By Din Merican
In his recent testimony before the Haidar Commission, gaming magnate, Tan Sri Vincent Tan, commented on his links to the former Malaysian Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad. He said that he and the Tun met in the early 1980s when he brought the McDonald franchise to Malaysia. Initially, this friendship was strictly professional. He then acknowledged that “I owe whatever success I have in business to him…He was the Prime Minister of the country for a long time. He is a very powerful man.I don’t want to go around claiming he’s my good friend. But I’m very pleased that he said I’m an old friend”.
In my capacity as Director of Corporate Affairs and Planning, Sime Darby Group, I travelled to Seoul with Tan Sri Vincent Tan when, as part of the Malaysian business delegation, we accompanied the then Prime Minister, Dato Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad, on his official visit to South Korea (in 1986). Tan Sri Vincent was then a young businessman and an emerging entrepreneur. We chatted about Ray Kroc, the man behind the McDonald empire and how hard he worked to convince Ray to give him the franchise for Malaysia.
I wanted to know what Ray was like, having read about the man and his concept of business. Ray was a hands-on manager with a passion for service quality and a stickler for cleanlinesss. I remember, Tan Sri Vincent mentioning to me that he had to attend a programme at the Hamburger University to learn the art of making burgers and the McDonald business culture and model before Ray was convinced that he was their man for Malaysia. I admired him for his capacity for hard work and his business acumen, and entrepreneurial skills. He was also an excellent networker with an engaging personality. But I was shocked to learn from listening last year (September, 2007) to the now famous “Correct, Correct and Correct” Lingam video clip that his name was mentioned together Tunku Adnan.
I am still too embarassed to admit that I was naive then in thinking that business was very straightforward with a strong orientation towards maximising shareholder value. I was trained in an American Business School to look at business as a stream of future cash flows—the further one goes into the future the riskier the cashflows— and one had to make one’s decisions on the basis of the maximum total expected value of these cashflows which are determined by a certain discount rate. But in the real world, business is more complex than what I had learnt from my professors. Politics gets in the way of one’s decisions and more often than not managers are forced to learn the art of taking care (greasing) of politicians, their cronies and top civil servants, and other functionaries.
January 31, 2008
Since posting this piece, I was severely criticised by a respected entrepreneur—also a close friend— for being too kind to Vincent Tan and Tun Mahathir. I told him that I had expected my readers to read between the lines.
A Muslim leader should not condone gambling and other forms of gaming, he added. My friend made it plainly clear to me that Tun Mahathir gave Vincent Tan a licence to print money. His gaming company kept Vincent out of financial trouble all these years, and that is the real reason why the friendship between the two men is enduring!! Tun Mahathir had given licences to others, including a virtual monopoly over our air waves plus licence to run a lottery to an Indian billionaire businessman.
I will state clearly that the fixing of judicial appointments and judicial decisions is just unacceptable anywhere in the world, and those who had a hand in this should be severely dealt with, irrespective of their status or rank. I assume, the true purpose of a Royal Commission is to get at the truth, nothing but the truth. I will, therefore, hold Commissioner Datuk Mahadev Shanker to his words: “The only hands we have here are the hands that God has given us. These are the hands, together with other skills which have been divinely provided, which we will use in this inquiry.” (seee page 8, The New Straits Times, January 31, 2008).
Well said, Datuk Shanker. I agree, since we are all God’s creations. Even our political leaders and administrators have divinely designed hands. But I wonder what they have been doing with their hands over the last 50 years. Some of them have put their hands in the national till, and continue to do so with impunity. Huge commissions—almost RM1 billion— have been earned, for example, by a senior Minister from the purchase of two French built submarines and a fleet of Russian made fighter jets. He used his God given hands to sign those deals.
Now the state of Malaysia is rotten. Corruption is rampant; our judiciary is severely compromised and in urgent need of root and branch reform; our civil service is dysfunctional because those in charge have become politicians; our country is lagging behind other nation states in the region because our leaders are playing politics with our economy and public administration; our universities are of poor quality because there is no academic freedom and our professors have become cheerleaders and “kaki ampus” of the Government in power and, finally, Malaysians are divided along ethnic and religious lines and we are being led by an inept Prime Minister who has overstayed his welcome.
As a private citizen, I have the right to state that I am dissatisfied with the way the Haidar Commission handled the hearings. Key witnesses were not called to give evidence. Anwar Ibrahim and lawyer Mohamad Shafee Abdullah, for example, were denied their day at the hearings while the others appeared in camera. The public right to know is being suppressed. —Din Merican