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Malaysia's de facto finance minister

  • By taking control of GLCs and statutory institutions, PPBM is also spreading its tentacles deep into the Malay society economics.

Sin Chew Daily

If you understand the world of government-linked companies, then you understand Malaysia's political world.

If Prof Dr Edmund Terence Gomez is not Malaysia's most pre-eminent economist, he is at least the most outspoken.

In his latest report, he explained how the Malaysian government involved itself in GLCs and why it did so.

Anyone who controls the government controls the GLCs, and anyone who controls the GLCs will control the resources, and everything.

So, to understand the political world of this country, we must first understand Malaysia's GLCs.

During the election campaign, Pakatan Harapan made two promises, that the prime minister would not be finance minister, and that politicians would not take up senior positions in GLCs.

“PM cum finance minister” was a product in BN's time, and it all started from Umno's Mahathir!

Mahathir was well aware that he would have all the powers in his hands if he, as prime minister, was also finance minister.

Although Mahathir did not appoint himself as finance minister after winning the 2018 general elections, he allowed an ethnic Chinese to helm the portfolio.

But the thing is, even if Mahathir is not the finance minister, he has transferred nine GLCs under the finance ministry to the prime minster's department, economic affairs ministry, entrepreneurship development ministry and rural development ministry.

The most important of them all, Khazanah and PNB which have major stakes in many heavyweight listed companies, are now under the purview of the prime minister's department.

Mahathir himself is the president of PPBM. While economic affairs minster Azmin Ali is not from this party, he is a trusted aide of the prime minister and is closer to PPBM than his own PKR. Entrepreneurship development minister Mohd Redzuan Md Yusof is from PPBM; so is rural development minster Rina Mohd Harun.

Now the prime minister's department is taking control of Malaysia's corporate “aircraft carriers”, the economic affairs ministry most of the GLCs, rural development ministry the statutory institutions, and the entrepreneurship development ministry the SMEs.

Gomez highlighted the fact that Mahathir is the country's de facto finance minister, while PPBM and pro-PPBM ministers are controlling the GLCs, statutory institutions and SME Corporation.

Now this tiny party becomes the central government within the PH administration!

Then what is left for the finance ministry and its minister?

Gomez said Lim Guan Eng was not much more than a “regulator for government spending”.

As for the other PH promise, namely politicians will not be appointed GLC positions, most people may have just overlooked it given the large number of pledges made and unfulfilled.

Gomez's report shows that many key GLC positions have gone to PPBM leaders, including defeated candidates in GE14. He cited some names and the positions they are now holding.

I have to add here that both LGE and Azmin have rebutted Gomez's argument. The finance minster said even if there were politicians in GLCs, their number was never as large as during BN's time, while Azmin said he did not collude with Mahathir and PPBM to monopolise the powers.

Perhaps this is the outcome of PH's election pledge of so-called “GLC reform”.

Gomez said it was like changing hands, from Umno's to PPBM's.

How on earth could this esteemed scholar be so forthright and unpretentious?

And now, the government has already disposed of its assets and equity stakes in several GLCs, including IHH Healthcare and Media Prima.

By taking control of GLCs and statutory institutions, PPBM is also spreading its tentacles deep into the Malay society economics, as evidenced by the incorporation of bumiputra agenda into the recently unveiled “Shared Prosperity Vision 2030”.

All these policies and trends have close-knit relations to PH administration's power structure.

I have read the book Malaysia's Political Economy: Politics, Patronage and Profits co-authored by Gomez and Jomo Kwame Sundaram on the collusion of Malaysia's politics and corporate sector to shape the country's money politics during BN's time.

I'm looking forward to Prof Gomz's next book with much anticipation!


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