By Abdul Rashid Hasnol
ONCE a high-profile corporate personality, Datuk Seri Dr Edmund Santhara seems to be having problems adjusting to life as a Deputy Federal Territory Minister. Recently, he was in the media limelight for taking a 55-day leave from official duties to be with his family in New Zealand.
The public was furious that Santhara can be away from work for such a long period when they, particularly the urban poor in the Federal Territories, were having problems making ends meet due to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially since he is paid using public funds.
And how did Santhara get out of the country when we continue to hear stories about how families were torn apart due to travel restrictions, including some who could not be with their loved ones who are terminally ill.
This is against the backdrop of how the Government appears to have double standards when it comes to imposing COVID-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs) – one for the ruling elites and another for the masses.
Perhaps Santhara has forgotten that life as a public figure is different from life as a corporate player. Politicians draw a higher level of public scrutiny because they are supposed to lead by example and their salaries are paid by taxpayers.
Just because the Prime Minister has approved Santhara’s leave, doesn’t mean that it is alright for the latter to be away from work for so long. In the private sector, staff who pull this during such economically trying times, may find themselves walking out of their jobs for good.
Perhaps the first-term lawmaker and deputy minister is too much of a political greenhorn to understand the nuances and intricacies that public life entails. Prior to this, Santhara ran the Maskterskill Education Group Bhd, which operated the Masterskill College.
The institution, now rebranded Asia Metropolitan University, was traditionally a nursing college. In its heydays it drew tens of thousands of students and Santhara, then a substantial shareholder, cashed out just before the Government introduced stricter entry requirements into nursing programmes nationwide. Following that, the college’s appeal started to decline.
Sitting on a cash pile after selling his Masterskill stake, Santhara started to dabble in politics. In the 2013 general election, he stood as an independent in Hulu Selangor, but managed to get only 999 votes.
In the 2018 general election, riding on widespread public disenchantment with Barisan Nasional, Santhara defeated MIC president Datuk Seri Subramaniam in Segamat, Johor.
Following the Sheraton Move in February 2020, Santhara joined Datuk Seri Azmin Ali in leaving Parti Keadilan Rakyat to pledge support for Muhyiddin as PM. In return, Santhara was made deputy minister.
Being an ex-corporate figure in politics drew attention. In 2019, Santhara was listed as the wealthiest MP, with assets worth RM132 mil according to the Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission (MACC) disclosure. The following year, he was among the top four richest Cabinet members.
It was because of his wealth that Santhara said he decided to send his family to New Zealand, citing safety concerns. But his worries do not make sense because even with assets totalling RM132 mil, Santhara does not even make the list of top 100 wealthiest Malaysians.
Perhaps Santhara has yet to learn how to strike a balance between his role as a politician and that of a family man. Like most of us, he can’t have the best of both worlds. And unlike most of us, he has to decide soon because he can’t be blowing taxpayers money and still not deliver as a public official. – Mar 4, 2021
Abdul Rashid Hasnol is a FocusM contributor
The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.
Photo credit: Malaysiakini