The Rebranding of Altantuya Shaariibuu’s Surrogate Lover–Dr. Abdul Razak Baginda

December 14, 2017

The Rebranding of Altantuya Shaariibuu’s Surrogate Lover–Dr. Abdul Razak Baginda

by Mariam

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“Here’s the smell of blood still. All perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.”–In William Shakespeare’s Macbeth

Oxford-educated Dr. Abdul Razak Baginda, the one-time adviser and close confidante of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who was once romantically linked to the murdered jet-setting Mongolian translator and party girl Altantuya Shaariibuu, has popped up after years of discreet absence in the UK.

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The  disheveled and frightened-looking Abdul Razak Baginda

For someone who has been out of the public eye for the past decade, Razak Baginda has wasted no time, propelling himself onto the Malaysian lecture circuit over the past six months but at the same time inadvertently reminding the public he had been a key figure in what had been the biggest scandal in the country’s history until an even bigger one blew up over the state-backed investment company 1Malaysia Development Bhd., the subject of a US Justice Department investigation into the looting of public assets.

Razak Baginda is very different from the disheveled and frightened-looking man who emerged from jail on October 31, 2006, acquitted without trial of abetting the murder of Altantuya, who was alleged to have once been Najib’s paramour. The 28-year-old mother, who was believed to have been pregnant at the time, was shot twice in the head by one of Najib’s bodyguards and her body was blown up with military explosives in a patch of jungle outside the suburban city of Shah Alam.

The allegation that Altantuya had been Najib’s mistress was revealed by the late private investigator P Balasubramaniam, engaged by Razak Baginda to stop Altantuya from creating a scene outside his house. According to a letter found after her death, she was demanding a cut of kickbacks from a multi-billion ringgit Malaysian government deal to purchase submarines from the French.

Razak Baginda once was one of the closest advisers to Najib, then the Defense Minister and Deputy PM (2000-2008), on government arms procurement projects. The political analyst was involved in the purchase of two Scorpene-class submarines and one Agosta-class submarine from the French naval dockyard unit DCN (Direction des Constructions Navales). The deal was worth around RM5 billion.

Hasty departure for the UK

On his release and acquittal, Razak Baginda was swamped by reporters who tried to interview him, but was guarded by a wall of policemen. A month later, at a press conference, he was guarded by a team of lawyers who monitored his answers. He immediately decamped to England, ostensibly to complete a doctorate at Oxford.

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 The Rebranded Dr. Abdul Razak Baginda–Founder, Center for Global Affairs (ICON).

Seven years later, on October. 26, 2015, Razak Baginda emerged to deliver his first public talk in Kuala Lumpur at a “Special Forum” called “Reforming Malaysia: A Conversation with Razak Baginda.” The session was organized by a new think tank he had founded, called the Center for Global Affairs (ICON).

The former Malaysian PrimenMinister, Mahathir Mohamad once said, “Melayu mudah lupa” (Malays easily forget) and Razak Baginda probably thought that Malaysians would have forgotten about him and the brutal murder.

Living abroad helped Razak Baginda avoid the glare of publicity and the anger of the Malaysian public who were furious at the High Court’s handling of the trial. The motive for the murder was never established although the murderers were said to have been offered RM50,000 for the killing.

Wife Implicates Najib

Few can forget the hysterical shout of Baginda’s wife, Mazlinda Makhzan, at the time of his arrest: “Why charge my husband, he does not want to be the prime minister?” an apparent reference to Balasubramaniam’s statement that Najib had passed Altantuya on to the political analyst because it wouldn’t look good to have a foreign mistress when he was elevated to become the country’s leader.

Importantly, there were also unexplained phone texts between Najib and Razak Baginda’s lawyer, Mohamad Shafee Abdullah, which alluded to Najib’s alleged interference in the case. One message read, “Pls do not say anything to the press today. i will explain later. RB (Razak Baginda) will have to face a tentative charge but all is not lost.”

Altantuya’s father, Setev Shaariibuu, has not received any justice for the murder of his daughter and has continued to demand that the Malaysian government give him answers about her death.

Two policemen, Chief Inspector Azilah Hadri and Corporal Sirul Azhar Umar, were found guilty of Altantuya’s murder in a trial that critics said was carefully orchestrated to keep from answering questions who had hired them to kill her. Sirul is now languishing in the Villawood Detention Center outside Sydney, vigorously wheeling and dealing for his release and asylum. Azilah remains in a Malaysian prison.

