Najib Razak as Property Developer and Investment Banker

Najib Razak as Property Developer and Investment Banker
M. Bakri Musa
www.bakrimusa.com

With great fanfare, Prime Minister Najib Razak recently announced the mega property development, The Tun Razak Exchange (TRX). The project would symbolize the nation’s aspiration to be “the leading global centre for international finance, trade and services.”

Najib wants that to be his legacy. Even if successful (and a very big if), it would simply be a physical monument, in the same manner that Petronas Towers is to Mahathir. The only thing Malaysian or Malay about that much-hyped tower is the land on which it is sited. Everything else – from the design, engineering and construction – was done by foreigners. The only work done by a Malaysian (or Malay) was the ribbon cutting at the glittering opening ceremony.

The legacy of Tun Razak the father is his imaginative rural development schemes, like the massive FELDA program that benefited millions of poor landless rural dwellers. The beneficiaries, let it be explicitly stated in case this fact is missed, are mostly if not exclusively Malays.

For Najib the son however, if TRX were to be successful, it would benefit leading global companies with their highly skilled and generously paid workers. Those “knowledge workers” will most likely be expatriates, and if Malaysians, only those highly educated and proficient in the language of international finance – English. Again, let it be said in case this fact too is missed, they will be mostly non-Malays.

What an irony for a former UMNO Youth leader who once threatened to “bathe the keris with Chinese blood!” Quite a transformation!

Veering off the race angle, it will take more than grandiose skyscrapers to be a leading financial center and to attract global companies. I would have much greater confidence in TRX’s success if the government were to simultaneously announce a comparable mega program to upgrade our universities (especially their economics and statistics departments as well as our business schools) so the nation would have the necessary brains to go with the brawns. Thus far only one of the nation’s business schools (UPM) has international accreditation.

This mega billion TRX, as with the recent Initial Public Offering of the massive FELDA Global Ventures (FGV), is orchestrated by the Prime Minister’s Department. Najib Razak is now more property developer and investment banker when he should be the leader of all Malaysians and the nation’s chief executive. There is no shortage of critical problems facing Malaysia. If he needs any reminding, there are our crippling corruption, rotten education system, and our deeply polarized citizenry. There are many others.

Property development and investment banking are highly lucrative pursuits; I have no problem with either. If Najib wishes to pursue both or either, he should join his brother in the private sector and quit being Prime Minister. The awesome responsibilities of that high office are very different and much broader, not least of which is to help those who need it most, like those poor landless villagers, not global corporations or the highly educated. They can take care of themselves, thank you very much.

The Cart Before the Bullock

On launching TRX Najib declared, “The Government will go out of its way to ensure that the exchange is a success and, as a first step, I can announce to you today that we will begin a comprehensive review of business regulations.”

“Our logic behind this review is simple,” he continued, “anything that contributes to future progress stays, anything that is outdated goes.”

Well and good! I wish he had done that first. That would also be less expensive. Businesses and investors are less attracted by fancy buildings, high rents and generous incentives, more with ease of starting a venture, availability of talents, and most of all the prospects of healthy profits. Have them and businesses as well as investors from all over will pour in. They will then build their own mega headquarters.

Of course the grueling work of modernizing the nation’s business regulations and enhancing the investment climate or modernizing our schools and universities, is not as sexy or attracts media attention as much as unveiling glossy models of skyscrapers. In the long run however, the former would prove more effective and enduring.

Singapore did not become a major financial center because of its gleaming skyscrapers. Those were the result of the republic becoming a successful financial center.

I would also have a much greater confidence of TRX’s success if at its launching Najib were to announce securing a major anchor tenant or two (other than a GLC of course), even if only with a letter of intent with oodles of wiggle clauses.

My worst fear is this. TRX may well prove successful, with all the major financial houses having their regional or even global headquarters there. However, the only Malays you would see at the upper and middle echelon would the “non-executive” chairmen, directors of “government relations,” and public relations directors. There will be other Malays of course, as security guards. The highly-paid “knowledge workers” would be mostly non-Malays, thanks to our rotten national schools and public universities. Even the janitorial jobs would be taken by the Benglas! That would be Najib’s legacy as property developer.

Yes, that would be an improvement over the Petronas Towers project, but by not much.

Consider Najib the investment banker. His latest IPO, FGV, is by all measures wildly successful. It was the largest globally after Facebook, and unlike it, FGV’s stocks soared.

