I was born on the prairies, where the wind blew free and there was nothing to break the light of the sun. I was born where there were no enclosures. [GERONIMO]
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
The Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim saga
PKR has sacked the menteri besar of Selangor, Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim, from the party.
This has caused a great deal of shock to many.
Everybody – whether it was my relatives over Hari Raya, constituents at mamak stalls or my friends over WhatsApp – wanted to know why we wanted him out.
Quite a number were critical and this was not surprising.
Having known and worked with Khalid for some time, I personally found the deterioration of his relationship with the party and his removal very sad.
Nevertheless, PKR has made the right decision.
Khalid had to be removed from the party.
He must also be made to leave the MB’s position.
The first time I met him was during my stint as Anwar Ibrahim’s private secretary in 2006. In the middle of that year, I went to Khalid’s residence in Bukit Damansara to hand him the party’s membership form. He was then announced as the party’s treasurer, in a move that shocked many. Despite the fact that he had previously sought office in Umno as a division chief, supreme council member and branch chief (all unsuccessfully), he was largely known to most Malaysians as a corporate captain.
Two years later, on the day after the historic 12th general elections, Khalid asked me to help him as he had been nominated to be the new Selangor MB. I had just won the Seri Setia constituency then. I remember drafting the letter to the Selangor Palace, confirming the support of the three parties for Khalid.
I accompanied Khalid to meet the state secretary and state financial officer to take over the reins of power. After Khalid was confirmed as MB, I was then formally appointed as his political secretary. Things started reasonably well as we rolled up our sleeves to implement our pledges to the public.
We focused on creating a people-oriented economy while balancing the need to grow the economy and clean up the mess left by Khir Toyo’s administration. Khalid’s clean image stood in stark contrast to the scandals of the previous BN governments and the inefficiency of the local councils.
After a while though, tensions emerged.
One Wednesday night, I received a call from the party leadership asking me where Khalid was. It was the night of the weekly PKR political bureau meeting which key leaders – including Anwar, the president, deputy president, vice-presidents, secretary-general and senior leaders – attend. Khalid was part of the bureau. I replied that as usual it was keyed in Khalid’s schedule. But Khalid did not show up.
The political bureau is not a talking shop, nor is it a cabal where politicians demand or trade favours and kickbacks. Important issues – including the direction of the party and how we manage ties with our Pakatan Rakyat allies – are discussed there. It is not a very good idea for a PKR representative – especially our only MB – to absent themselves from it unless he absolutely has to.
His staff would put the political bureau meetings in his schedule, making sure that it never clashed with his other duties. We would give him ample notice and reminders of them. He would agree to go but I would invariably find out that he did not. This episode repeated itself time and time again. It came to a point where I basically ended up having to go on his behalf, becoming a liaison of sorts between the MB and the party. Similarly, I attended to public complaints at Khalid’s Kuala Selangor division as well as with the various divisions in Selangor.
I would make sure to brief Khalid on what had transpired at all these meetings. What was shocking to me was that he would not only dismiss the issues raised as trifles but also make disparaging remarks about the party.
His attitude was basically that the party was always wrong about everything and he was always right.
I found his stance very perplexing. Perhaps he is naturally adverse to politicking, or thought that attending the political bureau would expose him to unwarranted pressures in his job as MB. But his attitude suggested a very cavalier, even hostile, attitude towards the political process and democracy.
It was as if he viewed the party as merely a vehicle for him to use and dispose of as he pleased. But Malaysia practises the Westminster form of democracy where executives like Khalid must also command the support of his colleagues to gain and remain in office. He is primus inter pares, not the be-all, end-all.
And for that matter, politicians – even in Malaysia – are not exactly strangers to what the public wants and needs.
Indeed, such criticisms were often over policies his administration adopted which the public did not like. But Khalid was and is not much of a team player in this regard. This made things extra difficult when you consider the onslaught – including over racial and religious issues – that Umno/BN visited upon PKR and Pakatan post-2008.
After two years of this, I finally had enough and decided to leave. I felt I could not convince him to cooperate with the party and it was time for someone else to give it a go.
I was proud of what the Pakatan government had achieved at that time. Though I felt frustrated working under him, I was still fond of him and even considered him a father figure. I thought that with a different political secretary, things might change.
In the 13th general election, Pakatan increased its seats in the Selangor State Assembly from 36 to 44. PKR however lost one seat, meaning that our tally fell to 14. This was due to three-cornered fights in Kota Damansara with PAS and Semenyih in with PSM. The performance of the Selangor Pakatan government, together with the hope of taking over Putrajaya undoubtedly contributed to the overall increase.
