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Awise: Game Over?
By Andrew Ho

13/1/2002 3:39 pm Sun

[Dalam politik, Mahathir kerapkali mengorak langkah melantik orang 'baru' (seperti Khir Toyo dan Musa Muhammad) yang tidak berapa dikenali tetapi kini menjadi terkenal pula dengan skandal dan masalah-masalah baru. Malah mereka ini lebih dikenali kerana masalah yang mereka bawa.... Tentu kita masih belum lupa ungkapan 'mandi darah' oleh Khir Toyo dan bermacam kes yang menggegarkan muncul di kementerian pendidikkan Musa.

Kini dalam bidang perniagaan kita dikejutkan oleh orang 'baru' yang tidak begitu diketahui juga. Seperti politik, mereka yang naik begitu tiba-tiba selalunya tidak akan dapat bertahan lama. Apabila wang dan pelbagai masalah kronik mula mencekik mereka, mereka akan lingkup dengan tiba-tiba juga. Tetapi jatuh mereka disambut dan tidak dikenakan tindakan apa-apa. Yang terkena adalah rakyat Malaysia yang terpaksa menanggung kerugian mereka di hari muka.
- Editor

Game Over?

By Andrew Ho, AsiaWise
10 Jan 2002

The hasty departure of Daim Zainuiddin, the ex-finance minister, was never really understood. Daim left his post on 1 June last year and since then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has held the portfolio.

Speculation of widening disagreements between Daim and Mahathir has bubbled since the beginning of 2000, mostly over the direction of restructuring Malaysia's politically linked distressed companies. Since Daim's departure, we've seen the government take UEM private. Halim Saad, a corporate poster boy for a zippier age, and a Daim protégé, saw the UEM/Renong group wrested from him - a move sensible people welcomed.

Corporate groups like UEM/Renong and Malaysian Resources Corp. Bhd. (MRCB) hogged the limelight since the Asian crisis, for political as much as for financial reasons. But one company that fell into the shadows as a result has jumped back in the news lately and might explain the mystery behind Daim's departure.

Multi Purpose Holdings Bhd. (MPHB) had been in the eye of a storm which broke out after the 1999 jailing of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. MPHB, formerly controlled by Lim Thian Kiat (TK Lim), was long viewed as a proxy for the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), the ethnic Chinese-based party that holds up one end of Malaysia's governing coalition.

MPHB was formed by the MCA in 1975 and listed on the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange in 1982. It was developed as a Chinese corporate bulwark at a time when most of the businesses in the community were relatively small. It was the MCA's corporate counterweight against the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO)'s expanding business ventures. In earlier days, MPHB was headed by rising entrepreneur Tan Koon Swan, who later became MCA president.

When recession hit much of Southeast Asia in 1985-86, MPHB went into a tailspin, weighed down as it was by debts accumulated in the early '80s - thanks largely to aggressive expansion plans, which included a foray into the shipping business. That recession coincidentally saw the infamous collapse of Koon Swan's Singapore listed vehicle, Pan-Electric - and Koon Swan's political and corporate career; the Singapore Stock Exchange pursued him and won a conviction for stock manipulation.

By 1989, receivers were evaluating takeover bids for MPHB, a process that became intensely heated. The Hong Leong group, one of the more promising bidders, was accused of having links to UMNO, and an offer of RM562 million from the then-unknown TK Lim won the day. Ironically, Lim's family company, which operates a toll concession, was also perceived to have close ties with the UMNO leadership - especially then rising star Anwar Ibrahim.

Under Lim, MPHB was restored to health. He disposed of non-core assets, including some plantations, and added a bank along the way. However, the cash cow and main earnings driver remained Magnum, the country's largest numbers game operator.

If TK Lim's entry into MPHB in 1989 dominated the business pages, his departure was noted with only a barely audible squeak - an official notice to the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange (KLSE) that he had resigned all his various posts. The market laid his demise to Anwar's.

After Lim's departure, Akhbar Khan and his nephew, Mohamed Moiz Ali Moiz, moved in to the 40th floor headquarters at Menara MPHB. There, rumor has it, Akhbar and Moiz hatched plans to de-link MPHB from its related companies -- Malaysia Plantations and Kamunting. Nephew Moiz, no time waster, subsequently acquired Bandaraya Developments, the property development arm of MPHB.

Then Chan Chin Cheung, through his wholly owned Quantum Aspects, acquired 31% in MPHB from Kamunting. Chan was instrumental in acquiring control of the then obscure Renong Bhd. and subsequently turning it over to Tan Sri Halim Saad in the late 1980s -- Renong going on to be the giant corporate vehicle of UMNO before hitting a brick wall three years ago.

This is where we pick up pieces on Daim's part of the story. Both Akhbar and Chan are believed to be close allies of Daim, regarded as the real mastermind behind creation of Renong.

The takeover of MPHB, which controlled the Magnum betting cash cow, did not go down well with the Chinese community. Magnum, despite some problems encountered during the crisis, generates an annual RM 400 million cash flow and letting MPHB come under control of a proxy of UMNO -- or even a perceived proxy - risked dooming Mahathir's coalition. The Chinese vote, after all, proved very helpful in last year's general election and the poll might have gone very differently had appearances not been tended to.

