July 2, 2015
Whitewashing Najib’s image won’t do
by Stephen Ng@www.malaysiakini.com
COMMENT: I scoured through the media to see how a public relations mogul has been able to salvage Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s reputation.
First, allow me to qualify myself. I am from a public relations (PR) background and has also been a writer all my life; hence, it naturally interests me when there is something I can learn from a PR practitioner although in my opinion, there are many more qualified PR practitioners in the country than Lim Kok Wing himself.
Lim is more of an advertising man than a PR practitioner; therefore, it is not surprising to see the quality of work produced is below par excellence. This is my personal opinion and I will explain why I am saying this.
In the last one month or so, there has been no significant change in the people’s perception of Najib. If anything, it has only gone from bad to worse. People are in fact gravitating towards former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and the Crown Prince of Johor (TMJ) Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim for what they have to say. Najib might as well review his contract with Lim, to see if he is getting his money’s worth.
Little done so far
Let me elaborate. Lim said that he was not involved with the Nothing2Hide seminar. However, after the incident, little damage control was done to salvage Najib’s reputation. The fact that Najib did not turn up for the event was already seen as ‘chickening’ out, especially when he learned that his ally-turned-nemesis Dr Mahathir was there at the event.
To make matters worse, Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Khalid Abu Bakar took it upon himself to advise Najib not to attend the meeting. Using the safety of the Prime Minister is not an excuse, especially in a country which is supposed to enjoy peace and harmony. On record, no one has threatened Najib’s life and certainly not the people who attended the meeting.
Questions have been raised why Najib did not take the bold step like Julius Caesar and attend the meeting, despite the IGP’s advice? He could have at least worn a bulletproof vest to protect himself, and all exits into the hall cordoned off by the police the moment Najib went into the meeting.
I am a little surprised that Lim, in his capacity as Najib’s PR consultant, has done nothing to advise his client on how to salvage his reputation; instead, Lim merely came forward to say that he was not involved in the Nothing2Hide event.
Even the TMJ saw it fit to hit out at Najib for his lack of courage to face the nonagenarian. If that’s the case, what has Lim done so far to advise Najib? At the very least, Najib should come out in an open debate with Dr Mahathir, because this is what the people are waiting to see.
A debate is not going to tear the country apart, but it will bring out the best of arguments from both sides so that the people can decide whether to believe Najib’s story or continue to give further credence to Dr Mahathir.
Fast forward, in the last few days, there were articles quoting 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and Najib that appear to be written by a different group of people. 1MDB said its RM20 million given as corporate social responsibility to a mosque in Kampung Baru is acceptable. We are not interested in how much 1MDB can give to even a church or a temple, but why was the donation announced by Najib if he is merely an adviser to the board?
At the time of writing, Malaysiakini highlighted that Malaysia’s outlook revision by Fitch from negative to stable “is a reflection of the government’s financial management capabilities”. Will anyone believe Najib, especially when the rating agency said that Malaysia’s fiscal position is still weak and the ringgit has taken a beating against the greenback?
Please step down
So far, Najib is the only one who say that the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and fuel subsidy cuts are supportive of the fiscal finances. On the ground, the people are whining and groaning, while the market is slowing down, and everyone is talking about removing Najib as Prime Minister.
One contractor I spoke to yesterday fact said that he wants to see Najib stepping down soon, as he sees the country going to the dogs. An economics professor that I spoke to feel that the country is losing its sense of direction and he calls Dr Mahathir the “official Mr Opposition.”
Walking past two gentlemen having breakfast, the conversation is also focused on businesses now investing overseas instead. The outward bound foreign direct investment has in fact risen over the years. Businessmen will put their money where there are better returns for their investments.
In fact, I was told that since 1994, the country’s purchasing power parity (PPP) has only improved by several percent compared to the PPP in the US within the past two decades. The same is happening in Thailand. We are caught in a middle-income trap and appear to be going nowhere.
