IN my view, not everything is bad or negative when the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim chooses to “reprimand” entrepreneur Tan Si Syed Mokhtar Albukhary.
First of all, many people “reprimanded” Anwar back and accused him of punishing the only Bumiputera entrepreneur in the “billionaire” category in Malaysia but are silent about non-Bumiputeras who also gained access to monopolies, contracts and concessions worth billions of ringgit from the government.
Interestingly, many also defended and praised Syed Mokhtar for his many charities and his ability to compete with non-Bumiputeras.
Let’s accept the very fact that not all entrepreneurs are “perfect” and not all monopolies, contracts and concessions they received are transparent. As a former deputy prime minister (DPM) and finance minister during the 1990s privatisation era, Anwar was directly involved with many entrepreneurs of various ethnical background having benefited from his largesse (generosity).
I am quite sure that if he wants to, he is able to gather all entrepreneurs who enjoyed great profits from his generosity 30 years ago to help him rebuild the Malaysian economy the way Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was assisted by the Malaysian Business Council.
Maybe Anwar was not directly involved in developing and advancing Syed Mokhtar’s business empire. When Anwar became Dr Mahathir’s right-hand man in the 1990s, Syed Mokhtar was already a successful Bumiputera businessman.
Among those who helped him was Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin who was then Johor menteri besar. Dr Mahathir came later (after Muhyiddin).
Syed Mokhtar is five years younger than me and we shared the same school. I attended the morning session at the St Michael government aided school in Alor Setar while he went to St Michael private afternoon school.
He knew my father through cows and buffalos. My father raised cows and buffalos. Syed Mokhtar and his father were in the cow and buffalo business.
Anwar brought up the issue of rice monopoly. This rice monopoly was created by the government. It has already existed since the colonial era having started as the Rice Distribution Guilds after the Second World War and later came under the Food Control Office.
Under this monopoly system, rice, sugar and wheat franchises were given to (Malaysia-born tycoon) Robert Kuok’s father, the late Kuok Keng Kang, by the Johor state government and several other Chinese tycoons in other states.
In 1971, the government established the National Paddy and Rice Board (LPN). In 1996, it was privatised to become Padiberas Nasional Bhd (BERNAS) and listed on Bursa Malaysia the following year. At that time, Anwar was the DPM and finance minister. Of course, he is well aware of Syed Mokhtar’s origin. He only bought over the control of BERNAS in 2014.
It seems this is story is reflective of pukul anak sindir menantu (literally, scolding one’s son to tick off one’s in-law). The real target may be the “chief agitator” of Perikatan Nasional (PN) Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim who badmouthed about the collapse of the unity government.
(Editor’s Note: Syed Mokhtar took ownership of BERNAS after he bought 31% of the company’s shares from Tan Sri Tan Boon Seng for about RM800 mil and Shahidan’s stakes at RM400 mil.)
On Nov 24, he was reported to have said that a Pakatan Harapan (PH)-led Federal Government that chooses to work with a party with a small number of seats will not last long. For those who don’t know, Anwar and Shahidan have been enemies for a long time.
Anwar has already said that it wasn’t his intention to threaten Syed Mokhtar’s empire. In fact, by reprimanding Syed Mokhtar and getting a “donation” of RM60 mil for two years will not solve the poverty of rice farmers or rice imports.
To begin to understand this problem, Anwar and the Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Mohamad Sabu have to roll up their trousers and walk down the paddy fields. – Dec 8, 2022
Veteran journalist and blogger Datuk A. Kadir Jasin was Bersatu’s former supreme council member.
The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.