So, to soften the blow of the takeover, six Chinese businessmen, led by MWE Corp. boss Lau Kim Khoon (also known by his Thai name Surin Upatkoon) took a 85% stake in Quantum Aspects -- while Chan's stake was reduced to 15%. One longtime follower of the MPHB saga called this a move to 'dilute' the fallout from the original takeover, although Kim Khoon's arrival was not enough to put out this fire because the deal still had Daim's modus operandi written all over it.

In November, five months after Daim's departure, two relative unknowns, Tan Kok Ping and Hamzah Zainuddin, sought and won seats on MPHB's board at the behest of unidentified folk "at the highest levels of government." Though they don't own an MPHB share between them, their "backing" proved enough to win them seats there - and on Magnum's board as well by November.

The changes on MPHB's board signal a change in shareholdings, say some observers. Tan purportedly has a note from a senior government official in support of their MPHB board appointments - and advice that Quantum Aspects should sell them some shares from their 31% stake in MPHB.

Very little is known about the two, except that there are shareholder factions within Quantum Aspects that support them. Their political proclivities are unclear at this point; the surest bet is that the MCA is unlikely to cede control of MPHB.

MPHB may not be the last politically connected stock to go through gyrations in Malaysia - but it may be the one that proves the undoing of Malaysia's system of business by political gamesmanship.

The Incompetent Mr. Musa Muhammad Must Go!

Throw the book at the guilty if segregation charge is true

By Ashraf Abdullah

IN recent months, the Education Ministry has been making the news for anything but the best of reasons.

The latest involves allegations that pupils of Sekolah Kebangsaan Pelabuhan Kelang are being segregated according to race rather than academic performance.

Just a month ago, 5,000 Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia Modern Mathematics II answer scripts went missing when the Toyota Prado in which they were being transported was stolen in Kuantan.

It was negligence by two officials who, for reasons best known to them, chose to leave the vehicle unguarded when they went to a hotel.

Earlier this year, the Ministry came under fire when many students claimed that they failed to secure places in the local public universities although they had performed better that some of those who were admitted.

Education Minister Tan Sri Musa Mohamad later explained that besides academic performance, participation in co-curricular activities was taken into consideration for the placement exercise.

He could have spared himself the trouble of explanation, mostly via the media, if he had ensured that his officers and teachers had informed students beforehand.

The allegation that schoolchildren are being segregrated according to race is a serious one.

If investigations by the Selangor Education Department find that the claims are true, then those responsible should be punished to the limit of the law.

The matter is made worse by claims by the National Union of Teaching Profession that more than 200 secondary and primary schools in the country practise racial segregation.

NUTP secretary general Datuk N. Siva Subramaniam said he would soon give the ministry the full list of schools allegedly involved.

Schools should not use the excuse of differing timetables for Pendidikan Moral and Agama Islam to segregate students. For many years, schools have worked around it. There is no reason why they can't do it now.

If Siva Subramaniam's claim is indeed true, then NUTP should also be taken to task for failing to raise the issue earlier.

Why wait until the various parties have brought up the issue before making a big hue and cry? On the part of the union, this is a dereliction of duty.

It does not take the wisdom of Solomon to comprehend the importance of racial harmony in a multiracial country like Malaysia.

Surely, the minister is aware racial unity has been the backbone of Malaysia's success story.

Respect and tolerance for one another should be instilled from a tender age. They should be carefully nurtured so that the children, as they grow up, will look at one another as fellow Malaysians.

If they are segregrated as primary school students, there's very little hope for a Bangsa Malaysia.

The paranoia of racial conflict, lurking like gremlins in the darkest corridors of our history, will continue to haunt us.

The Ministry should take cognisance of the fact that its plans to mix the various races in university dormitories met with resistance. The move failed due to strong objections from students and parents.

The ministry should not take on a contradictory approach to foster closer inter-racial relations.

The entire objective will be defeated if in the universities it tries to encourage sharing of dormitories, while in primary schools the students are segregated by race.

If they are encouraged to mingle as primary school students, then as adults they would have no problem sharing dormitories with students of different races, each respecting the other's different beliefs, culture and customs.

The statement by Musa that the allegations against Sek Keb Pelabuhan Klang will be investigated is not enough. If it is found true, action should follow.

The crime is serious enough - undermining the Government's policy of promoting racial harmony.

In order to correct negative public perception of the ministry, action taken against guilty must be made public, especially in cases that attract public interest.

If the allegation by Siva Subramaniam that there may be elements out to undermine the Government is true, then it means these educationists are deliberately working against the aspirations of the Government.

Such activities are tantamount to sabotage and if that can be proven, the ministry can redeem itself if it acts swiftly by exposing these people and weeding them out of the system.

The longer the ministry waits, the more entrenched they become and the greater will be the public dissatisfaction, first with the ministry, and then the Government. Furthermore, such elements ought not to be allowed to fester for they will not only betray the nobility of the teaching profession but will also destroy the faith parents have in them.

The Education Ministry does attract a lot of public attention, simply because millions of parents around the country have children in school. As it is being watched closely, it should not tolerate inefficiency, or any kind of wrongdoing.