Corporate sector, big business in Mahathir’s grip, says economist

Edmund Terence Gomez calls Dr Mahathir Mohamad the ‘de facto finance minister’.

KUALA LUMPUR: A prominent economist says Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has a strong grip on the corporate sector following what he called were “covert” reconfigurations after the change of government last year.

Edmund Terence Gomez also called for greater transparency and accountability on government-linked companies (GLCs), citing promises made in the Pakatan Harapan (PH) manifesto.

Presenting a report on GLCs prepared by the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS), of which he is a senior fellow, Gomez said the number of GLCs under the finance ministry had reduced significantly after many were moved under the Prime Minister’s Department.

“Although Lim Guan Eng of DAP was appointed finance minister, effective control of key government enterprises under its jurisdiction, including the sovereign wealth fund Khazanah Nasional and the leading Bumiputera-based investment fund Permodalan Nasional Berhad (PNB) were transferred to Mahathir’s Prime Minister’s Department,” the report said.

He said the economic affairs, rural development and entrepreneur development ministries – which he said are led by ministers allied to Mahathir – have been critical in ensuring the prime minister’s grip on the corporate sector.

“These ministries are led by PPBM members Rina Harun and Redzuan Yusof, and Azmin Ali who is a close ally of Mahathir’s.

“The Prime Minister’s Department controls big businesses. The Ministry of Economic Affairs controls Bumiputera GLCs.

“The Ministry of Rural Development controls statutory bodies, giving them significant influence in rural areas, and the Ministry of Entrepreneur Development controls the small medium enterprises (SME) industry.

“The entire corporate sector is under control of PPBM, and with Azmin,” said Gomez, who also called Mahathir the “de facto finance minister”.

Gomez said Lim was just the figurehead of a “dismembered” finance ministry, adding that his ministry was more of a regulator for government spending.

He also pointed out that several political appointments had been made in GLCs under the rural development ministry, with up to eight representatives from PPBM, PKR and Amanah given director roles.

“PPBM is doing exactly what Umno did. They’re using the same system, they’re playing the same patronage games.

“And they’re giving directorships to people who lost to keep them loyal to the party. In other words, there’s no change to the system. It’s a reinforcement of the system, in fact,” he said.

“Is this the reconfiguration we wanted to see? This is a power reconfiguration. The same system abused by politicians is being abused by the current government. Now you know why they don’t want to make changes in the GLC world. It’s too important.”

He said GLCs should be placed under parliamentary select committees, adding that ultimately it has more to do about control than about professionals on board.

“You can appoint professionals, but ultimately are they really fully in charge or do they take the cue from the prime minister?

“I don’t think they have the autonomy. It’s these kinds of things we want to address,” he said, citing Mahathir’s self-appointment as Khazanah’s chairman.