The ‘guardians’ have betrayed the nation’s trust

May 31, 2015

MY COMMENT: There is a Malay saying that describes most aptly what is happening in Malaysia today under the Najib administration. It  goes like this: Harapkan Pagar, Pagar Makan Padi ( literally it means in English, depend on the gatekeeper, the gatekeeper steals the rice). Yes, Najib and his Cabinet as gatekeepers and their officials have betrayed us.

We all have spent countless hours on this blog discussing the need to protect this intangible capital called TRUST that underpins personal and social relationships, business and public administration and the need for our government to be open, transparent and accountable; we  emphasized the importance of sound management of our economy and fiscal responsibility; we comment on corruption, fiduciary duty of company directors and public officials.

We raised  concerns about our ballooning national debt  now close to RM600 billion (and that does not  include private sector and household debt), and the Malay economy. We have warned the recalcitrant Prime Minister cum Finance Minister that Malaysia is in a financial crisis. This crazy debt financed spending which is justified as being good for sustained economic economic growth must stop if we are to avoid joining Greece which has difficulties in paying its creditors including the IMF.

The 1MDB financial scandal involving debt to the tune of RM42 billion by a single entity is already having a negative impact on public and investor confidence in the way the Najib administration manages our country’s finances and makes and executives public policy.

The ringgit has already taking its toll  against the US dollar on foreign exchange markets. This is because the Najib administration has consistently refused to explain what happened to the proceeds of the RM 42 billion and tell the truth.  Even our Auditor-General is taking his time to come out with his report.  The top managers of 1MDB too have acted irresponsibly by not turning up for a meeting with the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee to answer questions on 1MDB activities and financial accounts. The time is now to come clean on 1MDB and other matters, if you have nothing to hide. Don’t treat us Malaysians as dumb and stupid people.

I hope my readers around the world will read about what has been happening in Malaysia since 2009  when Najib Razak took over the reins of power as Prime Minister from an equally inept predecessor.

Don’t be taken in by the highly paid consultants and propagandists.If possible come and visit to the country and talk to civil society leaders and those outside officialdom. Yes, we have impressive skyscrapers and modern shopping centers but underneath all that is a nation without a soul  and compassion for the struggling middle class and the poor.

It is a sad reflection of the quality of Malay leadership right down the line. Added to the image of the Lazy Malay native is that of  a corrupt, unscrupulous and greedy plutocrat. May you learn from the Malaysian experience to know that rampant corruption, abuse of power and professional incompetence will destroy a nation and its moral and ethical foundations. We are not “a City Upon a Hill” but a nation deep down in  a coal pit   –Din Merican

The ‘guardians’ have betrayed the nation’s trust

 by Awang Puteh

The current polemic in this country, specifically on the ongoing saga relating to the financial affairs of a particular government-owned investment company and other trust agencies in Malaysia reminds me, to paraphrase what one western author wrote more than two centuries ago:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way–in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

The situation is clearly ruinous for our country. It affects not only the sentiment among the business community, but much worse, and more detrimental, is the negative repercussions on the psyche and motivation of the entire Malay community, young and old, in towns and in the kampungs, given that the scandal involves almost entirely Malay politicians and professionals, and sacrosanct Malay Muslim trust agencies.

It truly saddens me; the betrayal by these Malay professionals, who are the trustees for the community, have supremely failed to protect the interests of the community. It is unimaginable that they have the audacity to betray the trust of the poor Malays who painstakingly saved their hard earned savings with the sole aim of financing for their pilgrimage.

Regardless of the heavy hand of sinister influence and pressures assumed to be exerted by the gamut of players in the political world, these professionals’ first and only fiduciary responsibility is to exercise the duty of care in the best interest of their depositors and stakeholders. They are ultimately responsible to no one else but Allah and their community. That is the true measure of their mettle as Muslim professionals.

One is prompted to ask if these “guardians” have an ounce of morals? From their irresponsible acts, which are currently being uncovered and peeled like onions, they are akin to slowly driving nails into the Malay’s flesh. They are, in actual fact, traitors to this nation.

