Did Muhyiddin really want to reform institutions as well as combat corruption and abuse of power, as pledged in his inaugural speech as the country’s 8th Prime Minister on March 2? Only gullible and ignorant supporters would think so. As the world was shocked by the plunging oil prices and the stock market meltdown, the premier has finally unleashed his Cabinet.
The Cabinet was specially designed to ensure 72-year-old Muhyiddin’s survival from the beginning. To prevent betrayal, as he did to his former boss Mahathir, the Cabinet was bloated to the maximum – 31 ministers and 38 deputy ministers. That’s brings back the memory of UMNO regime. In comparison, the previous Pakatan Harapan had only 28 ministers in order to save cost.
At first glance, the Cabinet looks quite refreshing until you realised that it was mostly old wine in new bottles. To prevent a power struggle among the component parties – Bersatu, UMNO, PAS, GPS – the prime minister introduced 4 senior ministers, which resembles four guardians to check each other and to protect his throne. But the most interesting ministry is the finance minister.
Muhyiddin has chosen Tengku Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz, the chief executive of Malaysian banking group CIMB, as finance minister. That is an extraordinary appointment considering that the powerful and influential cabinet post is reserved for a senior politician within the ruling political party. If not for potential political backlash, Muhyiddin would probably like to have the post for himself.
So what’s wrong with the appointment of the 46-year-old Tengku Zafrul, a so-called technocrat, as the new finance minister? To answer that, one has to go back to the era of former prime minister Najib Razak. Many people didn’t know that Najib, in his obsession over Donald Trump’s MAGA (Make America Great Again), had actually copied the US presidential campaign.
Yes, Najib’s version of MAGA was the “Hebatkan Negaraku” (Make My Country Greater) slogan. The former premier’s manifesto, a 220-page book with sexy infographics, was designed to urge the voters to make the country greater together with Barisan Nasional coalition. Millions had been spent on advertisement specifically targeting the social media – Facebook, Twitter and whatnot.
The “Hebatkan Negaraku” political campaign entered the cyberspace when apps downloadable from Google Play Store and Apple App Store were launched. Heck, even Air Asia Group CEO Tony Fernandes ordered his A330-300 aircraft to be given a new coat, sporting the “Hebatkan Negaraku” slogan, as he scrambled to bootlick Najib Razak.
It didn’t take long for other apple polishers to find creative ways to praise and promote the campaign, including top guns from GLCs (government-linked companies). Those chief executives were part of 17,000 political appointees of Najib regime. Instead of running their companies, they were instead busy running Barisan Nasional election campaign.
The peak of the politicking was the making of a “Hebat Negaraku” music video, a four-and-a-half-minute clip obviously to show their support for Najib leadership through mind-boggling worshipping and sucking up. At least 53 GLC Chief Executives had sung songs of praise for Najib or actively campaigned for the ex-prime minister, including the newly appointed Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz.
The chief architect of the music video and the Barisan Nasional election campaign was Shazalli Ramly, (former) CEO of Telekom Malaysia who was paid a monthly salary to the tune of RM300,000 (US$75,000; £57,000) – exclusive of other mouth-watering perks, allowances and other director fees (ranging from RM5,000 to RM35,000 a meeting).
Zafrul Abdul Aziz, then the CEO of CIMB Group Holdings Berhad, was one of the superstar singers (watch YouTube above) who joined the band and sang like a canary when he should be doing his job as the head of the bank. Speaking to journalists today (March 10) after his swearing-in as a Senator to enable him to become the Finance Minister, Zafrul said his focus is on the economy, not politics.
Seriously? Even if he could argue his way out of the music video that he was forced to sing songs of praise for former PM Najib Razak, what is there to stop him from doing a similar stunt for PM Muhyiddin Yassin at a later stage? After all, his job security is at the mercy of the prime minister. Like it or not, the new finance minister is another appointee of Muhyiddin.
To make matters worse, Zafrul is reportedly linked to Muhyiddin’s family. Apparently, Zafrul’s younger brother, Tengku Zuhri Tengku Abdul Aziz, is married to Fara Nadia Abd Rahim, whose elder sister Fara Ikma Abd Rahim is married to Muhyiddin’s eldest son Fakhri Yassin. Hence, Muhyiddin has indirect influence over how the national coffers are to be spent.
When CIMB Chairman Nazir Razak, the brother of Najib Razak, was exposed of having helped the prime minister to disbursing US$7 million (RM29 million) in the run-up to the 2013 general election, he took leave of absence in 2016 to facilitate the investigation of the bank’s anti-money laundering allegations. Mr. Zafrul was part of the CIMB team when the hanky-panky took place.
As expected, Nazir was cleared of all wrong-doing and resumed his role a month later, before he leaves the bank in September 2018 upon the defeat of his brother, Najib Razak, in the May 2018 General Election. Now, if Zafrul was willing to go the extra mile in sucking up to Najib by virtue of Nazir being his boss, imagine what the new finance minister will do for Muhyiddin, who is related to his family.
The appointment of Zafrul as finance minister is no longer about cronyism, but screams nepotism. Now, do you understand why the despicable Najib Razak happily congratulated Muhyiddin’s cabinet? Even though UMNO senior warlords didn’t get most of the ministerships, almost all the so-called “outsider ministers”, including Finance Minister Zafrul, are UMNO hardcore supporters.
In essence, PM Muhyiddin is the de-facto Finance Minister through his control over a young, weak and politically-inexperienced Tengku Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz. In fact, it’s not an exaggeration to suggest that the newly crowned finance minister is the prime minister’s puppet. If the premier plans to hatch a new 1MDB of his own, he sure has all the resources and connections to do so.