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Economist: Wrongs and Renong
28/7/2001 6:09 am Sat
[Mahathir memang licik membuat mereka yang tidak tahu
selok belok perangainya terpegun dan terpedaya dengan
tindak-tanduknya kerana dia sanggup menangis dan berpura
untuk kekal berkuasa. Malah dia sanggup 'bercerai' dengan
'kawan lamo'nya Daim atau 'berkahwin' dengan Anwar untuk
mencuri kekuatan Anwar.
Oleh kerana kekuatan Anwar terletak kepada imej Islamnya
pengaiban luarbiasa dirancang untuk menghakis kekuatannya.
Dan untuk Daim pula gergasi koporat Renong dan UEM menjadi
sasaran kerana di situlah berjuta-juta harta dan kekuatan
milik Daim tersimpan. Tetapi Daim tidak pula dikenakan
tindakkan undang-undang kerana Daim dijangka akan berdiam
kerana dia bukan seorang pejuang. Daim adalah seorang pemain
yang akan mencari jalan lain yang tidak kelihatan atau secara
diam-diam kerana itulah cara tradisi dia menjadi jutawan.
Kita berpendapat masalah kroni tidak akan padam sebaliknya
ia akan bergerak secara diam atau menyorok dan menjalar
di bawah tanah (going underground) selepas ini. Umno amat
memerlukan wang untuk menang tetapi dananya sudah kecelaruan.
Dari manakah sumber itu akan datang jika tidak dari kroni
juga. Sebab itulah projek mega seperti Bakun disambung semula
kerana di situlah peluang untuk membalun secara diam. Tanpa
wang Umno akan padam. Inilah antara sumber kekuatan Umno -
sebab itulah Daim dibiarkan.
Wrongs and Renong
A good week for corporate governance, a bad week for crony
AN ACCOUNTANT of extravagant tastes, mediocre business acumen
and impeccable political connections, Halim Saad has long
symbolised the corporate culture of Malaysia. He benefited
greatly from the "new economic policy", a form of affirmative
action that favoured the country's ethnic Malay businessmen.
In the 1980s, he was picked to run Renong, a group of companies
closely linked to the ruling political party. He has been
winning government contracts to build motorways, telecoms
networks and other bits of Malaysia's infrastructure ever since.
For financing, Mr Halim has always relied on other people's money,
making the Renong group the country's largest debtor.
Since the Asian financial crisis of 1997, Mr Halim has embodied
all the reasons why international investors continue to shun
Malaysia. He has refused to restructure his empire to repay his
creditors. Instead, he has repeatedly appeared determined to
fleece his minority shareholders in order to maintain control.
In late 1997, for instance, shareholders in United Engineers
Malaysia (UEM), a listed company that is part of the Renong group,
were horrified to learn that UEM had bought a 33% stake in Renong
at non-market valuations (Renong in turn owns 37% of UEM). To
placate irate investors, Mr Halim promised to buy the shares back
with his own money three years later, but he now seems unlikely
to be able to do so in full.
All this explains why investors were so cheered when, on July 23rd,
the government said that it intended to take over UEM - thereby, in
effect, seizing control of Renong - in order to restructure the group
in earnest. The offer price is low enough, according to analysts, to
suggest that this is not a rescue. To drive the point home, the
government added that Mr Halim "will have no role to play in the
restructuring of the group"-in short, that he will be fired.
It is still possible to be cynical. Mr Halim is the most prominent of
several notorious protégés of Daim Zainuddin, who recently resigned as
Malaysia's finance minister after a clash with Mahathir Mohamad, the
prime minister. Many Malaysians see the ouster of Mr Halim as part of
a purge of "Daim's boys".
Yet it is likely that the takeover of UEM also signals a genuine policy
shift. Of late, Mr Mahathir seems to have grown tired of Malaysia's
pariah status in world capital markets. Last week, he explicitly blamed
Renong for dragging down the Malaysian stockmarket. Next month, a new
code of corporate governance will take effect, requiring boards to have
more independent directors, proper audit and remuneration committees and
so forth. Plenty more Malaysian conglomerates are in dire need of
restructuring, including the Lion Group and Johor. If they start to clean
up too, that will show that the days of crony capitalism in Malaysia
really are numbered*.
[*We believe such activity will remain active...it will just vanish from the surface but will reappear underground. - Editor]