Razak Baginda probably thought that he could lead a quiet life by relocating to England but he didn’t reckon on the persistence of SUARAM, the Malaysian Human Rights NGO, which complained to the French authorities about the Scorpene deal in November 2009. That triggered a preliminary inquiry and a judicial investigation in Paris in 2012.

Investigative stories Tell Tale of Scandal

The investigation was the subject of a multiple series of investigative stories by Asia Sentinel that won the Society of Publishers in Asia award for excellence in investigative reporting – Asia’s version of the Pulitzer Prize.

Finally, years later, on July 18, 2017, Razak Baginda was indicted in France for “complicity of bribery, acceptance of bribes and concealment of misuse of company assets.”  Two officials of a DCN subsidiary were also indicted on charges specifically of having bribed Najib Razak.

On August 4, the SUARAM adviser, Dr Kua Kia Soong said, “The first indictment of the arms maker shows that SUARAM’s suspicion of commission paid to Malaysian officials in the Scorpene deal is well founded, and we have been vindicated.”

Asia Sentinel reported that the French investigation had revealed that Terasasi HK Ltd., a company owned by Razak Baginda and his father, received €30 million in “consultancy works,” the accepted terminology for kickbacks. Terasasi existed only as the name on the wall of a Hong Kong accounting company. As Asia Sentinel reported, French investigators also uncovered evidence that a Malaysia-based shell company, Perimekar, owned by Baginda’s wife, had received another €114 million in “consultancy services.”

The money was said to have been passed on to the United Malays National Organization with the full knowledge of then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, among others, according to evidence provided to Asia Sentinel.

Timely Rebranding

Baginda’s rebranding is timely, especially as Malaysia’s 14th General Election is due soon. He could have retired a rich man from his alleged kickbacks from Scorpene and lived a life of luxury in England. He could have avoided the scrutiny of the Malaysian public.

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Malaysia’s Infamous Couple–Prime Minister Najib Razak and his FLOM Rosmah Mansor

“He probably thinks that the Malaysian public have forgotten (and forgiven him),” said a social cynic who declined to be named. “He believes he has done nothing wrong, especially as the courts did not find him guilty of Altantuya’s murder.”

It is highly likely that Razak Baginda is repositioning himself in the Malaysian political world, according to a Kuala Lumpur-based political analyst. “Perhaps, Najib summoned him to return as his confidante,” he said. “Najib’s Washington trip was a wash-out. It was probably arranged on the advice of his foreign advisers. The Malays disapprove of Trump’s anti-Islam and anti-Muslim policies.”

A Malay, Muslim and Malaysian, the political analyst “will be in a better position to advise Najib on foreign matters. He is probably testing the waters and seeing how the Malaysian public react to him over a range of issues like education, religion and radicalization.”

However, it is more likely that the French indictment may have spurred Baginda’s return to Malaysia over a desire to remain free.  Malaysia does not have an extradition treaty with France, unlike Britain. His stay in England would be risky.

Razak Baginda dismissed the French charge and said, “The French legal process is different from the Malaysian legal process. The term ‘charged’ in the context of the inquiry means placing the said individuals under ‘formal investigation’.”

We now see the comeback kid, Razak Baginda, re-engaging with Malaysian politics. He appears to be pushing the right buttons on many subjects. More importantly, as long as Najib is around, there is money to be made. ICON has held several forums and issued press releases with alarming regularity.

Pretensions as Oracle

This is proof that he wants to be heard on a range of subjects, upon most of which many Malaysians agree. On radicalization, he has urged the Home Ministry to monitor students, who studied in the middle-east, and warned that Malaysia was losing its reputation as a moderate nation. He has warned that the prominence of religion in schools will lower the quality of education. He questioned the failure of Malaysian leaders to confront the nationalists.

Razak Baginda has defended the bloated Malaysian civil service and blasted the journalist John Pennington for an article in “Asean Today” that unfavorably compared the Malaysian civil service with its Singaporean counterpart.

He also criticized Najib for his silence on the Rohingya issue at the 31st ASEAN Summit in Manila, saying it was a “missed opportunity” and then, on the following day, offered a groveling apology to Najib, saying “I got it wrong.”  He praised Najib’s sincerity in helping the Rohingyas, raising the issue with the Myanmar state counselor, Aung San Suu Kyi, and with President Trump. Saying that Najib’s actions were unprecedented, Razak Baginda described him as bold and strong, willing to voice his displeasure over a matter he cared about.

