Utusan shutdown partly due to PH govt freezing accounts, says Umno

A Utusan Malaysia worker leaving with her belongings after the company ceased operations today.

KUALA LUMPUR: Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi says the Pakatan Harapan(PH) government is partly to blame for the closure of Utusan Melayu (Malaysia) Bhd’s operations after it was announced that they will cease operations for all four of its main publications, including their Sunday editions, from today.

While sympathising with Utusan staff who lost their jobs, Zahid said Putrajaya’s “cruelty” in freezing Umno’s accounts made them unable to offer financial assistance to the media company.

“What has happened and the misfortune that has befallen Utusan workers is very sad, not only for Utusan staff but also for the public, particularly readers.

“This is because Umno’s own accounts, which had been used to give financial help to Utusan, could not be used to do that any more as the party’s accounts have been frozen.

“So it’s partly because of the current government’s cruelty as they have frozen the accounts,” he told reporters outside the Dewan Rakyat today.

Zahid added that Umno will leave the future of the media company to the new management and new shareholders.

On Monday, Utusan said it would sell a 70% stake in Dilof Sdn Bhd to Aurora Mulia Sdn Bhd, a major stakeholder of Media Prima, to ensure that the 80-year-old Utusan and 15-year-old Kosmo! could continue operations.

However, it was announced earlier today that they would be ceasing all operations from today onwards, leaving around 800 staff jobless.

Umno secretary-general Annuar Musa said the party will not be intervening in the closure as it was a business decision made by the board members.

He added that Umno had no say on board decisions as the party only holds a small share in Utusan.

“Personally, of course, it would be unfortunate if the printing of Utusan were to end.

“Utusan has been around even before independence and it played a role in promoting nationalism and fighting for independence.

A staff member of Utusan Malaysia gets ready to leave with his possessions.

“Its history is long but we cannot be nostalgic in business. It had to make a business decision and we have to respect that,” he said when met by reporters outside the Dewan Rakyat today.

Meanwhile, in a Twitter posting, PKR president Anwar Ibrahim expressed sympathy for Utusan staff who had lost their jobs after they were informed of the closure this morning.

Anwar said he hoped other media agencies would be willing to hire them to ensure they can continue to provide for themselves.

Human Resources Minister M Kula Segaran said earlier that Utusan staff who lost their jobs can apply for the Employment Insurance System (EIS) under Perkeso.

With the programme, Kula said workers can receive some form of income for six months with a payment of up to 80% of their salary for the first month.

He said in that six months, they can then look for jobs and go for upskilling courses covered by the EIS if they are willing.

Utusan was the country’s oldest Malay language daily, starting as a Jawi daily in Singapore in 1939.

At its height, the company employed 2,000 people, including some 500 editorial staff, although it announced several restructuring measures following the change of government in May 2018.

The paper was often criticised for its uncomplimentary coverage of opposition leaders during the Barisan Nasional rule.