs in the 12 key economic fields identified by the government.

The Chamber fully supports Mohd Najib’s private finance initiative (PFI) and offers its services as intermediaries to link the Malay businessmen with the government and third-party investors, especially from the Muslim countries.

PFI, being a private-sector initiative, respects the proprietary rights of the parties making the proposals.

As such, they should not be subjected to open tender, but instead, should be directly negotiated with the government.

The recent partial withdrawal of fuel and sugar subsidies, which sawprices rising, understandably does not go down well with consumers, especially the poor.

Refinements are needed and Syed Au was right in pointing out that the subsidy structure needed to be revamped to avoid subsidising groups, which do not deserve such assistance.

He said: ‘When you subsidise sugar, my friend in the Coca-Cola Company also gets subsidised. I’m sorlyto say this, but I have to be frank here. We have to restructure subsidies so that it will reach the target groups.’

lam sure Mohd Najib and his NEAC advisers cannot argue against this. The government often argues that subsidy distorts the economy. Therefore, if it intends to reduce or remove the distortion by reducing subsidies to consumers, the government must also do the same with industries.

According to press reports, the government, via Petronas, is selling liquefied natural gas (LNG) to the independent power producers at RM10.7o per MMBtU while the market price is about RM40. Large power consumers pay RM15.35 per MMBtu.

The high on ‘Low’

THE Malaysian news media is abuzz with news of a mystery Malaysian corporate mover and shaker who is reported to be taking the New York glamour scene by storm.

Following on the lead by the US media, the local newspapers and blogs have been dishing out juicy bits about the young man’s exploits from New York to South Africa, from the Big Apple’s club scene to the FIFA World Cup, and from Arab sheiks to the raunchy starlet Paris Hilton and A-lister Leonardo DiCaprio.

The mystery Malaysian has since been identified as Taek Jho Low or Low Taek Jho, the son of a well-known Penang businessman. According to Chinese newspaper Sin Chew Daily, the businessman has told his son to lie low after news of him and Hilton exploded in the media worldwide.

Sin Chew only identified his father as a businessman, but did not reveal his name. According to the daily, the 28-year-old Low is a third-generation member of a distinguished Chinese family in Penang that is involved in property and manufacturing, including high-technology products, in Malaysia, Singapore and other parts of the world.

Low’s reminds me of the curiosity Malaysia had about the Brickfields-born T Ananda Krishnan in the 1980s when he was reported to be among the backers of the globally staged and telecast Live Aid musical extravaganza that made Sir Bob Geldof a household name.

Today, Ananda Krishnan is a giant in the Malaysian corporate arena, beaten out only by ‘Sugar King’ Robert Kuok Hock Nien.

Then, Ananda Krishnan was a powerful behind-the-scenes dealmaker. He was so intimate with the Malay political leadership that he was appointed to the board of the country’s two most important entities — Bank Negara Malaysia and Petronas.

From newspaper reports and blog postings, the young Low, who is a Wharton graduate, sounds like a dealmaker. He is said to have intimate connections with equally young Westernised Arab dealmakers.

In the local corporate scene, Low is listed as the non- independent non-executive director of the Sarawak- controlled UBG Bhd, which was once the controlling shareholder of the RHB banking group.

The company’s website describes UBG as a strategic investment house with interests in concession businesses, construction, infrastructure and energy, and counting water infrastructure specialist, Loh & Loh Corporation Bhd, and construction specialist, Putrajaya Perdana Bhd, as its key investments.

UBG is chaired by Datuk Sed MahmudAbu Bekir, the son of Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Taib Mahmud.

The UBG website describes Low as being appointed to the Board of UBG as group advisor on Sept 19, 2008. He is a representative of the major shareholder Majestic Masterpiece Sdn Bhd and Abu Dhabi-Kuwait- Malaysia Investment Corporation.

It adds that Low currently serves as group advisor to several international corporations involved in global private equity, mergers and acquisitions, buy- outs, government-to-government offset structured investments and financing, networking and financial aid, among others.

The website says Low graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Economics with specialization in Finance from The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania in the United States.

Like Ananda Krishnan, who played behind-the- scenes roles on behalf of the Malaysian authorities, I would be least surprised if Low too deals on behalf of the Malaysian authorities, parties and individuals.

There’s nothing wrong in that for as long as the deals are above board and bring benefit to the country. It is common for world governments to use intermediaries to lobby and negotiate business deals. Just that in the case of Low, his playboy image is attracting the wrong kind of attention.

But if indeed Low is involved in lobbying and dealing on behalf of the Malaysian authorities, then the public has a greater right to know about him and the nature of his link to Malaysian parties.

If, on the other hand, he helps bring Arab and other foreign funds into Malaysia, we should say thank you to him.

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