“Never before has a fellow ASEAN leader brought out what could be regarded as a domestic issue of another member country,” he said. “Kudos to the prime minister, as it shows his commitment to help the Rohingya.”

Still Buddies?

So are Najib and Razak Baginda in constant contact? Or is he positioning himself and working towards a smooth transition to become Najib’s political analyst? On his re-emergence onto the Malaysian socio-political scene, Suaram’s Kua said: “He seems to have a knack of seeking publicity when he’d be better off staying out of media attention. He’s more of a liability for Najib by showing up all over the place and reminding us of Altantuya. But he seems pretty gung-ho about his ‘freedom from prosecution’. We shall see.

Both men have to tread a cautious path, said a political analyst, “but do they care? There is only so much Razak Baginda can do to help Najib, because one wrong step could make the whole Altantuya and Scorpene scandal blow up in Najib’s face, and further reduce his chances in GE-14. Even if it were true that Najib and Razak Baginda have resumed their cozy ties, it is established that they need one another to keep their secrets safe. Remember the adage about keeping your friends close, but your enemies closer still.

Perhaps Najib is willing to take that chance, especially after the warning issued by the American Attorney-General, Jeff Sessions, on Dec. 4, when he said that Malaysia’s 1MDB scandal was the worst example of kleptocracy he had ever seen. Razak Baginda may need Najib to prevent an attempt by the French to subpoena him to the Scorpene trial, but Najib has an equal need to prevent Razak Baginda from giving evidence.

Mariam Mokhtar is a Malaysia-based journalist and a regular contributor to Asia Sentinel


The Political Manipulation of Fear by UMNO

December 12, 2017

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My short message to Rais Hussin: Please do not invoke God’s name whenever we are in a crisis. That is most convenient way out when we are in a fix. The problems we as Malaysians face today especially in politics are of our own making. Therefore, the fear you talk about is something we created  for ourselves. We are scared of our own shadow.. It is better to admit for  all of us that we are all cowards  than throw our hands in the air in despair.

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Najib Razak is not endowed with supernatural powers, although it is said that our FLOM Rosmah Mansor is protected  by a number of powerful shamans from the Indian subcontinent.Our incumbent Prime Minister can be removed from office through the ballot.  If we in large numbers vote against UMNO-BN in GE-14, Najib Razak is gone in a jiffy. No Shamans can help Rosmah too. But the question is will we? –Din Merican

The Political Manipulation of Fear by UMNO

by Rais Hussin

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He should fear us, not the other way round

COMMENT | Fear is a primal instinct, driven into our brain, to survive the harshest environment since the dawn of the Homo sapiens.

No one can be blamed for exhibiting various forms of fear. During the Jurassic age, where dinosaurs roamed the world, humans existed purely as hunter-gatherers, armed with sticks and spears.

Without the help of iron and bronze, powerful catapults, and fire, Homo sapiens would have lived at the bottom of the food chain.

Things have, of course, taken a dramatic change over the last five centuries. With the advent of what anthropologist Jared Diamond called “guns, germs and steel,” Homo sapiens have transformed their sense of powerlessness not merely against the animal kingdom, but their fellow kind.

Spanish colonialism of the entire American continent, which obliterated the native tribes, where millions died, began on such account. Invariable, to steal a march on their Iberian neighbour, Portugal did the same.

The likes of Vasco Da Gama and Alfonso di Albuquerque first rounded the Cape of Good Hope in Africa, then Goa in India, before crossing the Andaman Sea, to hold the Sultanate of Malacca to a complete siege between 1511 onwards.

Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra–The First Decent Malaysian Prime Minister

When UMNO, together with other coalition partners, liberated Malaya from the clutches of colonialism from the British in 1957, one of their goals was to free Malaysians from the politics of fear.

But with the communists breathing down their neck, they couldn’t emancipate the country completely and psychologically. From time to time, UMNO and their coalition partners had to point to the threats that exist.

However, there are no communists anymore. In fact, UMNO and MCA appear to enjoy stronger and better trade relations with the Communist government of China now. Each loan from China is ledgered in the  billions of ringgit.

Yet, in spite of this, UMNO has warned Malaysians that it is Pakatan Harapan that they must fear. In the words of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, it is better to have UMNO ruling for “1,000 years”, than the opposition front.

Dr. Zahid Hamid and his Boss united the face of the Political Opposition

Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi averred that the opposition front has “six captains in the cruise ship” and will drive the country to nowhere.

But psychologist John Bargh has shown through numerous studies that ruling politicians thrive in striking fear in the hearts of the people. The fear they instil is manufactured to create a sense of sheer panic or crisis, in order to cannibalise the voters.

