PM’s TV Interview: A Review
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ALTHOUGH the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s interview with TV3 on Aug. 7 was conducted in Bahasa Malaysia, the English summary in The Star is probably the easiest to understand.
So, I am taking the liberty to comment on his highly publicised TV appearance based on paper’s rendition with occasional reference to Utusan Malaysia.
The Star page one highlights, classified the PM’s response into the following sub-heads: accusation of corruption against him, Khairy’s influence and political activities, Kamaluddin (business activities), on Dr Mahahtir, Singapore’s companies in Malaysia, Proton and the economy.
The mainstream newspapers headlined the following day that the PM had answered all the questions raised. Did he? Whether he did or did not, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Seri Radzi Sheikh Ahmad, said (Utusan Aug. 10), that the PM would continue explaining.
Accusations of corruption against him
The PM described them as lies and challenged his accusers to provide proof.
Were there allegations of corruption against the PM? Not that I heard of. What was said was corruption was more prevalent and happened more openly under the current administration.
But the former Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, said in an interview published by the Malaysiakini Internet newspaper on Aug. 7 that he had information about government corruption, which if he revealed would land him in jail.
“I will continue asking for answers from the current government, because if I reveal information, I would be charged with revealing state secrets under the Official Secrets Acts,” he said.
Under the Malaysian law, abusing one’s power is an act of corruption. So, if someone powerful is proven to have used his position to influence a decision that has bearing on the public or for his own benefit, that act can constitute corruption. Even not carrying out duties and responsibilities as dictated by law can be interpreted as abusing one’s power.
Take for instance Khairy’s highly controversial purchase of ECM Libra shares and the subsequent merger of that company with the government-owned Avenue Capital Resources Berhad.
Whether on the issue of insider trading or the controversial valuation of Avenue Capital vis-à-vis ECM Libra, the final authority was that of the Minister of Finance who happens to be the PM.
(I had anticipated something like this to happen. So, early in Abdullah’s administration I wrote in the Malaysian Business magazine that the PM should not hold the Finance Ministry post for too long).
As had been widely discussed, Khairy’s ECM Libra purchase could have breached the insider-trading rule because at the point of the purchase he was a key official of the company and he bought the shares at the time when their prices were low.
Soon after that the ECM Libra-Avenue Capital deal was announced, share prices of both counters went up. Share prices of these counters had seen been adjusted to reflect their enlarged capital.
But it was widely reported that Abdullah denied any involvement in the merger exercise, which, at least technically is wrong, because the deal could not have gone through without the approval of the Finance Ministry.
So who made the final decision? Was the PM as Finance Minister not informed? Or could it be that the PM forgot that he approved the deal?
The PM denied that Khairy had any influence over him or that the son-in-law had hijacked any government project.
It’s a question of semantics. To agree with the PM that Khairy has no influence on him whatsoever is to conclude the extreme – that their long relationship has been nothing but a dismal failure.
But this could not have been the case. Otherwise how do we explain the PM’s continued sensitivity about Khairy? How do we explain Khairy’s wooing of his daughter and their subsequent marriage?
How do we explain Khairy’s meteoric rise in politics and business? How do we explain Khairy’s “clear and present” influence on Government-Linked Companies, Government-controlled media organizations and Umno-owned newspapers and TV stations?
In the latter case, look at how reporters, photographers, cameramen and editors recorded, commented and praised Khairy’s every move for the front pages of their newspapers and prime time TV news?
And for the record, Khairy and his wife moved into Sri Perdana soon after the death of his mother-in-law to keep the PM company.
I think this Khairy specter will be less taxing on all of us, especially the PM, if we recognise that he’s not a bad at what he’s doing.
The problem started when the weaker beings, including those in Umno and the Umno-controlled media, started to treat him as special because he is an Oxford graduate, former Special Officer to Abdullah and most intriguingly as the Prime Minister’s son-in-law.
My sin is I hang around this God forsaken job a bit too long. In that space of time I saw many young, ambitious and highly qualified pedigreed people came into the political scene like thunder and disappeared like tumbleweed in the desert wind.
These are people who thought political ascendancy as being the product of birth, marriages and contacts in high places.
I have always maintained that those who won uncontested cannot claim full legitimacy to their posts, and, sooner or latter, will have to fight out in the open.
Way back in 1999, I allowed to be published in the New Sunday Times an article by commentator Askiah Adam, that described the Umno Supreme Council’s decision to disallow contest for the post of President and Deputy President as dereliction of duty.
Well, it was one of those more costly “publish and be damned” decisions that I had made. I paid the price.
On Khairy’s political activities
The PM said it was Umno Youth chief Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein who insisted that Khairy contest the deputy chief post.
Does the PM want us to believe that Khairy is such a foolish and impressionable young man that he took on a very tough assignment because Hishammuddin insisted that he should do so?
