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Recycling top posts among politicians is wrong

 | June 21, 2017

In other countries, non-performing chairmen are sacked at the first sign of incompetence unlike in Malaysia where they are recycled into other roles.

COMMENT

isa-samad-fgv-spadWhat would Abdul Razak Hussein, Malaysia’s second prime-minister and the man who is often credited with initiating the Federal Land Development Agency (Felda), think about the scandals rocking it, if he were alive today?

What started off as a credible plan, to resettle the rural poor so farmers could grow cash crops, has now diversified into activities far removed from its core agricultural origins. Through its subsidiary, Felda Global Ventures (FGV), Felda has stakes in mining, banks and hotels.

Property was acquired in London, and turned into hotels and student apartments. Will Felda settlers, who visit London, be able to stay in these hotels and apartments, and obtain accommodation at a discounted rate?

Why weren’t the millions of ringgit ploughed back into finding cures for fungal strains which affect palm oil trees? Why wasn’t the money used to improve palm oil yields? If we are not careful, Indonesia will soon overtake us in global oil palm production, if they have not already.

If there is one thing Malaysian leaders are good at, it is in playing musical chairs. We recycle former senior Umno-Baru politicians and officials, into top GLC posts, instead of injecting younger, more dynamic talent, into these important roles. We have enough capable people, with the necessary skills and expertise, so why should we continue to mix politics with business?

Ever since his appointment as Felda chairman in 2011, Isa Samad has not stopped courting controversy. When his term of office ended in Felda, he retained his post at FGV, but now, with the ongoing scandal, Isa has “volunteered” to leave FGV.

He has been made the new chairman of the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD).

Retaining these old political hands may make good political sense, but for the settlers and the rakyat, who will be forced to bail-out these GLCs when things go wrong, it does not make good economic sense.

Under Isa’s leadership, losses were sustained at FGV and Felda, so why should he be allowed to now helm SPAD?

Prime Minister Najib Razak once praised Isa for his expertise in administration, management, leadership and for the good ties he enjoyed with the people. He may have good networking skills with the kampung folk, but that does not make him a brilliant chairman.

The losses sustained by both Felda and FGV are testament to that, but Isa was retained, nevertheless. In other parts of the world, non-performing chairmen would have been sacked at the first sign of incompetence. They would not be recycled into other roles.

Najib should have taken the cue from the jitters in the stock market, caused by Isa’s appointment. Even former PM, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, criticised Isa for bringing Umno-Baru into disrepute when Isa was found guilty of money-politics and suspended, for six years, in 2005.

Najib however dug-in his heels and brushed aside allegations linking Isa’s appointment with the jitters.

At the time, even Maybank Investment chief executive officer, Tengku Zafrul Aziz Tengku Abdul Aziz, weighed in and said, “There have been many GLCs that have ex-politicians appointed as chairmen, but Felda is a rare case where the market is concerned with such an appointment. It sends the wrong signals.”

The late Dr Zainal Aznam Mohd Yusof, who played major roles in the Second, Fourth and Fifth Malaysia Plans, and was a National Economic Advisory Council member, said that Isa’s track record of graft tarnished Felda’s solid reputation.

He said that real reform could only be reached when there was a blanket ban on the appointment of politicians to head GLCs. Suggesting that no politicians should be appointed, no matter which political divide they were from, he added, “Power corrupts, so the basic assumption is that (politicians) are stigmatised as corrupt.”

SPAD will soon oversee the RM55 billion East Coast Rail Line project, the KL-Singapore High-Speed Rail (RM60 billion), MRT Line (RM28 billion) and MRT Circle Line (RM20 billion).

The appointment of Isa into SPAD is rather risky, especially as his track record is abysmal.

Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.

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