By making the opposition small and insignificant, the ruling party would stand a better chance of consolidating their iron grip. As John Bargh explained: “research has found that when people become new parents of a tiny, vulnerable baby, they begin to believe their local crime rate is going up, even if it is falling.”

“That happened to me,” to which Bargh admits. “After my daughter was born, suddenly we felt that the neighbourhood was getting so dangerous that we had to leave.”

UMNO and BN have always introduced new stop gap measures, such as BR1M (cash transfers) when elections are near. Even the 2018 budget that Najib presented in the Parliament was screamingly front-loaded, that even BN MPs privately admitted that was indeed an election budget.


That is not fear-mongering, but vote buying

Front-loaded in the sense that many different cash payouts are dished out to many group of voters targeting the low middle-income and low-income groups, which includes, but is not limited to Felda settlers, farmers, fishermen, civil servants, military, police, teachers etc.

When Malaysians find some petty cash in their hand, they begin to believe that a new government will take them away — not realising the new entity can actually eliminate corruption, malfeasance, abuse of power and other malpractices allegedly perpetuated by UMNO and its coalition partners, to better the living standards of Malaysia.

Ask the voters in Selangor or even Penang, has their welfare improved after UMNO was defeated in 2008? The answer is undoubtedly, and a resounding yes. Even the Malays stood to gain more in terms of support from the Penang and Selangor state governments. With such positive records, Malaysian voters should not be lulled and fooled by Umno again and again.

As the late US President Franklin Delani Roosevelt once said: “One has nothing to fear but fear itself.” How one eliminates fear, in other words, is to stop others from manipulating them. In Malay adage, the advice is even more poignant: “Berani kerana benar.” One should be brave because one is truthful.

Having fleeced the country of billions, making it the worst “kleptocracy in the world,” it is UMNO that has all to fear from the wrath of the people at the 14th general election.

God save Malaysia.

Bank Negara Malaysia: Why Dr. Sukhave Singh Resigned

December 10, 2017

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Thank you, Dr. Sukhave for your service to Bank Negara Malaysia. What you have done by resigning is just examplary. It took courage and firm moral conviction to do it. As a Bank Negara alumnus who was with the Bank in 1960s, I am proud of you and wish you all the best. –Din Merican

Letter from outgoing Deputy Governor BNM–Why Dr. Sukhave Singh Resigned

If you are in a position of leadership, remind yourself, and remind yourself often, that leadership is a responsibility and not a privilege. Remember that nothing shines a brighter light into the depths of your character than your behaviour when you believe that you have power over others. It is never leadership to try to make yourself look good by depriving your subordinates of opportunities to be their best. It is also never acceptable to use bullying as a means to exert your leadership. Respect yourself; respect those who work for you.– Dr. Sukhave Singh

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Last week a long-standing and respected official, the Deputy Governor, Bank Negara Malaysia Dr Sukhdave Singh, resigned and people ought to take that move as a heavy hint as to what is going on behind the scenes.

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

As you all know by now, I am leaving the Bank soon. Some of you have asked me why I am leaving and I must confess that I have evaded the question.

All I can say is that my life in the Bank has been based on certain professional expectations, and when I find myself put in circumstances where those expectations can no longer be met, there could have been no other decision for me.

This past week has been an emotional roller-coaster. The days have flown by so fast and saying goodbye has been harder than I had anticipated. Meeting many of you has brought back a flood of memories and emotions. But I am grateful for the opportunity to personally wish you goodbye, and I thank you for the kind wishes you have expressed to me.

In parting, I want to express my gratitude to those of you who have worked with me and helped me succeed in my job. No one gets to my position without the help of others. I am unable to thank each of you individually but I hope you know that I am referring to you and please accept my heartfelt thanks.

If I have contributed to your own professional success, I am glad; but you do not need to thank me. Pay it forward – be a part of someone else’s success.

If you are in a position of leadership, remind yourself, and remind yourself often, that leadership is a responsibility and not a privilege. Remember that nothing shines a brighter light into the depths of your character than your behaviour when you believe that you have power over others. It is never leadership to try to make yourself look good by depriving your subordinates of opportunities to be their best. It is also never acceptable to use bullying as a means to exert your leadership. Respect yourself; respect those who work for you.

Well, my journey with BNM has come to an end, but yours will continue. I wish you fair weather and good sailing.

Goodbye and God bless.