The money lost can be recovered, those assets that have been sold can be substituted, but the loss of trust and pride are priceless, and possibly will take a very long time to be redeemed.Worse, it has a negative and long-lasting impact on the future of the honest, educated, and hard-working, Bumiputra professionals and managers.

We have come a long way in developing Malay professionals and managers, but the ill-advised action of the select few has destroyed what we toiled so hard to achieve. The great men of yester years sacrificed and invested their sweat, tears, and blood to be successful, and to become a role model and inspiration to the poor and underprivileged Malays.

Ungku AzizThe Malay professional class was truly professional then; although the majority depended on the public sector, a sizable group managed to seek independence in the private sector, even outside the country working for major banks and corporations, as well as consultancies.

Lembaga Tabung Haji (LTH–The Pilgrims Fund Board) is a classic example. The idea of the establishment of the institution came from among the luminaries of Malay thinkers and intellectuals — a real hero — Royal Professor Ungku Aziz.

And the first Managing Director of the first board of management of LTH was the highly respected Kedah-born Malay professional Tan Sri Hanafiah Hussain who was the first Malay to become a chartered accountant, and the founder of the first Bumiputra accounting firm (Hanafiah Raslan and Mohamad).

They, and other Malay professionals then blazed the path for LTH to be not only one of the richest and profitable trust agencies in the country, but one of the most respected Haj institutions in the Muslim world.

The same goes for Permodalan Nasional Bhd. Its first chairman was another highly respected MalayGovernor Ismail Ali — the late Tun Ismail Ali, the first Malaysian to be appointed as Governor of Bank Negara Malaysia, and once the Executive Director of the World Bank in Washington D.C.

We had class, flair, and panache in those days.However, the current leadership of these institutions are nowhere near when measured against these great Malay professionals and managers. The current cohorts, albeit not all, are in reality, in full frankness, individuals sorely  ethical principles and devoid of moral convictions,wanting  in observance of tenets of good governance and selfless service to the nation. They have let us all down miserably. They are disgrace to the nation, and, in particular, to the Malays. Their meek rebuttal or justifications are an insult to the entire Malay community.

While it may be perfectly understandable and unsurprising about those acts pulled off by these politically-appointed individuals or pseudo-professionals, the blatant betrayal by the professionals in these now tainted institutions cannot be forgiven.

Arul, Lodin and NajibSeparation must be made between genuine and pseudo-professionals. The latter are not professionals but have been put to run these important, and sacred institutions, for none other than political reason. We have seen many government-linked investment companies, and government-linked companies, led by this kind of people, instead of real professionals. The former, while they are truly professionals, are sometimes no better, given their abject poverty in morals and ethics.

Professor Syed Husseib AlatasBecause of them, the entire Malay professionals are being seen as untrustworthy, incompetent, and a slave to their political masters. Their “bebalism” — or collective stupidity, as coined by another great Malay intellectual, Professor Syed Hussein Alatas, has grievously tarnished the reputation of their cohorts, and the younger generation. Kerana nila setitik rosak susu sebelanga.

To me, this is the worst outcome of the entire saga. Not the impact in terms of monetary or financial repercussions, but the long-term damaging psychological and sociological impact on Malays.

Is there any possibility of redemption left? Is there hope for the Malays? Yes, we can do two things to regain back the trust.

First, the entire top management and Board of these tainted institutions must resign, or be sacked immediately, and if any legal transgressions have been committed, they must be brought to justice. We should not have much sympathy for them.

Second, and with immediate effect, only those Malay professionals with high integrity and who are well credentialed, with demonstrated capability, hardworking, and honest, should be allowed to serve in the position of responsibility in these trust institutions.

Samad AliasNo politicians, no court-jesters, no shady characters, and definitely no inefficient and corrupt individuals should ever again be allowed to run these trust agencies. No two ways about it if we are serious to regain and re-build the trust and the confidence again. Importantly, the trustees of this nation and its institutions must not forget their amanah, and they must not betray the heavy trust reposed upon them, nor take advantage of their position.

