Misreporting and misreprenting the Council of Eminent Persons

by A Kadir Jasin

THERE have been many articles and comments made on the role of the Council of Eminent Persons (CEP). Some are thoughtful and largely accurate but most are akin to fictions.

I would not blame the writers and commentators because the council has not been generous with information. Understandably so because it is still work-in-progress and its chairman, Tun Daim Zainuddin, isn’t a chatty kind of person.

While the Pakatan Harapan government encourages freedom of expression, still it is unprofessional and unethical for the journalists, writers and members of parliament to make comments based on untruth and hearsay.

The Rembau Barisan Nasional Member of Parliament, Khairy Jamaluddin aka KJ is one of them. He was reported saying in the Dewan Rakyat that members of the CEP are unelected.

Everybody knows that. If they are elected, they would be in the Parliament answering KJ. He then went on to accuse Daim of exceeding his authority by purportedly asking Chief Justice, Tun Md Raus Shariff, to resign.

As a parliamentarian and a former minister, people expect him to check his facts. Did he ask Raus if this is true? If he did not, it shows that he is being irresponsible and should apologise.

The same goes for those who wrote in or told the media about the CEP. Clearly some of them love publicity and think highly of themselves. They thrive on wild imaginations and can’t suppress their bloated ego. They crave the limelight.

This government promises freedom of expressions. But free expression must be based on facts and truths or, at the very least, on thoughtful analyses and fair comments.

KJ and his nemesis – Umno President and Bagan Datuk MP, Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi – also issued statements on the en-bloc resignation of the Khazanah Nasional Berhad board.

KJ had said that company must not revert to old ways of doing business. Was he then agreeing with the PH government?

That’s exactly what the new government is asking government-linked companies (GLCs) and government-linked investment companies (GLICs) not to do i.e going back to the bad old ways.

The government and the CEP have discovered enough evident to conclude that their old ways of doing business were bad and had led to billions of ringgit of losses and missing funds.

I think KJ is too young to suffer from dementia. So he must have still remember that the bad old ways started in or around 2004 when he ruled supreme at the 4th floor of the Prime Minister’s Department and Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop was elevated to the post of Finance Minster II by the then Prime Minister, Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

Nor Mohamed is a survivor extraordinaire. Despite losing billions in botched foreign currency trading at Bank Negara in the 1990s, he was rehabilitated by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad during the 1997/98 Asian Financial Crisis, made minister by Abdullah and Deputy Chairman of Khazanah by Mohd Najib Abdul Razak.

Zahid, on the other hand, hopes that there will be no political appointees in the board of GLCs and GLICs. He must be sleep walking or high on ketum, figuratively speaking I hope. Or he is perpetuating lies in order to continue to fool his uninformed Umno constituents.

The PH government has made it very clear about this. It would not flood the GLCs and GLICs with political appointees at the board and management levels like the Umno-led Barisan Nasional government did.

It was these political appointees who ran such iconic agencies like Mara, Felda, Tabung Haji and Felcra to the ground.

KJ is so confident of Khazanah’s performance that he fully supports the outgoing Board. Has he checked the accounts of the Company beyond what was reported in the annual reports and press statements?

Yes Khazanah did make tens of billions of ringgit in profits since its inception in 1993. Tan Sri Azman Mokhtar was its Chief Operating Officer since 2004.

Making profits is the objective of Khazanah. Its executives are paid well to make profits. But what about those billions of ringgit of losses they incurred?

Many writers, bloggers and social media activists sang praises for Khazanah and Permodalan Nasional Berhad (PNB) directors, saying they were professional and apolitical. Ex-ministers are apolitical?

Then there was the suggestion that Putrajaya was stunned by the Khazanah board en-bloc resignation. How could Putrajaya be stunned when it was reported that it declined to meet the Khazanah Managing Director?

But a representative of the departing board told me that they finally succeeded in making contact with the government following which the en-bloc resignation offer was made.

The government and the CEP have to dwell deeper into Khazanah and other GLICs that built their businesses around legacy assets.

We need to know how much of their turnovers and profits are generated by assets transferred to them by the government – the legacy assets – and by the new businesses they create on their own.

This could be the reason that prompted the Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahatrhir Mohamad, to say that Khazanah had deviated from the objective of assisting the Bumiputera.

Like the PNB, much of Khazanah’s early assets were shares of blue chip companies held in trust for the Bumiputera by the government. They were transferred – mostly at cost – to PNB in the early 1980s and Khazanah a decade later.

While PNB remains largely Bumiputera although some of its unit trust funds are now open to all Malaysians, other Bumiputera trust agencies, including Khazanah, have lost their original character.

Let’s face it. Not all departing GLC managers are playing fair or are gentlemen. There are those who submitted resignation letters without stating the effective dates. There are those who said they would leave when their contracts expire.

The timing of resignation offer by the Khazanah board is also ominous. It coincides with the time when rating agencies are in town to interview their resource persons. Before this, Khazanah is known to be in their good books.

If the board’s claim that its role is supervisory and investment decisions are made by the management is true, then their en-bloc resignation shouldn’t leave a major impact on Khazanah’s operation.

I am told that Azman would stay on for a while and that his replacement has been identified.

As for Daim’s recent trip to China, the Foreign Minister had clarified and one former ambassador wrote saying it didn’t matter if the cat was black or white as long it caught the mouse.

Dr Mahathir had been sending Daim as his special envoy all over the world since 1981. If we read Dr Mahathir autobiography “Doctor in the House” we would have known that he had sent Daim as his negotiator as early as 1981 to USA to negotiate on tin and to UK to end the “buy British last” campaign.

He had also sent the former Finance Minister to Singapore, Philippines and Australia.

Who was with Dr Mahathir in the White House when he was invited by President Bill Clinton? Did any minister accompany Dr Mahathir then?

Only those who are new in politics and the media or don’t read will question why the PM sent Daim to China. Daim himself is a familiar face in Beijing.

This coming week Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, will come to Malaysia to meet Dr Mahathir and arrange the Prime Minister’s visit to China next month. According to the programme, Daim will host a dinner for the Chinese dignitary.

The CEP’s main task is to collect information on the activities of GLCs and other government agencies during the kleptocratic reign of Mohd Najib, analyze them and present their findings to the Prime Minister. It is up to the Prime Minister and his cabinet to decide what to do with the findings.

The strong message here is this: The costly mistakes and conspiracies of the past should not and would not be repeated.

The cabinet runs the country. The suggestion that there is a contest for power and differences of opinions between the government and the CEP is the work of the ignorant and the foul-minded.

Personally I think the glory stories of outright cheating, corruption, breach of trust, abuse of power and the neglect of fiduciary duty should all be investigated by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Agency, the police, the Parliamentary Account Committee and the Auditor General.

The people have the right to know and receive restitution in the form of a better government, sustainable economy and fair wealth distribution.

This is what we want for Malaysia Baru – the New Malaysia.

Wallahuaklam. – A Kadir Jasin

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