Monday 6 June 2011

As Malaysia’s assets wane, Umno scrambles for wealth control

June 06, 2011
KUALA LUMPUR, June 6 — The fight is on for the country’s diminishing resources and assets, and leading the charge to secure rights to projects and land ownership are Umno warlords and politically-connected individuals.

As Malaysia grapples with imminent tariff hikes and a subsidy bill that could double to RM21 billion this year, individuals within the ruling Malay party appear to be wasting little time in demanding that the Najib administration award them immediate rights to government and commercial projects.

This is evident in the current tussle surrounding Umno’s attacks on UDA Holdings Bhd’s sale of prime land in downtown Kuala Lumpur, where despite the agency’s assurance that the sale to Mutiara Goodyear would benefit Bumiputeras, Umno leaders have attacked the agency, saying RM215.5 million deal would hurt Bumiputera interests.

“With the government announcement of the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) and projects, these people want to take advantage of the situation, they want a share of the pie,” said Merdeka Center director Ibrahim Suffian.

“There is an expectation that for continued political support, Umno needs to be economically secure, and what we are seeing now is a scramble for diminishing assets, properties,” Ibrahim told The Malaysian Insider.

UDA has also come under fire recently from Malay hardliners in Umno and Perkasa as well as Utusan Malaysia for allegedly abandoning the Bumiputera agenda after it chose not to appoint Bumiputera joint-venture turnkey investors for the proposed Bukit Bintang City Centre, located on prime land in the heart of Kuala Lumpur’s Golden Triangle.

Umno leaders have alleged that there are several Bumiputera companies that were more than capable to be part of the redevelopment project, but were overlooked by the agency.

Another project that has come under fire from Malay hardliners is the Klang Valley Mass Rapid Transit project where they have won a concession to allow consortiums to pre-qualify for the country’s most expensive infrastructure project.

Project owners Syarikat Prasarana Negara Berhad had earlier restricted the tenders to construction companies with higher capital and longer experience but acceded to demands led by Perkasa, the Malay rights group.

Merdeka Center’s Ibrahim said that the trend in Umno’s growing demands in acquiring government and commercial projects showed a continuation of an oft-clichéd practice of money politics within the party. According to Ibrahim, Umno still used political connections to maximise its own profits.

“We can see that there’s even a scramble within different factions of Umno for projects, assets... but the thing is the scramble for assets is not as lucrative as it used to be, perhaps that is why this is happening,” the polls analyst added.

Universiti Sains Malaysia lecturer Dr Sivamurugan Pandian feels the government should only award projects or business deals to those who were deserving, saying that the continuation of “patronage politics” could backfire on Umno.

“They (Umno) need to adapt to the current environment... an individual or company should only be awarded a project or sale of land if they are fully qualified, it has to be based on those who fulfil the best criteria,” the political analyst told The Malaysian Insider.
The DAP’s Tony Pua blames the current situation as the biggest flaw of the New Economic Policy (NEP), resulting in “race” being the main criteria to lobby and secure lucrative contracts, which leaves powerful and politically-connected Bumiputeras benefiting while leaving the “Bumiputera masses” with very little gains.

The DAP national publicity secretary charged that as a result, competitive and competent firms will shift their resources overseas as they find their expertise better valued and in demand in places other than Malaysia.
“The UDA, Mass Rapid Transit system, Sungei Besi airbase, Rubber Research Institute and other projects will serve as a key marker as to whether Najib’s administration is serious about transforming Malaysia’s economy.

“Should the political will be lacking, and the government continues to slice bigger chunks of a shrinking pie to these connected entities on the basis of race, Malaysia will remain trapped in the middle-income group, and slowly but surely decline in its competitiveness relative to the rest of the world,” Pua told The Malaysian Insider.

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