It’s worth reminding what Sheik Haji Abdullah Fahim sagely said half a century ago: Jangan pula ada pemimpin kita mengaut kekayaaan di atas belakang rakyat…sesiapa yang berjuang dengan nama Allah dan berniat baik sentiasa dalam keredhaanNya, tetapi, sesiapa yang lupakan niat, khianat, dan tamak akan dimurkai Allah, akhirnya menjadi hina.

*Awang Puteh is a researcher for a major think tank.

19 thoughts on “The ‘guardians’ have betrayed the nation’s trust

  1. How do you clean house in all these trust agencies and Lembagas when the power to appoint rest with the Minister or PM and the appointees are all beholden to the political masters. Look at LUTH Chairman, a dubious character with dubious educational credentials and a background mired in so many scandals and questions. How did he end up as Chairman of LUTH in the first place? Is he educationally and professionally qualified? The same questions can be posed to the other members of the other trust agencies including Felda, Felcra, and etc etc. They are all political appointees, many are retired and rejected politicians that cant make a living outside of politics.

  2. “Second, and with immediate effect, only those Malay professionals with high integrity and who are well credentialled, with demonstrated capability, hardworking, and honest, should be allowed to serve in the position of responsibility in these trust institutions.”

    Mr. Merican, isn’t it time, that the race criteria for certain positions be rejected ? It’s this question of privilege that got the Malay community into this mess in the first place.

    Professionalism is never defined by race, so this idea that Malays should lead or that there are certain sectors that need to be safe guarded as within Malay purview needs to be abandoned.

    If we talk about “trust” and if this trust includes a racial component, than we are not really talking about trust anymore, are we ?

    I am all in favour of an open and level playing field where the best can emerge and compete. That is the only way I know we can benefit from our rich cultural heritage and diversity. Yet we must provide for those who drop out of the race with alternatives and take care of the intellectually disadvantaged, the handicap and the old with compassion.

    Let us all make character and merit as the criteria for all positions of high trust and responsibility supplemented by careful and through background checks.In addition, there must be a system of checks and balances in place. Those who deviate from the dictates of good governance and norms of public conduct must be made to promptly bear the full brunt of the law without exception. This will eradicate the “get rich quick and easy by whatever means” culture. The corrupt must receive punitive sentences to deter others. under a system of justice which is free from political interference. Who is the leader in Malaysia today with the political will of a Lee Kuan Yew. UMNO? No.

    Since we are already diseased and rotten, thanks to Mahathir and the lot after him, we must begin with the young at school where moral values and ethics should be taught. The education system must build inquiring and critical minds where asking why is the norm (chutzpah)

    Parents themselves have key role to play in creating a conducive learning evironment at home when dinner table discussions can take place. They must devote their attention to the intellectual development of their children and not leave that responsibility to house maids and teachers and they themselves must be good role models by their personal conduct and action.

    We have to start at the beginning to build a nation which rewards high work and grit, a sort of rugged individualistic society. That sounds like an election manifesto that will not get anyone elected in our country.–Din Merican

  3. Happy to read of the young Malays have come to realize the mess being created by the UMNO Regime. Even the young Royals beginning to speak up. I wonder if these plunders of the wealth of ou nation read good articles like this to realize what is happening today.I suppose many have no time to think the right way to administer our beloved country but to think selfishly on how to hijack country’s wealth. .

    What is Najib trying to prove going round the country to gain support when the whole economy is in the doldrums. Do the Malays in UMNO realize the mess? New NGO is formed to divert Mahathir’s call to Najib to resign. There is no end to this sort of stupidity in this country of forming new NGOs while hundreds of those inactive ones living with government aid when formed to act against the dissidents.They are surviving to meet their own ends but not truly to fight the right course.

    I appreciate the article written with broad and new thinking for the new generation..

  4. “Second, and with immediate effect, only those Malay professionals with high integrity and who are well credentialled, with demonstrated capability, hardworking, and honest, should be allowed to serve in the position of responsibility in these trust institutions.”