For a dose of reality however, visit the typical FELDA plantation and settlement. The standard of living and lifestyle of those settlers are no better from that of their parents and grandparents. Their roads are still unpaved and they still lack electricity and potable water. On the plantations, those palm nuts, the ultimate source of FGV riches, are still harvested in the same manual and inefficient method as they were half a century ago, with the nuts carried over the workers’ shoulders. There are no trucks with hydraulic lifts to help the workers harvest the nuts, no conveyor belts to load those nuts onto the trucks.

Equity markets and stock exchanges are alien to these settlers. Their more immediate problem is to feed and clothe their families. To them, TRX would prove to be nothing more than those expensive boondoggle tricks that Najib continues to perpetrate on his people, especially Malays. Yet we continue to be mesmerized by and pin our hopes on him and his grandiose projects. When will we wake up?

4 Responses to “Najib Razak as Property Developer and Investment Banker”

  1. gurjitcheema Says:

    Bakri Musa,with very high regards and respect to you Sir,i think najib was referring to T-REX,to gobble up all the property available in KL.I call it RAIN CHEQUE,Sir!TQ….GOD Bless MALAYSIA!

  2. K Das Says:

    Najib said: “Our logic behind this review is simple. Anything that contributes to future progress stays, anything that is outdated goes.”

    This is not dissimilar to what Lee Hsien Loong said sometime after he became PM. He said something to the effect that the broad general rule applicable then should be changed from one that says everything is unlawful unless the law says otherwise to everything is lawful unless the law says otherwise.

    Leaders can say anything and they will say anything. The meat must have the bite.

  3. Yong Leong Says:

    Hello Dr Bakri,
    It was a pleasure to meet you in the lift in Hilton hotel of Kuala Lumpur on the morning of 24 August,2012 at around 9.00 am. I believe you were with your wife at that time but it was rather unfortunate we didn’t have much time to get acquainted. My name is Leong and I have been reading your blog for quite sometime.
    I have not voted for anyone in any election because I see both BN and opposition parties not making sense in their talks.
    I hope you will one day come back and form a political party because I will be waiting to vote for you. This country needs your leadership. I had the opportunities to live overseas in Europe and other countries and I could see the differences and I long for that freedom and justice. I believe your leadership can achieve that.
    Unless a scincere, honest and intellegent government is formed there will not be much hope for the country. I believe the chinese are not aware that if the malays become successful in education and business malaysia will become rich beyond imaginations. The old idea of competition between the chinese and malays in business and education are misleading. In fact any race in malaysia that improve in business and education will bring better prospect to the country as a whole.
    In case you don’t remember, I am the japanese speaking tour guide with the middle age japanese couple in the lift when I met you with your wife. I was really surprised to see you back in Malaysia. All the while I thought they would arrest you the moment you landed at the KLIA airport.
    All the very best, my regards to your wife,
    Yong Leong (mr) handphone : 012-3001567

  4. Omar Jaafar Says:

    Dear Dr. Bakri,

    Although you have made many good points in your article, I consider your following statements are grossly misleading and tarnish your stance, making it merely another political propaganda.
    “…visit the typical FELDA plantation and settlement. The standard of living and lifestyle of those settlers are no better from that of their parents and grandparents. Their roads are still unpaved and they still lack electricity and potable water. On the plantations, those palm nuts, the ultimate source of FGV riches, are still harvested in the same manual and inefficient method as they were half a century ago, with the nuts carried over the workers’ shoulders. There are no trucks with hydraulic lifts to help the workers harvest the nuts, no conveyor belts to load those nuts onto the trucks.”

    I know, that you’ve made blatant accusation (against ?) with that para, because I have uncles, and friends whose parents are Felda settlers. I see that all roads to their houses are paved. They have Electricity and clean water supplies no lesser than what my family members and I have here in Kelana Jaya. During Hari Raya season like now, you’d see there are as many cars parked in front of most Felda houses. It surely wasn’t like that when the settlers started their livelihood there.

    For a period of 20 to 30 years ago, I was also involved in the supply of material handling equipment to, among others, Felda. Things have changed a lot since then.

    Come on, Doc. Let’s make it civil and be honest with everything that we have to argue.

    Respectfully yours,
    Omar (H/p: +6012 3055004)

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