Sukhdave Singh



Picture a Khazanah Nasional Berhad without Azman Mokhtar

December 8, 2017

Picture a Khazanah Nasional Berhad without the character,integrity and steady hand of Azman Mohktar

by P. Gunasegaram

A QUESTION OF BUSINESS | Some one and half years before Azman Mokhtar steps down after a 15-year stint as managing director of Khazanah Nasional Bhd, the government’s wholly-owned strategic investment fund, it looks like the daggers are drawn to poke holes in what is by and large an impressive achievement.

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Unlike the other so-called strategic investment fund, the notorious 1MDB, which has already lost the country almost all the long-term money it borrowed with US$7 billion (some RM28 billion) unaccounted for, Khazanah has been transformed since 2004 into a solid entity which has strong controls, procedures, a chain of accountability, and a team of competent professionals managing over RM145 billion in investments.

It is not only extremely ironic but the height of ridiculousness that among the names being considered as Azman’s replacement is Arul Kanda Kandasamy, the chief executive of 1MDB since January 2015, who has done nothing to clarify the sad state of affairs at 1MDB or even to ensure the release of its long overdue annual report.

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Tengku Zafrul, 1MDB’s Arul Kanda Kandasamy –for Khazanah Nasional?

His appointment would make a mockery of Khazanah’s much stronger governance, good board representation, greater accountability, more transparency and much better performance than 1MDB which may be too much to make even for Prime Minister Najib Razak, who if he survives the elections, will make the final decision.

The major salvo against Khazanah, as with one or two other puzzling stories (see for instance, “Spinning 1MDB’s lopsided settlement”), came from across the Causeway from the Singapore Straits Times which made an unfair and ultimately wrong assessment of Khazanah’s performance over the years since 2004.

In a report titled “Khazanah feels the heat amid push to change its investment strategy”, the newspaper said: “Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund Khazanah Nasional is under pressure to show higher returns to boost government coffers, with senior state officials lobbying for changes to its management and investment strategy.”

Then it went on to add: “The bulk of the government’s direct business investments is managed by Khazanah, which has returned an average of just RM825 million (S$270 million) in dividends annually over the past four years, from its RM145 billion worth of assets. This amounts to a less than 1 percent return a year between 2013 and last year.

“The Straits Times understands that there is a push by some within the Prime Minister Najib Razak’s vast circle of advisers to change Khazanah’s investment strategy, especially since the fund’s Managing Director, Tan Sri Azman Mokhtar, is due to leave in mid-2019, after a 15-year run at the helm.”

The best way to report a fund’s performance is its total return – this is accepted as the de facto measure of fund performance in investment analysis. This includes realised as well as unrealised gains on investments plus dividends. Khazanah calls this the net worth adjusted (NWA) value.

The other performance measure it uses is the realisable asset value (RAV), which is essentially the market value of all its investments. When you subtract the liabilities, mainly borrowings, from RAV, and make adjustments to account for dividends as well as realised investment gains through sales of investments, you obtain the NWA value.

Now, anyone who has the slightest knowledge of fund management should know that dividends alone is not the way to measure a fund’s return. You have to take into account the increase in the value of investments that it owns and gains from investments sold. And why choose just the period from 2013 to 2016? A fund is best assessed over a longer period.

Misleading analysis

The best way to report a fund’s performance is its total return – this is accepted as the de facto measure of fund performance in investment analysis. This includes realised as well as unrealised gains on investments plus dividends. Khazanah calls this the net worth adjusted (NWA) value.

The other performance measure it uses is the realisable asset value (RAV), which is essentially the market value of all its investments. When you subtract the liabilities, mainly borrowings, from RAV, and make adjustments to account for dividends as well as realised investment gains through sales of investments, you obtain the NWA value.

The Singapore Straits Times report pointed out that the NWA value actually declined eight percent over the last two years, but failed to point out that such fluctuations are normal and happen because of market and currency fluctuations amongst others.

Unlike many other sovereign wealth funds, Khazanah has many large core holdings such as Tenaga Nasional, Telekom Malaysia, Axiata, CIMB, IHH Healthcare, etc, which it holds through good and bad times and when the market rises or falls. Market volatility plays havoc with NWA.

In 2008 for instance, in the aftermath of the world financial crisis, its NWA value tanked nearly 50% as markets collapsed but recovered by 68% and 39% respectively in the following two years, 2009 and 2010, as markets recovered. It would be wrong to think that Khazanah did badly in 2008 and well in 2009 and 2010 – the events that led to the fall and rise were beyond its control.