Well, the PM may not be involved in charting the career path of his son-in-law, but when you are the son-in-law of the PM and were formally his Special Officer, and your political ambition is written all over, a lot of people want to help you along.
One such person is Hishammuddin. So he gave Khairy a nudge and a helping hand despite the fact that there were other more senior and more capable Umno Youth leaders like Mukhriz Mahathir (Tun Dr Mahathir’s son) and Azimi Daim (no relation to Tun Daim Zainuddin) that he could have backed.
I will not ask whether Hishammuddin approached the PM or not to inform him of his plan to put up Khairy as candidate for the post of deputy youth chief.
But Hishammuddin’s role was obviously known to the PM otherwise how could he tell his TV audience that “it was Hishammuddin who insisted that Khairy contest the deputy youth post.”
Given Khairy’s meteoric rise and the amount of respect (some say fear) he commands among the prostrating politicos, industry captains, civil servants and newspaper editors, it is difficult for the PM to make us believe that his son-in-law has no influence whatsoever on him, Umno, the mass media and Government.
Others are saying quiet the contrary. There are those ardent Khairy admirers and loyal followers who spoke of admiringly of his charisma and the commanding role he played in selecting Umno and BN candidates in the 2004 general elections.
Even Umno veterans and the PM’s old friends who called on him soon after the hugely successful 2004 general elections believed that Khairy was influential. They said PM spoke highly of his son-in-law’s role in that general elections.
On KamaluddinHis son had to do business overseas because he could not make a living in Malaysia.
This is contentious to say the least. While it may be true that Scomi Berhad’s has substantial business involvement abroad, the company’s domestically generated revenue is not, however, unsubstantial.
It would have spared us a great deal of unpleasantness had the moderator, Datuk Annuar Zaini, who is a long time Abdullah friend, reminded the PM that he was not totally correct on that point.
As has been pointed by many readers of this and other blogs, Scomi is the beneficiary of large government-related contracts like RM1.5-billion drilling fluid contract from Petronas and its contractor and the three-year, RM49.12- million-a-year contract from TNB to transport coal. Even its foreign contracts are generally related to Petronas.
The Star today (Aug. 10) quoted Scomi’s CEOShag Hakim Zain as confirming Scomi’s involvement in the RM1.2-billion Penang monorail project.
On Dr Mahathir
The PM said he kept quiet because he did not want to quarrel with his predecessor in the newspapers.
That may be quite true. The PM may still maintain some elements of what Tun Musa Hitam called “elegant silence” over Dr Mahathir’s queries and allegations, but his Ministers and Menteris Besar had gone to the newspapers and everywhere else to call his predecessor and the man who put him where he is today all kinds of names – anything from senile to grandfather and destroyer of the party.
But the Utusan Malaysia, in its front-page excerpt, has this rather intriguing quotation from the PM: “Saya tak tahu … kalau dia tuduh saya korup, polis ada, beritahu sahaja. Tapi mengapa? Ertinya dia tidak ikhlas. Mungkin saya boleh kata dia jahat.”
(Datuk Khalid Mohamad [Utusan Melayu Group Editor-in-Chief] could Saudara please enlighten me on this!)
On Singapore companies in Malaysia
The PM said it shows that they have confidence in the Malaysian economy, and no local company has been taken over by them.
Again, it would have been hugely helpful had the moderator cautioned the PM that when a shareholder controls 30 per cent or more of a company, he technically owns that company.
Parkway owns more than 30 per cent of Pantai Holdings Berhad’s shares and has management control of the company. Two key assets of Pantai are the privatised Fomema and Pandai Medivest hospital services are now in Singapore’s hand.
I agree with the PM that Singapore companies have confidence in our economy. But Singapore companies are buying strategic blocks in GLCs and large local corporations not because of confidence alone. The sad fact is the prices of shares on Bursa Malaysia are very cheap these days. So it’s foolish for Singapore investors not to buy.
That’s also the reason why unit trust investors, including those who bought using their EPF savings, are suffering big losses. Bursa Malaysia is under performing compared to other regional bourses.
The PM will not allow Proton to fail, as it is a national company.
The core issue is not so much whether the Government will allow Proton to fail or not. The issue is the 1-Euro sale of MV Agusta and, the huge losses it caused and the bidding process or the absece of it.
On the economy
The PM said the national deficit had been reduced, and at the same time, the economy was still growing.
That’s fine. The policy of progressively reducing budget deficit was adopted during Dr Mahathir’s time. What Abdullah did was to accelerate its pace.
But try to explain that to the ordinary voters and taxpayers who have to pay more for petrol, diesel, cooking gas, electricity, water, local government rates and more.
Yes, the economy might “still” be growing. But for how long, at what pace and who are benefiting from it? The rakyat may not understand this, but they are feeling its negative effects.