In defence of Mukhriz

The involvement of Opcom Holdings and the rumoured links of Mukhriz Mahathir in the RM21 billion National Fiberisation and Connectivity Plan (NFCP) has generated so much speculation.

I wanted to know the truth, and so I took the trouble to scrutinise public documents of Opcom to determine the facts.

Mukhriz has held various posts in several business firms, including Opcom. He was also the executive director of the Perdana Peace Global Organisation, and chairman of Malaysian cancer vaccine company, Bioven.

In 2004, he was elected to Umno Youth’s executive council with the highest number of votes.

In 2008, he won the Jerlun parliamentary seat. The next year, Najib Razak appointed him as the deputy minister for international trade.

In 2013, he won the Ayer Hitam state seat, and was appointed as the Kedah menteri besar.

But in 2016, he was unceremoniously removed as MB for being critical of Najib over his 1MDB fiasco, alongside Muhyiddin Yassin and Shafie Apdal. Now, he is back as MB.

As a businessman in his early days, Mukhriz was doing fine and making his name as a corporate leader. But after becoming a politician, he remains largely in the shadows of his father.

Let us look if criticisms levelled against Mukhriz in relation to his business involvement in Opcom are justified.

Is there evidence of impropriety, lack of transparency, abuse of power and breach of trust in the said transactions?

Now the standards set are no longer like those of the kleptocratic days of old, but must be compliant with the standards under the new narratives of Malaysia Baru.

Share prices in Opcom have spiked in expectation that the company would benefit from the National Fiberisation and Connectivity Plan (NFCP), involving RM21.6 billion, to lay optical fibre cables across the country for Internet connections at much faster speed.

It was alleged that the finance minister and mainstream media together had suspiciously collaborated to create the false impression that the government is spending such an amount.

Mukhriz, a co-founder of the company, owns a substantial number of its shares. On Sept 6, the share price spiked in volatile trading, from 45 sen to 65 sen.

Mukhriz resigned as the company’s president in 2009. Co-founder Chhoa Kwang Hua is the company’s deputy CEO, while elder brother Mokhzani was chairman until the end of May.

The most recent Opcom filing with Bursa Malaysia on Sept 3 shows Mukhriz holding 31.9 million shares, or a 19.8% stake. Mukhriz’s critics are accusing him of making a quick buck through share disposals after Aug 28.

However it must also be noted that he has been steadily disposing off his shares since January, long before the announcement of the NFCP.

Further, the following arguments could be raised in defence against any allegations of impropriety by Mukhriz in the Opcom controversy.

It is not right, in the absence of incontrovertible evidence to presume that Mukhriz was involved or had influence in the decision-making at the Ministry of Finance over the NFCP, the good news and coverage by the media that followed, and the ensuing spike in price of Opcom shares.

The original listing price paid by Mukhriz when Opcom first went public in 2013 was 80 sen The record shows that he borrowed heavily from the banks to finance the purchase of the said shares.

He and his partners built the plant at Shah Alam and it was said that they had tough times in the beginning. It was not plain sailing as they had to work hard to make it a success.

So for him to sell now at 70 sen per share cannot be seen as profiting.

Opcom started manufacturing fibre optic cables as an import substitute. Before that, all of fibre cables deployed by Telekom Malaysia were imported.

Since then, Opcom has enjoyed considerable success in the country, had good track record with MCMC and Telekom Malaysia. It is understandable that the market would presume that they would stand to benefit from the NFCP.

With or without Mukhriz, the good fortunes experienced by Opcom is expected to be the same.

NFCP is long overdue, it is time to bring it to the next level.

It is not MCMC that would be purchasing the fibre optics but the telcos that would be carrying out the contract works with the government in laying the fibre optics nationwide.

There has been competition from other local manufacturers for over 20 years. It would appear that any contracts Opcom gets are from competitive tenders which it wins on merit.

The Opcom share sale by Mukhriz to the market is on a willing buyer-willing seller basis with no element of pressure or undue influence exerted on the buyers to buy the shares.

Given the circumstances and facts of the case, it would appear that Mukhriz is not as blameworthy as he was made out to be by some quarters.

His acts and conduct are perfectly reasonable. It is perfectly legal and in accordance with business practice for a man holding an asset to dispose part of it to take advantage of favourable stock market conditions and take profit on account of good market sentiments.

After all he has been disposing parts of the assets over a considerable time before this to show that this is not a concerted manipulative effort, dependant on one transaction alone.