To prevent that kind of misleading analysis, it is common to compare fund performance over a period of time and against a set benchmark – for Khazanah that benchmark, because most of its holdings are Malaysian, would be the Kuala Lumpur stock market which is measured by the FBM KLCI index.

As Khazanah pointed out in its retort to the Singapore Straits Times report, its NWA value increased annually by 9.3% on a compounded basis between 2004 and 2016 which is very much in line with the FBM KLCI index growth of 9.4% over the same period. During the period the NWA value of its investments rose over two times to RM102.1 billion from RM33.3 billion, creating value of RM68.9 billion. In contrast, 1MDB destroyed nearly half of the value Khazanah created over 12 years in less than a handful of years.

That 9.3% annual compounded growth of NWA over 2004-2016 – the best measure of Khazanah’s performance – was mentioned towards the end of the Singapore Straits Times article. And even then, the article mentioned it was lower than the performance of the broad market without actually giving the 9.4% figure.

This figure is pretty alright considering that many of Khazanah’s investments have long gestation periods such as the Iskandar corridor development and others may be historically making losses, for example, Proton, Malaysia Airlines and Silterra.

Erroneous comparison

Further, the article makes an erroneous comparison between Khazanah and the Employees Provident Fund.

It said: “The fund performs poorly when compared with the country’s Employees Provident Fund (EPF), which all private workers and employers must contribute to. Since Mr Azman took over Khazanah in 2004, it has returned a total of RM9 billion in dividends, which works out to an average annual return of below 1 percent of the fund size. Meanwhile, the EPF has added more than 5 percent annually to its members’ retirement savings.”

The EPF has a major part of its investments invested in government bonds, much of which give fixed returns over 4% per year. It supplements this by booking in realised profits from its equity trading and other businesses – it has no strategic holdings. Thus it can return close to 5% in dividends but the value of its funds don’t increase as much, if you take out increased contributions from members. The correct comparison should be between the 9.3% annual return and the EPF dividend rate of 5% plus any unrealised gains.

Also, the article makes a comparison, again erroneous, comparing pre-tax profit as a percentage of total asset size with other funds. It said: “Khazanah’s profit before tax – not including unrealised capital gains – also lags behind those of its peers, such as Singapore’s Temasek Holdings, China Investment Corporation (CIC), Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation (APFC) and the world’s largest sovereign fund, Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG).”

But the key phrase there is “not including unrealised capital gains” – as a strategic investment fund, it holds stakes in sizeable companies that it does not sell off. The others play no such role and are free to take profits from their investments as and when they see fit.

Overall, the Singapore Straits Times article is rather unbalanced and lopsided, and looks very much like it was planted there via the provision of selective information by those who want to smear Khazanah’s name and have their own agendas in terms of lobbying for some people to take over when Azman’s term ends.

That article has been picked up and quoted widely among the press in Malaysia, both online and print, and has had its intended effect by those who may have planted it there. It is however lamentable that a respected publication in terms of reporting regional affairs has been so used.

Meantime, one hopes the powers-that-be don’t try to fix what isn’t broken and continue to give support for Khazanah to operate conservatively and competently with proper checks, balances and accountability, unlike what has happened at 1MDB.

To do anything otherwise is to rain down more suspicion and lack of confidence on a country already beleaguered by a plethora of governance ills and all that comes with it such as market and currency weakness. We simply can’t afford another fund debacle.


Remembering Nelson Mandela and India’s Rocket Man Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam

December 6, 2017

Remembering Nelson Mandela and India’s Rocket Man Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam–Both were embodiment of Moral Leadership, which is sadly lacking in the world today. –Din Merican

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5 Principles for Moral Leadership

Accomplished leaders are like master craftsmen: their first principles are best practices, the felt wisdom of experience and reflection.

Take Benjamin Franklin. In his Autobiography, he describes 13 precepts for self-improvement he coined as a young man. They include Resolution (“Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve”), Industry, (“Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions”), and Order (“Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time”).

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Image result for benjamin franklin on moral leadership

When the penniless printer from Philadelphia became one of the leading men in America, his admirers understood the enormous benefit his example could provide. “[Y]ou yourself framed a plan by which you became considerable,” observed one, who implored Franklin to share it in hopes of “aiding all happiness, both public and domestic.”

For inspiration, I assign Franklin’s Autobiography to students in my business ethics class at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Then I challenge them to derive principles of their own with an eye toward strong moral leadership. With their permission, I wanted to share five favorites from my fall class.

