Sometimes it pays to be decisive

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Sabah and Sarawak MPs should be respected as key pillars of power within BN

Hari Raya has come early for Pakatan Harapan. Going into this week, BN is facing a sustained assault on two issues of its own making.

The first involved FGV’s Chairman, Tan Sri Isa Samad’s decision to suspend popular CEO, Dato Zakaria Arshad. The issue erupted on the 2nd of June, peaked last week and now seems to be settling down in terms as it is no longer played up in the news. In the background, the MACC has launched a massive investigation into the company and allegations of malpractice and abuse of power has even found its way to the pages of Utusan Melayu.

The Prime Minister had a chance to solve the issue conclusively on Saturday, but chose to demur. It was probably an unnecessary mistake as removing an unpopular Chairman, reinstating the old CEO with a mandate to take the company forward would have conclusively ended the issue on a favourable set of terms. Instead, the issue is left to stew for another 2 weeks allowing people, especially Felda settler’s and their families, to raise more questions on exactly why Tan Sri Isa is being retained by the Prime Minister. It was quite something for a boardroom tussle of a listed company to suddenly be the headline news event going into the final countdown before the General Election.

And if the Prime Minister had his hands full dealing with one boardroom tussle, he now has an even bigger problem to worry about.

This is about a simmering war in the highest boardroom of all in the country – the Cabinet. 

The issue has so far dragged five ministers into the fray . On one side is PetraJaya MP and Works Minister, Dato Fadilah Yusof, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan and ironically, Malaysia’s top diplomat Dato’ Sri Anifah Aman trying to bridge this internal crisis between fellow Ministers.  Youth and Sports Minister, Khairy Jamaluddin, too is acting in a role as a peace maker.

The PetraJaya MP is a political heavyweight.
The PetraJaya MP is a political heavyweight.
Abdul Rahman Dahlan 230316
The Kota Belud MP took many bullets for the PM in defusing the 1MDB crisis. A junior minister, he is not.
The Foreign Minister is acting as a peacemaker.
The Foreign Minister is acting as a peacemaker.
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The Rembau MP is also lending a hand to defuse the situation.

And on the other side is, Tourism Minister, Datuk Nazri Aziz, who is currently standing all by himself.

It all started when Datuk Nazri Aziz, lambasted Sarawak Tourism Minister, Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah over the latter’s protestation on the Hotel tax.

This was not taken lying down by the other Sarawak and Sabah MPs, which lead to the current spat. This entire issue quickly flared up to angry exchange of words and is being played out in Twitter space and through the Opposition leaning news portals. Already it has led to official action by the Sarawak State Government’s Tourism Council pulling out of the Malaysian Tourism Board.

The question that remains unanswered is whether Datuk Nazri has secret support among the Peninsular Malaysia UMNO MPs. If he has, then this could erupt into a “free for all” verbal onslaught at the next Cabinet meeting.  The longer the issue drags on, the more opportunity is it for parties to take a position one way or the other.

The Rembau Times also notes that it is quite a departure from standard Government Operating Procedures for an individual ministry to impose a tax with revenue proceeds going to its coffers. After all, if the Works Ministry could decide that the road tax collected by the Transport Ministry should go to its coffers to fund infrastructure projects. The Ministry of Defense may impose a protection of borders tax and the Ministry of Interior may impose a protection of property tax. One could also argue, the reason why tourists come to Malaysia is a combination of the contribution from various ministries and not down to one ministry alone.

This could be the line of argument proposed by Sarawak MPs to deflect the issue. And if so, Sarawak and Sabah should be exempt, because they run their own Tourism Department and should be able to exercise some degree autonomy over issues on revenue collection.

Apart from an arcane point of view on the role and function of the Treasury, this issue could see the end of Datuk Nazri’s political career. The PM has dispatched no less than a Deputy Prime Minister, an UMNO Vice President and the founder of UMNO (Baru) in the space of a year. The Prime Minister however continues to hold his position so long as the MPs give him their support.  And by the last count, almost half of the MPs in Barisan Nasional come from Sabah and Sarawak.  Political volatility, like volatility in the financial markets can remain compressed for a long time before exploding.

The Prime Minister cannot afford to have this issue fester for a day longer.

He should take the opportunity tomorrow to put closure to all these issue, namely – postpone the Tourism tax to after the elections, and/or ensure that the tax collected by Sabah and Sarawak goes to state coffers and solve the FGV crisis. Perhaps then he could breath a sigh of relief as he focuses on “softening” the ground in preparation for the upcoming election.

(Editors note: The Rembau Times actually wanted to do a short profile into how an investment bank like Goldman Sachs operates. But alas, this story came along)

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