Isa Samad’s nomination in PD sends all the wrong signals

The Port Dickson by-election was flawed from the start. The rakyat acknowledges the contributions of PKR’s Anwar Ibrahim in starting the Reformasi movement, but to engineer a by-election so that he can become an MP leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

The resignation of the incumbent MP, rear admiral Danyal Balagopal Abdullah, and the nomination of the scandal-ridden former Felda chairman and former menteri besar, Isa Samad, adds to the unease surrounding the situation.

Isa’s candidacy at a time when Malaysia is desperate for politicians with integrity is wrong.

On June 24, 2005, he was suspended for six years over money politics in the 2004 Umno election. This was later reduced to three years.

His selection for the Bagan Pinang state by-election in 2009 was criticised by Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who feared that Umno’s image would be tainted and the rakyat would think that the party was reluctant to deal with corruption. He said: “Isa has already been found guilty. If Umno-Baru fields him, it means that Umno-Baru is not serious about such cases. Even if he can win there, (we) have to consider what the whole of Malaysia thinks of Umno-Baru.”

In 2011, meanwhile, when former prime minister Najib Razak appointed Isa as chairman of Felda, a concerned Lim Lip Eng, who was Segambut MP at the time, asked if his appointment had caused jitters in the stock market. He also said Isa would damage Felda’s reputation.

Najib dismissed Lim’s concerns and, in a written reply, justified Isa’s appointment. He listed Isa’s track record and expertise in administration, management and leadership, as well as his strong rapport with the Felda settlers.

Prominent Malaysians in the corporate world also criticised Isa’s chairmanship. Former Maybank Investment CEO Tengku Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz said having an ex-politician as chairman would “send the wrong signals”.

Meanwhile the late Zainal Aznam Mohd Yusof, who was a National Economic Advisory Council member and helped prepare the country’s second, fourth and fifth Malaysia Plans, said Isa’s known corruption and subsequent appointment as chairman was a “sad day for Felda”.

He urged the government to adopt real reforms and impose a blanket ban on the appointment of politicians from any party to head Felda and other GLCs. He said: “Power corrupts, so the basic assumption is that (politicians) are stigmatised as corrupt.”

Former tourism, arts and culture minister Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir said Isa’s appointment would go against the objectives of the founding fathers of Malaysia. He said: “Corruption is everywhere… you have to bribe people to get things done. Cronyism is everywhere.”

Today, investigations have shown that Isa was instrumental in Felda’s losses of hundreds of millions of ringgit. He was arrested by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) last July. Have the investigations stalled? Why has he not been charged?

Perhaps the last word on the destruction of Felda and the inadvisability of fielding Isa in the Port Dickson by-election should rest with Kalsom Taib Andak, the daughter of the first Malaysian chairman of Felda.

Taib was handpicked by Malaysia’s second prime minister, Abdul Razak Hussein, to helm Felda after the British incumbent left. As a young girl, Kalsom often accompanied her father to meet the settlers and watch their progress, their assimilation into their new roles and their eventual success as farmers and landowners.

Kalsom said: “What do you think Razak and Taib would say about the scandals rocking Felda if they were alive today? Once internationally hailed as a successful example of rural poverty eradication in a third-world country, Felda has gained a reputation for shady land deals, bad business decisions and leadership tussles.

“Last year will be remembered as Felda’s year – for all the wrong reasons. There was not one scandal, but several. The public was treated to a buffet of revelations of fraud, abuse of power and impropriety at Felda. We were informed of alleged wrongdoings in Felda which lost millions of ringgit because of mismanagement, bad business decisions, corruption and power abuse.

“Felda strayed from its core origins and diversified into activities which are far removed from its core agricultural origins. They ventured into businesses with which they were not familiar.”

Kalsom added: “I feel very sad for the Felda settlers. Felda lost millions of ringgit, and this money should have been given back to the settlers and their families.

“An organisation that Malaysians were once proud of has been reduced to one that is plagued by scandals. Kesian orang-orang Felda.”

Kalsom is right to be furious. Although not convicted of any crime yet, Isa is an unsuitable parliamentary candidate.

List of scandals:

  1. Invested RM1 billion in the US and Canada, and lost RM27.6 million in 2012.
  2. Bought Borneo Hotel in Sabah for RM86.4 million in June 2013, at a questionable price. (source: borneotoday.net)
  3. Bought shares in Pontian United Plantation Berhad for RM1.2 billion in July 2013, above market price. (source: thesundaily.my)
  4. Bought Grand Plaza Service Apartments in London for RM495 million in October 2013 when the market price was RM408 million, as reported by Savills & Knight. (source: the edgemarkets.com)
  5. In November 2015, the Auditor-General’s Report exposed the loss of RM47.6 million by Felda in a sturgeon breeding project. Felda had invested RM146.25 million in the sturgeon breeding project in Pahang.
  6. Felda Wellness invested in a bio-pharmaceuticals company in Australia. The company made a net loss of RM81.04 million for the year ending December 2015.
  7. The transfer of Felda land ownership in Jalan Semarak. We are informed that the case has been resolved, but only after a huge outcry from the public.

Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.