1. Put a Face on It

Unlike Franklin’s experience, many of our work relationships will involve people we will never meet. Dan, an IT professional, makes the obvious but often overlooked point that it is “easy to engage in unethical or immoral behavior when you don’t have to see the person whom you are affecting.” Accordingly, he always tries to put a face with a name, finding photos of the people he interacts with on LinkedIn or other online directories. “Associating a face with the interactions reminds me that my actions affect a real person,” he says, “not just some faceless name in an email address line.”

2. Manage by Listening Rather Than Telling

Unusually precocious, Franklin knew the awkward status of being junior in age but senior in position. Drawing on her own experience working for an industrial supplier, Lindsay observes that a promising associate is often placed in a leadership role “before she may be ready,” with the result that she finds herself “fighting an uphill battle to do well and gain the respect of those around her with more tenure and experience.” Accordingly, Lindsay contends that one must establish a professional dynamic of mutual respect. “I am only successful if the people I manage have my back and respect me,” she says. “I am nothing if I do not respect and support the work that they do day in and day out.

3. Be Flexible, Not Dogmatic

Franklin’s rejection of a rigid approach to problem solving spoke to Drew, a corporate trust analyst. “Businesses leaders need to be flexible and not dogmatic about their beliefs and intellectual frameworks,” he says. Reflecting on Alan Greenspan’s leadership in the years before the financial crisis, he faults the former Fed Chair not for failing to anticipate the crisis, but for believing that such an event could never occur. “Greenspan relied too heavily on frameworks,” he says, “and not enough on doing everything in his power to rationally understand what was going on and make adjustments to his policies as needed.” For Drew, strict adherence to dogma not only binds a leader’s hands, it can blind him to problems his framework won’t admit.

4. Follow Published Rules of Conduct

Franklin wrote his precepts in a memorandum book he carried with him wherever he went. The aim was to remind him of the behavior he aspired to — and to shame him whenever he failed to live up to it. An executive at a Fortune 50 company, Megan observes that, while the “Code of Conduct” is a mainstay of the modern office, “many people disregard these published rules.” Such a tendency not only undermines the rules, when managers flout them, it reinforces a spirit of lawlessness. A fish rots from the head down. If rules are important enough to be written down, they are important enough to be followed — by everyone.

5. Respect the Bottom Line, but Don’t Worship It

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“[A]fter getting the first hundred Pound,” Franklin observed in the Autobiography, “it is more easy to get the second.” Yet, as Patrick, a student with experience working in renewable energy, observes, the additional gain can sometimes come at too high a cost. “I don’t believe that the pursuit of profit on its face is immoral,” he says, but “I do believe that a relentless focus on profit often leads to immoral behavior.” The same may be said for any single-minded focus that excludes all other goods. For leaders, a sense of perspective and an ability to step back are essential to balancing moral integrity with corporate mission. At the same time, Patrick notes, the emergence of companies that have double or triple bottom lines of profit, social impact, and sustainability “indicates that certain businesses either share this principle or have very slick PR teams.”

Benjamin Franklin wasn’t above a little “slick PR” — how else to explain a book where one presents himself as a paragon of self-improvement? — but he believed that the appearance of integrity would inevitably be undone without the reality in support of it. The principles described above are no doubt demanding, but so is any standard of leadership worth the trouble of writing down.

John Paul Rollert teaches business ethics at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business

Malaysia: Malaysian Ingenuity Knows No Bounds when it comes Corruption

December 5, 2017

Malaysia: Malaysian Ingenuity Knows No Bounds when it comes Corruption

by R Nadeswaran

Image result for Najib as a corrupt Prime Minister

Yes, indeed, Prime Minister Najib Razak is as pure as Caesar’s Wife and a role model for Malaysian millennials. He showed them how to make RM2.6 billion without forking out a single cent.

COMMENT | Experience tells us that Malaysian ingenuity knows no bounds when it comes to addressing issues, or rather getting around them. Malaysians are also noted for being able to provide complicated answers to confuse the questioner. They can side-step, out-talk and out-manoeuvre all and sundry.

We can leave it to our leaders, politicians, civil servants and sometimes even drivers and bodyguards to come out with a plethora of explanations which would put artspeak to shame. (For the uninitiated, artspeak is described as “obscure, esoteric, or pretentious language used to discuss art.”)

Last week, Malaysiakini broke the news that a group of Malaysians allegedly made about RM60 million from a property deal apparently without forking out a single sen. It involved the sale of a Melbourne property to Mara Incorporated Sdn Bhd (Mara Inc), a government agency whose mission is to help poor Malays.