    The question is do we have such people in the country ?

  5. All over the Third World there are similar proverbs like the one in question. What that proverb does not take into consideration is that when “Pagar Makan Padi” and gets the taste of it, it not only becomes contended but also strong. It then assumes the role of a strong concrete wall with the ability to move around like that King in the game of draughts. The ‘Pagar’ must remain a Pagar and can only be relied upon if there are strong institutions of government underlined by strict rules of accountability that does not allow it to become a concrete wall. All that is now water under the bridge and the way forward is to strengthen the “Pagar” with new rules of engagement.

  6. Listening to the grand advice of Tun Diam here is nauseating. He with TDM was very much responsible for all these problems we have now in the country. So just what are now about? Enough of this rubbish from Diam and all those associated with TDM. Sadly the country have gone from the frying pan into the fire. We need new invigorated Malaysians and especially Malays to stand up and speak loud and clear. We do have them in our midst but sadly not enough are vocal enough or courageous enough. Perhaps they will when they see their own wealth and status being eroded. And hopefully it will not be too late.

  7. What is stated here may be common in almost all countries around the world and has been ongoing since time immemorial. Similar calls are made after the issue of the Report of the Auditor General every year and now every time but nothing appears to happen and the whole episode is forgotten soon after.

    Further under the Capitalist Consumption economy it is essential that people spend even when they do not have money and those who save are generally penalized by low or no interest and I understand that in some countries penalties are imposed on funds saved. There are many schemes to finance spending but none for individual savings.

    The Governments of the day probably lead by the most advanced country in the world [US] leads the way in spending borrowed monies and having deficit budgets. The only Governments that have substantial savings are Singapore, the oil producers and China that come to mind but their reserves are loaned to US who borrows with full confidence that the loan may never need to be paid. The reason is that the economy of these countries is largely dependent on their exports to US consumers who do not save. As they save US has become too big to be allowed to fail and these savings countries have no choice but to leave their reserves for US to spend.

    The savings countries may have been ‘fooled’ by the US economic policies as most of the advisers may also be product of US economic theories or may have been ‘planted’ there to further US economic interests. Unfortunately most of them do not appear to see beyond he high income they are receiving.

    My suggestion: Read the book ‘Panch Tantra’ by Chankya which was written millenniums ago and whose truths appear to be eternal if only the readers can understand the hidden messages.

  8. And when u hv ex second hand car salesman kisising the hands of a lady to be chairman of a blue chip institution, what else u expect?
    In a nutshell its no longer your capabilities but possessing the best tripod stand becomes the road to the top

  9. Inspiring article. None before in you blog (hope I’m not wrong). Thanks Mr Dean, this piece from Awang Putih.

    An interesting paragraph :-
    “We have come a long way in developing Malay professionals and managers, but the ill-advised action of the select few has destroyed what we toiled so hard to achieve. The great men of yester years sacrificed and invested their sweat, tears, and blood to be successful, and to become a role model and inspiration to the poor and underprivileged Malays”

    Then :-
    “To me, this is the worst outcome of the entire saga. Not the impact in terms of monetary or financial repercussions, but the long-term damaging psychological and sociological impact on Malays.”

    – and year after year since Tun M’s, the above statement, truly, the impact that definitely kill all the Malays…. the Umno and some of the real hardworking Malays businessmen. The Brits already “killed” prominent Malays. Umno took another 30 years to regain back what were lost..

    But since then :-
    “It’s worth reminding what Sheikh Haji Abdullah Fahim sagely said half a century ago: Jangan pula ada pemimpin kita mengaut kekayaaan di atas belakang rakyat…sesiapa yang berjuang dengan nama Allah dan berniat baik sentiasa dalam keredhaanNya, tetapi, sesiapa yang lupakan niat, khianat, dan tamak akan dimurkai Allah, akhirnya menjadi hina.”

    Its happening now…

    Back to my curiosity – whatever happened to the new breed of talented well educated Malays, nowadays ? Does Umno simply forget them or just that this breed like to parting away, simply forget about Umno and the past ? Or simply money? Or simply by joining Pas ? Or simply that they don’t believe in God – Allah SWT ….

