Thursday, 19 July 2012

Favouring big players upsets Malay businesses

The Malay Chamber of Commerce hinted at discontent over the Najib administration's preferential treatment for the big players 

KUALA LUMPUR: The Malay Chamber of Commerce (DPMM) is not happy with the government’s alleged favouritism in dishing out big contracts to powerful individuals at the expense of Bumiputera players.

Its chairman, Syed Ali Mohamed Alattas, made a thinly veiled attack against the government on the ongoing Ampang LRT rail extension project debacle, calling it a “tail end”, in a move that could signal division among the Malay business community.

This could also mean that Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak may not enjoy much of the needed support from a community whose votes have helped keep the ruling coalition in power.

“Is it the tail end or the tail spin?” said Syed Ali when asked to comment on the issue, suggesting that there are more to the scandal than just accusations of alleged power abuse in the tender award process that was said to have been given to the George Kent consortium.

Najib had been accused by the opposition of tampering with the contract award process in favour of the consortium whose owner, tycoon Tan Kay Hock, is said to be the premier’s golf buddy, an allegation he denied.


PKR strategic director Rafizi Ramli, however, claimed leaked official documents showed the contract had already been awarded to Tan’s consortium, which was said to be among those which had failed the project’s technical evaluation process.

George Kent’s annual report states that it is an engineering company whose core expertise was in water infrastructure projects.

The instruction to give the job to George Kent was shown in Finance Ministry’s approval letter dated June 25, at the cost of RM1.18 billion, which is RM167 million more than the remaining competitive bids.

George Kent today chose to remain silent over the allegations and denied it had been given the job.

While Syed Ali refused to comment on the issue, he pointed out that George Kent was also one of those in the running for the lucrative RM7 billion contract for the Gemas-Johor Baru electrified double tracking project.

“If it had failed [in the LRT bid], why are you giving the contract to them? You blacklisted and punished the small players but not the big boys,” he said.


The sentiment showed by Syed Ali mirrors the prevalent undercurrent of frustration among “small- time” Malay businesses which often depend on government contracts to survive.

But opposition leaders and Najib alike had stressed the need to eradicate this culture, but observers say ridding itself of the “Malay patronage” system is akin to shooting the premier’s own foot.

Political observers note that this contracts-for-votes system is one of the key factors behind Barisan Nasional’s entrenched support, which was also seen as the main reason behind Najib’s move to delay liberalisation.

Najib is already struggling to cope with divisions within his own party and upsetting the Malay business community could stack up the odds against his tough task of improving BN’s record losses in the 2008 general election.

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