With documents and graphics, Malaysiakini showed the shenanigans in the purchase of a property known as UniLodge, a 12-storey building at 746, Swanston Street in central Melbourne. It was “sold” to Mara Inc for A$41.8 million (about RM138 million) against its then market price and transacted value of A$23.5 million (about RM77.6 million).

Mara Inc entered into an agreement to buy the assets of Scarlett Nominees Ltd, a company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), which included another BVI shell company called Thrushcross Ltd, which later changed its name to Thrushcross Land Holdings Ltd.

This transaction involved payment of A$41.8 million by Mara Inc to Scarlett supposedly for Unilodge but neither Scarlett nor Thrushcross owned the property at the time of the sale. After having received full payment, the perpetrators paid A$23.5 million for the building and allegedly pocketed the remainder.

However, this is where Malaysian resourcefulness and memory usually work in tandem to produced (un)desired results. When contacted by Malaysiakini, then Mara Inc chairperson Mohammad Lan Allani said he could not remember the details of the transaction.

“What I can say is if the company (Thrushcross) is a shell company, there is no way Mara Inc board would approve the deal. Our SOP (standard operating procedure) is very thorough.

“While I was chairman, I was very meticulous. The SOP must be comprehensive. We had an evaluation process. Only when all these were completed, only then we would proceed.”

But the documents which were made available to Malaysiakini and Fairfax Media in Melbourne show that directors were appointed and removed in a pattern so as to ensure the deal is closed without hitches.

These documents are obtained from the authorities in Melbourne. Sale and purchase agreements signed by solicitors, statement of finances prepared by accountants, valuation reports done by valuers, and there is even a receipt from the Australian government – the stamp duty paid on the transaction of the property.

If Mohammad Lan claims that “there is no way Mara Inc board would approve the deal”, he is being generous with the truth. The dossier leaves a trail of evidence leading to the soiled hands of a few within and outside Mara Inc.

But as in all issues which need specific answers, Mohammad Lan too had a ready answer in his SOP – as chairperson of Marc Inc, he is required to sign all documents. “For details, you have to ask the (then) CEO (Abd Rahim Halim).”

End of matter? Not exactly.

Lofty valuation

Another player entered the fray. Raine & Horne International Zaki + Partners who did the first valuation of A$43 million, defended its lofty price tag. Its executive director Rosli Atan said he was “confident” that the survey, conducted five years ago, was carried out in accordance with proper methods.

If not for semantics, for purposes of getting to the bottom of this whole rigmarole, the word “confident” is somewhat a giveaway or is it redundant? Without wanting to cast aspersions on the individual or the company, the journalistic mind wonders what difference would it made that he said “the survey was carried out according to the proper methods.”

As if to reinforce his confidence, Rosli noted that it was “not true,” when asked about the valuation, which was purported to have been inflated to benefit several Mara Inc officers and their cronies.

“I am confident with my evaluation. In 2012, I was confident. As of the date of the evaluation, I was confident,” Rosli reiterated when contacted by Malaysiakini last Thursday.

But valuations on the same property by two other companies two years later in a booming property market in Melbourne put the price very much lower. CBRE Valuations Pty Ltd valued the UniLodge property at A$25.5 million, while Charter Keck Cramer put the price at A$29.7 million.

It is common knowledge that various factors determine the valuation of a property including supply and demand as explained by Rosli, but it difficult to swallow the fact that the building actually changed hands a few months after Rosli’s valuation for A$23.5 million – leaving a massive profit for those involved in the deal.

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Rural and Regional Development Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob–Reckless and Irresponsible but loyal to UMNO President

Also joining the fray and putting his name into the hat on Malaysian inventiveness was Rural and Regional Development Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who spoke on behalf of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).

He said MACC is currently waiting for a report from Australian authorities regarding the transactions.

“So it is better for us to just wait for that, there’s no use raising the matter again,” Ismail Sabri was quoted as saying by Sinar Harian.

Mr Minister, we beg to differ. This is not raising the matter again. This is a new matter altogether. These documents on Unilodge only emerged two weeks ago and even Mara Inc officials were not aware that they bought a shell company for A$41.8 million. This alone speaks of the internal checks and balances and the mechanisms within Mara Inc.

Until those involved in this self-indulgent floundering of people’s money are brought to book, every Malaysian has his or her right to keep these issues in public domain. It may add to the long list of “unfinished” business of the MACC or it may land in its ‘morgue’ where files gather dust and are subsequently forgotten over time.