PETALING JAYA: The finance ministry recently confirmed that the country’s treasurer-general Mohd Irwan Serigar Abdullah is on the board of at least 20 government entities and government-linked companies (GLCs).
This has raised all sorts of questions, including if Irwan would be able to play his multifaceted roles effectively.
Another issue worth highlighting, as Seputeh MP Teresa Kok posed in her parliamentary question to the finance ministry in the Dewan Rakyat last week, was how much is Irwan being paid.
According to a high-ranking officer in a GLC, who spoke to FMT on condition of anonymity, a non-executive director doesn’t usually receive a fixed salary.
They do however, receive monthly renumeration and allowances for among other things, the meetings they participate in, which usually take place every two or three months, said the officer.
The finance ministry did not reveal the amount paid to Irwan, but said that the payment is “in line with the responsibility and risk undertaken (by him) as a director”.
Kok, however, told FMT that some GLCs provide meeting allowances of up to RM3,000 per attendance.
DAP’s national publicity secretary Tony Pua on the other hand, said Irwan should be the one to disclose how much he is making from these directorships.
Though in principle, “if his position as a treasurer-general requires him to sit on the Board of the GLCs, then he should not be collecting fees from these companies”, Pua told FMT.
’20 is just too many’
While most people have no problem multi-tasking, some may say that taking on so much responsibility would stretch a person too thin.
“How can a person hold so many director posts? Being a secretary-general in a ministry he is already so busy. So how can he play his director’s role effectively in so many GLCs?” Kok asked.
Ramon Navaratnam who served in the Treasury for nearly 30 years, expressed the same views.
He said 20 directorships are “just too many” and this, can ultimately affect Irwan’s ability to spend quality time and give sufficient attention to the issues brought to him.
“There should be a limit imposed for someone like the finance ministry secretary-general, who is fully involved in all government matters that have financial and economic implications.
“Which means the whole system,” he said to FMT.
Irwan was appointed as 1MDB chairman in May 2016. A year later he was made the head of Bandar Malaysia Sdn Bhd and TRX City Sdn Bhd, which are two of state-owned 1MDB’s ongoing projects.
On top of that, Irwan is the chairman of Retirement Fund Inc (KWAP) and the Inland Revenue Board. He also sits on the board of directors in Petronas, Khazanah Nasional, Lembaga Tabung Haji, Bank Negara Malaysia, as well as Malaysian Airline System Berhad (MAS), among others.
But with the troubles some of these companies are already in, placing a man with too many responsibilities at the very top of a score of decision-making committees may not be a wise decision.
Navaratnam agreed, and said the government’s failure to delegate is the reason for its major problems and leakages.
“There is inadequate scrutiny and supervision. And we’ve had many big elephants in the room on this matter, such as 1MDB.”
No checks and balances
Pua, who is also Petaling Jaya Utara MP, said the same.
“The bigger problem is the fact that these directorships are often treated as a cushy opportunity to collect easy fees as extra income.
“While I sat in the Public Accounts Committee since 2008, we have reviewed so many ministry officials in these GLCs who failed to perform any checks and balance in the board, to ensure that the government’s funds are properly utilised.”
The practice of placing politicians at the head of a GLC or government agency is not unusual with the ruling Barisan Nasional government.
These include among many others, Umno’s Baling MP Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim who is the chairman of Lembaga Tabung Haji, Johor Bharu MP Shahrir Samad as chairman of Felda, and Lenggong MP Shamsul Anuar Nasarah, who is chairman of the National Higher Education Fund Corporation (PTPTN).
But with politicians helming the GLCs, the government may find it difficult to sincerely claim that it has practised good governance.
This is especially when one of the key elements to any successful administration is transparency.
“It will only be good governance if the officers appointed as directors perform their functions dutifully,” Pua said.