  10. O.M and Din, as you are well aware, the problem is not limited to the “Trust Agencies” – but also the whole gamut of Agencies within the ambit of Bolehland’s ‘governance’ – which number anything up to 150+, by now – with the profligacy of incompetent leadership.

    Political appointees who don’t know dip-shit about the MnO or purpose of incorporation and function of the very organizations they are supposed to ‘guide’. Most of these failures are there so that they can burnish their shady credentials, ask for personal assistants, free phones, new gomen limos every year or so and other ‘integral’ perks of holding public office.

    Many of these so called chairmanships come without salaries but token gratuity/payments. All are non-executive, but unaccountable incomes are derived from ‘influence’ peddling. Asinus asicini fricat.

    Conrad has brought up a valid point, in that there are no more ‘Pendatangs’ of any influence; and the whole edifice is actually made up of parasitic ‘Malay First, Middle and Last’ mules. ‘Constitutional Malays’? All the better. After all, there was this Chinese ‘Tsunami’ after GE-13. Who bothers about efficiency, integrity, accountability or duty? Until the next Earthquake GE-14, then.

    So is there Hope? Emily Dickinson poem for ‘birdbrains’:

  11. The comments here tell me that we want change and are ready for change. But UMNO leaders are not listening. Until the next GE, we have to keep pushing the envelope in the hope that good sense will prevail. I will be doing my part because I want nothing more than to see our country admired for our governance and socio-economic development. Right now, I am on the defensive when people here ask why our government is out of touch with people, burying its proverbial head in the stand like the ostrich.

    One young student at the University of Cambodia who reads my blogs asked why is it so difficult for the Malaysian government to explain what it did with the RM42 billion which 1MDB borrowed from the banks. I said that they probably have used the money for something else.Right now, our Second Finance Minister and others are diverting the attention of the Malaysian public with all kinds of restructuring proposals. Even our Auditor-General is taking his own sweet time to figure out how to write up his report.

    He added that in his business course he learned that we must know what causes a company to have cash flow problems and why it cannot meet its debt and interest obligations to its creditor banks before it can be restructured. I said the management of 1MDB and we Malaysians know what their problem is. But we have a Prime Minister, as Chairman of the company’s Board who is unwilling to come to grips with reality that 1MBD is technically bankrupt and in serious danger of default. To avoid default it has sell its land at a loss to raise cash.–Din Merican

  12. It is wishful thinking on Awang Putih’s part hoping to see Malay professionals in the mould of Tun Ismail Ali coming to the fore these days.

    Competent, honest and principled Malay professionals nowadays simply cannot rise to the top of any government agencies or GLCs. It is useful to recall that Tun Ismail Ali was the BNM governor from 1962 to 1980 (hope I got the years right) when Malaysia was still not cursed with self-serving or dishonest leadership. I cannot imagine Tun Ismail’s principles will allow him to serve as the BNM governor when the government was led by his brother-in-law (yes, that apanama fellow). Only “gatekeepers” like that joker who lost MYR 30bn of BNM’s reserves, apparently in some forex trades, can survive under such administrations. Not only survive, but thrive – the same chap was later made a special economic advisor, finance minister II and minister in the PM’s department, adding much salt to injury.

    The other high profile examples of the former TNB chairman being put out to pasture or the ex-Petronas CEO being forced to make a living at the other end of the Causeway after refusing to betray the “amanah” that was placed upon them are illustrative of how Malaysia will not allow competent, principled and incorruptible Malays to head important government GLCs.

    The top GLC jobs, instead of going to the best talents to manage the nation’s assets in the most efficient way; are being to cronies, sycophants and rent-seekers which really the best way to achieve the opposite – wastage, mismanagement and outright pillage of those assets.

