MGG: A crony-extraordinaire who does not know if is in or out?
By M.G.G. Pillai
30/3/2002 1:27 am Sat
Tan Sri Francis Yeoh, the crony-extraordinaire, is, you hear him
tell it, on Cloud Nine. He outsmarted the UK's best and the
brightest of financiers and investment advisors to snatch Wessex
Water from their arrogant colonial noses. It is a good deal, he
insists, and his financial and investment advisors cannot echo it
fast enough. No one, especially his vaunted advisors, saw the
fine print but he paid nearly RM7 billion for it. A good buy, he
insists, and one that would pay dividends far into the future.
How does YTL intend to pay for it? No answer. More important,
can YTL afford this huge debt given it does not have the crony
backing it once had: A prominent Malaysian who has the ear of
the Prime Minister says YTL has turned his stretch of Jalan Bukit
Bintang into a private fiefdom. Is this purchase then to prove
his patron wrong, that he is more than a crony-extraordinaire he
was until recently?
His previous attempts to burnish his crony-extraordinaire
failed disastrously. Malay promised to build houses for ANC
veterans in South Africans, 10,000 of them. It was given to YTL
the usual Bolehland manner, to a crony without tender or to see
if they were delivered as promised. It led to Mr Nelson
Mandela's sudden interest in Malaysian promises of goodwill and
help. He ran foul of Zimbabwean laws when President Robert
Mugabe, by presidential fiat, defied his country's laws and
electricity company, awarded the construction of the Hpwange
hydroelectric project. It has yet to deliver that too.
He talks of neither now; it is not the huge success we were
told it would be at the time. Now he buys into Wessex Water from
its previous owner, the now-bankrupt Enron Corp. Mark you, YTL
does not have any experience in water management nor any history
of hydroelectric dams or building homes in foreign countries.
And YTL tells us now Wessex Water will be its crown jewel,
heavily mortaged but its crown jewel all the same. If you look
at how other cronies-extraordinaire-who-no-longer-are, this is
how they behaved before the fall. Those brilliant financiers and
analysts who thought they would survive for a century ran the
other way when it could not 100 months. The magic had gone. To
resurrect their tattered reputations, these cronies hyped their
businesses and business empires, went out of their way to show
how close they are to the Prime Minister, and sued all and sundry
YTL was ecstatic it found, in a survey meant for no reason
than get the results YTL wanted, those who rented space in his
Starhill and Lot 10 shopping centres wanted to shut the stretch
of Jalan Bukit Bintang where its fief is on weekends: that would
restrict cars to all except the YTL properties, which had a road
leading to them through its other property on Jalan Imbi called
the Ritz Carlton hotel. A law abiding man that Tan Sri Francis
Yeoh is, he obeyed the will of the cabinet when it backed the
closure; no doubt, he would the recent cabinet's reversal of
However he may look at it, it is a sign YTL and Tan Sri
Francis Yeoh would not be cronies extraordinaire for too long.
The cabinet decided that stretch of road had to stay open for it
had no intention to inconvenience the people. "The government is
sensitive to the needs of the people," says cabinet minister,
Dato' Pandikar Amin Mulia. As it was not in January when it
ordered the closure? That it talks of people's rights is itself
new. It has never cared much for the people's needs. No cabinet
minister has yet come forth to take to task a motor car
distributor who proudly told reporters that because its new line
of motor cars do well it intends to ask for a five to ten per
cent rise in price.
That this comes amidst the Prime Minister, Dato' Seri
Mahathir Mohamed's anger at bumiputras who do not perform, and
asserts it by force-feeding his Chinese cronies with projects
they cannot handle, it raised a political storm amongst the
dominant UMNO rank-and-file. It shows itself during the Ketari
byelection where the UMNO campaigners are asked questions like
these they cannot answer. At the same time, it is important
non-Malay voters of the government's sensitivity to people's
problems. Damning a crony-extraordinarie in public is one way in
a rural constituency as Ketari. It hopes all would applaud and
voters would their votes for its candidate.
That it not all. The National Front (BN) government depends
more on the non-Malay, especially Chinese vote, to remain in
power. So, it must be, more and more from now on, sensitive to
the needs of the people. As it said about the closure of that
stretch of Jalan Bukit Bintang: "So, from all the outcry,
including the petitions we received, the cabinet decided to
return the road to its status quo." He stretches the truth here.
There was no outcry. Yes, some shopkeepers did express their
concern, but since when did the government listen to outcries
when a crony's right to shortchange the public is questioned?
Especially when the crony-extraordinaire demands it?
So, we now come to the larger question of the crony's
extraordinary investment in the United Kingdom. His press
statement suggests how his brilliant financier and business men
who cocked a snook at the UK's best and finest -- to tell
Malaysians no doubt that a man from the colonies could teach
colonial grandmothers how to suck eggs. His press statement
about his foray and how the local newspapers reported it,
complete with financial analysts who could not only find anything
wrong with it but no better company could have done it. That is
not why YTL bought Wessex Water: it was also to show Dr Mahathir
it could succeed where others failed.
No one questioned if YTL could afford it? It sunk into one
investment -- that too overseas -- more money than in any other.
YTL goes for broke. It supposes internal problems no one talks
about, and his investment in the UK a gamble from which it walks
away with billions or goes into receivership. It has nothing to
do with the group's brilliance in water management or power
production or building houses. It is a last ditch effort to hold
on to what it has. If YTL does well now, why this massive
investment in an unknown field in a foreign country? Was it to
siphon funds to a safe haven? The Malaysian Business recently
listed the 40 richest Malaysians; seven were from the YTL
family. There were not in that list a decade earlier. In
between was Tan Sri Francis Yeoh's rise as crony-extraordinaire
to the Prime Minister.
When you look at the cronies who have come and gone, it is a
roll call of Malaysia Boleh's disasters. These Tan Sris who
thought above their station to presume they could control the
"dalang" (master puppeteer) and found that they could be unmade
as easily as they were made. Malay politics is so
confrontational that none in power can afford the luxury of known
cronies, Malay or non-Malay. Not any more. To make it worse,
the Chinese and Indian ground also rumbles. The divide between
cronies and their protectors and the corresponding weaknesses of
the communities they are nominally from is so wide that the
protector is nervous at the communal sniping at their cronies.
The crony, strong as he thought he is, unexpectedly is tied
in knots, and unties himself with a confidence that reveals not
his strength but his weakness. What YTL and Tan Sri Francis Yeoh
has exuded in the past few months is this weakness. In his
emailed YTL Community News, he carried Bernama reports of the
Prime Minister's recent visit to Russia, Germany and Poland. He
had not before. Why? He makes mistakes that it would not be
long before even the Prime Minister would walk the other way when
he approaches. And all this after he gets to privatise KTM's
Sentul Golf Club land, special deals to allow him to take control
of choice land in Bukit Bintang, and huge contracts offered him
on a platter. Now, who would succeed him?