While foreign investors are moving to countries with low wages, and domestic investors are also looking for greener pastures abroad, there is not enough effort made to stimulate the country’s economic growth.
Next, we look at the Malaysian side of the story about the arrest of Xavier Justo. According to the Thai authorities, he was arrested because he had allegedly blackmailed PetroSaudi Investment (PSI). However, Home Minister Zahid Hamidi and others have been singing a different tune, saying that Justo had tampered the emails provided to the Sarawak Report.
Is this again the advice from a PR consultant? Or perhaps, it is because Lim’s influence does not cover the extent in which other cabinet ministers act? I am wondering!
My question is simple: Even if Justo had tampered the emails, how does it affect the questions people are still asking: Where is the RM42 billion? Most people agree with Dr Mahathir that unless 1MDB can show us the money NOW (not six months later), there is a credibility issue with all the parties involved in the entire fiasco.
Another piece of work which appears to come from the PR consultants is Najib’s soft side, wanting to make sure that former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s health condition be given top priority.
In the first place, who was the one who pushed the Sodomy II case all the way to the Federal Court after the Kuala Lumpur High Court had acquitted Anwar of any wrongdoing? If Najib cares to look back, his own popularity took a dip after Anwar was thrown into prison.
My constructive criticism to Najib is that he should at least step down. There is more harm being done to the fragility of our current economic condition than good by him trying to cling on to power for the next 18 months.
Cue already given
Even US President Barack Obama hinted this in a recent response to Malaysian elected representative Yeo Bee Yin who raised the question. The cue has been given, but neither Najib nor his PR consultant have picked this up.
I wish to sound out what the TMJ had said, because in principle, his observation applies universally: “A cowardly leader is the most dangerous of men and that one of the tests of leadership is the ability to recognise a problem before it becomes an emergency.”
TMJ went on to hint that “inventories can be managed, but the people must be led by example and with integrity. Remember that the key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.”
Using the long arm of the law to clamp down on the opposition would only make the survival of Barisan Nasional and UMNO even tougher. As it is, people view Najib’s administration as flexing too much power against the voices of dissent, while not dealing with the core issues such as corruption.
If anything, the PR mogul should deal with this major ‘gangrene’ first, and make the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) go after the big fish. Sadly, this is also where former Transparency International Malaysia president, Paul Low has failed miserably since joining Najib’s cabinet as Minister in charge of governance and integrity. Unless Najib steps up his ante against corruption, Low’s efforts will only be seen as apple polishing the people in the corridors of power.
No amount of force would change people’s perception at this juncture in Malaysian history. Najib has to just look at the arrogance of PAS President Hadi Awang and what this has done to the Islamist party! Overnight, PAS can be dumped by the people who support Pakatan Rakyat.
There are enough lessons to be learned, but has Najib even bothered to listen to the whispers of the wind? Or, does Najib have to hire more PR moguls to join his war room?
The only sensible thing for Najib to do is to step down at a time when the people have lost confidence in him, except a minority of UMNO warlords who are benefiting from the gravy train. This would give BN a better chances of survival in the future ahead, as the rakyat would not like to see a weak opposition, once the new coalition takes over Putrajaya.
Sixty years in power is long enough for BN. When it is time to go, be gracious and give way to the younger generation of leaders such as Rafizi Ramli and Tony Pua to spearhead Malaysia’s economic growth.
Train up the younger leaders who are clean to take over the helm of BN, to serve the people instead of being involved in dirty politics. Perhaps, the people will someday give BN a new mandate but for now, the sinking ship has to go before a new ship can be commissioned.
We are a nation in birth pangs. Malaysia, like Indonesia, is longing to see a Jokowi type of leader, no longer the Suharto type. And sultans in the likes of TMJ! I am sure if the TMJ is criticised by even this humble servant, the TMJ would not be using force, but his brainpower to win the respect of the people and show why what he does is indeed good for the people.