BETONG: Sarawak Chief Minister Abang Johari Openg took a swipe at Pakatan Harapan chairman Dr Mahathir Mohamad here yesterday over the issue of local banks in the state.
Although he did not mention Mahathir by name, Abang Johari said it was during his time that Sarawakians were robbed of their local banks through mergers which caused them to be swallowed up by banks in the peninsula.
“He allowed only five banks to operate in Malaysia. Bank Utama was swallowed, Hock Hua Bank was swallowed, Kwong Lee Bank was swallowed, all Sarawak banks were swallowed – in the end, we no longer had any banks,” he said at an official event.
He said he wished to make it clear that he was not badmouthing anyone, only reminding the people so that history would not repeat itself.
As prime minister, Mahathir had ordered the merger of banks in the late 1990s.
According to “A Note on the 1999-2002 Malaysian Banking Consolidation” written by Rubi Ahmad of Universiti Malaya, guided mergers are widely accepted by Malaysian and other Asian policymakers as a strategy to resolve banking problems.
In the case of Malaysia, the initiative came from the government and its regulatory agencies in the aftermath of the 1997 Asian financial crisis.
In Sarawak, several finance companies were also ordered to merge. Delta Finance, which was the pride of the Sibu Foochow community, was also swallowed up.
Wah Tat Bank and Chew Geok Ling Finance, founded by the Hokkien Chew family, also from Sibu, were also merged with other groups in the peninsula.
The commercial banks and finance companies, though small, were long-established institutions set up by the early Chinese banking pioneers in Sarawak.
Their children and grandchildren still find it difficult to forgive Mahathir for forcing the closure of their families’ legacies.
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