    Furthermore I have this nagging feeling that a large number of the Malays are not quite bothered if the “gatekeepers” are “stealing the rice”, especially with sweeteners like BR1M being promised, until they are personally affected. Note the lack of outrage at the whole 1MDB shebang until it was exposed that their pilgrimage funds were used to bail 1MDB out from defaulting on their debts. It is precisely because of this “tidak-apa” or “sabar-lah” mindset of our Malay friends that the kleptos are emboldened to act on their plunder.
    Kellen, I was privileged to have worked with Governor Ismail during my early years at Bank Negara (1965-1972). In 1972, two years after my return from Washington where I completed my MBA at The George Washington University I was appointed Secretary of the Bank. He was tough and demanding and did not suffer fools easily. I left to join the private sector. When I was in Sime Darby he became a Board Director and on the passing of Tun Tan Siew Sin, he became Chairman. So I was fortunate to serve both the two Tuns who were men of integrity. I learned a lot from both men. –Din Merican

  13. Datuk

    Let’s call a spade a spade. The financial fiasco in 1 MDB is nothing more than a bunch of smart Malays who probably do not have “integrity” in their vocabulary. The “days of an honest work for an honest pay ” is probably unheard to them. No words can express my disgust at the lack of responsible behaviour of all parties associated with 1MDB. The PM has the galls to go round soliciting political support from who else but the Malays!!!! What does this reflect? That Malays are blind to truth and honesty. Damn!!When will Malays stand up for the truth? Its embarrassing or shameful to be associated with rogues managing Malaysia’s corporations is GLC. All untrusted

  14. Well for what it’s worth I was lucky enough to have worked with one those “Malays” who will we not see the likes of again, the late Tan Sri Zain Azraai. I know some folks don’t approve of him but when we – a group of diverse young people – worked with him , we learnt so much especially a healthy scepticism of those “who are so secure in the knowledge that they are right, we should always be wary of them”.
    My friend Oxford (Pembroke College) educated Tan Sri Zain Azraai was Malaysia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations and Malaysian Ambassador to the United States, Special Assistant on Foreign Policy to Tun Razak, Secretary-General to the Treasury and MAS Chairman. I agree, Conrad, the late Tan Sri was an outstanding Malaysian.

    His elder brother Lawyer, Zain Azahari, is my golf sparring partner. Their father Dato Zainal Abidin was with Dato Onn Jaafar when they were both with UMNO. Their mother Datin Puteh Mariah was the first leader of UMNO’s Kaum Ibu (now Wanita UMNO).–Din Merican

  15. What kind of restructuring plan for 1MDB requires Najib to threaten the Cabinet if they don’t support it?

    The big picture of what happened at 1MDB is pretty clear – it had interesting exciting initial start that masked the fact it was fundamentally a bad idea that eventually became reality. It has lost tens of billions – from stupidity and irresponsibility rather than severe malice. But the fact of the matter is 1MDB remains a bad idea – it does not have enough of a plan for recurring income to sustain its debt. Its main assets do not and cannot in any reasonable time make enough money to the compounding losses its incurring.

    So Najib has to threaten the Cabinet, because the best plan for 1MDB – break it up to smaller pieces and cut the losses, IS NOT PRESENTED – the main problem is Najib won’t admit he is stupid.

  16. Quote:- “…the main problem is Najib won’t admit he is stupid”

    Really, that simple?

    Only Najib alone is stupid?

    He did not have a board of directors made up of people with decades of financial / management experiences, CEOs who graduated from good Western universities, scores of civil servants in the ministry of finance, prime ministers department, the Economic Planning Unit, the respected custodian of the country’s financial health — Bank Negara helm by an internationally distinguished governor?

    All these other people were not stupid, only Najib alone was?

    Obviously something more sinister than mere stupidity was involved here.

  17. Reblogged this on dss5395 and commented:
    The Malay Professional Dilemma….the demise of Malay Intellectualism, suppressed by its own kind. The fate of a nation/race is not changed but by the nation/race themselves..meaning of an Ayat from Al-Quran.

  18. The previous lady head of PKFZ made a statenent during her trial on CBT .’I do not know cash flow!!’. She got away n no 1 was found guilty in the episode PKFZ

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