MGG: The elephants fight, the grass gets trampled
By M.G.G. Pillai
28/1/2002 12:53 pm Mon
When the Prime Minister, Dato' Seri Mahathir Mohamed, declared
Malaysia an Islamic state, it reflected yet again the continuing
'jihad' of the Hamids. He had asked his special adviser on
Islamic affairs, Dato' Seri Hamid Othman, and his minister for
Islamic affairs, Brig.-Gen (R) Dato' Seri Hamid Zainal Abidin
about it: the first Hamid wanted it, the second did not. In
every Islamic matter referred to them, the two disagree.
The 'old' Hamid, a polished Islamic worthy with a doctorate
in Islamic studies, wears his erudition well and profers advice
with insight and foresight; the 'new' Hamid intent on putting the
'old' down. In other words, the jihad of the Hamids continues
unabated. No where is this in full nakedness than than in the
affairs of Lembaga Tabung Haji, the pilgrimage fund board, where
the minister Hamid, now in charge, is hell bent to destroy all
traces of his predecessor, the adviser Hamid, from the body,
while packing the organisation with as many cronies and acolytes
he could find. Those working there find the heat unbearable, as
many are declared redundant for reasons other than competence.
It would have been funny, only that it is not since moral is low
and about 1,000 could lose their jobs.
He runs the organisation as a bull in a china shop. He
replaced the chairmen and most board members of its subsidiaries
with his own men. And they run the subsidiaries as if they own
it: one newly-appointed non-executive chairman voted himself
executive chairman within weeks of his appointment. These changes
come amidst an important change in the Tabung Haji management.
Danaharta, the government agency formed to bail out the cronies
and revamp their company management, is brought in to revamp
Tabung Haji after a former chairman lost nearly RM1 billion in
unwise investments in Indonesia.
This is where Tabung Haji's future is at risk. The new men
from Danaharta are all accountants, there for three years at
salaries of between RM30,000 and RM40,000 a month, or double the
going rate in Tabung Haji, to turn it around. All they do is
sell assets, merge or shut down companies by looking at its
balance sheet. There is no concern for other than red ink.
Their short term look, amidst the 'new' Hamid's narrow
self-centred outlook, ensures a larger danger for Tabung Haji
and, by extension, the government.
Between Dato' Seri Hamid Zainal Abidin, with his gross
insecurities, and the accountants with their penny-pinching short
term approach to company rescue, there is suddenly a hidden but
real danger of its assets being hijacked. Already, there appears
to be an elaborate move by the master business 'dalang' (puppet
master) to hive off Tabung Haji's valuable assets into a private
company he ultimately controls. How does he do this? First, he
gets loss making smaller companies in the group take over assets
of larger and better run companies. Tabung Haji Properties took
over Enstek, with its large land bank, adjacent to the Malaysian
Super Corridor; another, Tabung Haji Technology, takes over the
construction arm, Tabung Haji Universal Builders. Both minnows
swallowing eagles, with 1,000 jobs to be shed; and makes no
sense. The minister should have stepped in, but he would not:
the key man in the takeovers is his former pupil when he was a
Malay school teachers at Victoria Institution.
But this man attempts this under conditions that make no
sense. One cast-iron rule the government demands is to ban
construction companies from sharing directors. This is breached.
A director in a politically well-connected publicly-listed
construction company is now on the board of Tabung Haji Universal
Builders. So, it begs the intriguing question if the takeover
would be absorbed by the other construction company. However,
one looks at this, it looks an elaborate scam, one the 'old'
Hamid would not have countenanced. But this is akin to selling
the family silver. The morale is low and the staff traumatised.
The accountants from Danaharta, as their ilk everywhere,
sell assets in a flurry of pointless economic activity to improve
short term balance sheets, and leave two or three years later
with a semblance of re-organisation, just before their handiwork
produces yet other lossess. Look at Bank Bumiputra: it is
revamped to run into trouble every four or five years, with
losses never dreamt of before. In other words, company
management by accountants only ensure a mini-Enron waiting to
explode. Tabung Haji is too important to be subjected to this
The Prime Minister is about to leave for medical treatment
overseas, and he has other more serious problems on his mind to
bother about the travails of Tabung Haji. But he must look at it
for while he crows of Malaysia as an Islamic state, he cannot
afford the prime Islamic foundation of his government to be raped
and pirated in a cynical business deal when the minister in
charge is busy trying to control what may soon slip through for
reasons he would not understand. If this happens, the downside
for the prime minister is worse: it provides PAS with ample
ammunition that he allows his cronies to steal Tabung Haji's
crown jewels, besides more members from its distraught and
disaffected staff. And turn it into an election issue at the
next general election.