However, it has to be stated that Khalid hardly campaigned outside his Bandar Tun Razak parliamentary seat and Port Klang state seat. It was Anwar, Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, Azmin Ali, Nurul Izzah, Tian Chua and Rafizi Ramli who hit the streets not only in Selangor but nation-wide to campaign for PKR and Pakatan. Many party leaders and grassroots were also upset that Khalid abandoned his original seat of Ijok and went to Port Klang. But the party made the decision as there was too much rumblings from the grassroots in Ijok. Indeed, PKR ended up losing the Bukit Melawati state seat in the same parliamentary constituency as well.
At this point, some readers might be thinking: “Okay, so he doesn’t like to go to party meetings and he was a bit selfish with his campaigning time. So what? Lots of politicians are like that. Why should they remove him? Shouldn’t he be praised for refusing to bow to political pressure? And anyway, why didn’t they give him the boot sooner if they didn’t like him?”
It is true that many leaders in PKR were not willing to replace him after the 2013 general elections. While there were grumblings, there was a sense was that we could get by if the status quo prevailed.
This year however, serious question marks appeared over what was before seen as his strongest suit – his personal integrity. One can read in detail the party’s dossier and supporting evidence of this.
I would encourage Malaysians – particularly residents of Selangor – to read it and decide on this matter themselves. I am confident that this document will bring them to the same conclusion as the party.
I am only highlighting the most worrying issues raised in it.
Khalid and his supporters have been very adroit in crafting an image of him as a disinterested technocrat.
He is supposedly “above politics” and “puts the people first”. However, the document highlights some very disturbing lapses in this regard.
Chief among this was his controversial settlement of his RM59.5 million debt with Bank Islam. Despite repeated court judgements in the past that went against him, Khalid in February 2014 was able to obtain an out-of-court settlement for far less than the sum in question.
The fact that one Rashid Manaf apparently brokered the deal heightened the party’s suspicion. Rashid – as the record shows – is closely linked to Umno. Indeed, Khalid had repeatedly refused to clarify the debt issue despite being given the opportunity by the party to do so. He cannot claim that this was purely a private matter.
As an elected official, his debts are a public issue as he could have been disqualified for office had he been declared bankrupt as a result of them. Furthermore, it is interesting to note that after the settlement was agreed to, EcoWorld Berhad – a company Rashid is a director of – was then rewarded with land contracts by the Selangor state government worth hundreds of millions of ringgit.
Indeed, Khalid has made the Selangor state government party to two very controversial land deals involving Ecoworld.
On March 19, 2014, Tropicana Corporation Berhad announced the sale of 308.72 hectares of land it had bought from Selangor to Ecoworld Berhad in April 2013. The initial sale to Tropicana was controversial because it was done after state assembly had been dissolved to pave the way for the 13th general elections.
This means that the state government at the time was only a caretaker and it was hence improper for it to have agreed to such a deal.
Tropicana furthermore was granted extremely unusual and generous terms, including only being required to pay an RM50 million deposit and having to pay the remaining RM537 million over 12 years. The political bureau raised the matter but it was very difficult to get clarity over what was going on when he rarely attended the bureau’s meetings.
The second deal, signed on March 25, 2014 awarded EcoWorld a contract to build 2,400 affordable apartments for the state government worth RM591 million. This contract was awarded without open tender. This goes very much against the principle of transparency and accountability which Khalid’s administration was supposedly championing.
Shortly after that incident as well, Khalid signed a MoU over Selangor’s water resources with the federal government. As he himself admitted, this was done without PKR and Pakatan’s input. Indeed, it was presented as a fait accompli of sorts to the Selangor state exco.
This MoU – as has been argued elsewhere – is manifestly unfavourable to the interests of the people of Selangor, principally because it forced the state government to accept the controversial Langat 2 dam project without any legal obligations on the part of the federal government.
In August 2014, Khalid again acted on his own by signing a Heads of Agreement deal with the federal government. Again, he did this without consulting PKR or any of the other parties in Pakatan. It was not even brought up to his exco prior to the signing.
Despite his earlier resolve, Khalid gradually softened his stand on the water issue. Indeed, the MoU that was signed with the federal government was almost wholly favourable to the concessionaires. It basically left all the cards in the hands of the federal government and the concessionaires without guaranteeing the state government the ability to realistically restructure Selangor’s water assets.
Then of course we have the controversy over the proposed Kidex Highway. Residents of Petaling Jaya from all ethnic groups and walks of life have come out against the project, which is of doubtful utility and linked to pro-Umno corporate interests. At the same time, the creation of a new toll road goes against Pakatan’s principle of gradually eliminating such concessions to reduce the burden on the people.
The chronology of these events also raises concerns.
Many of the above-mentioned controversial actions occurred shortly after Khalid got wind of the “Kajang Move”, which was essentially to strengthen the state government by replacing him.
Doesn’t it seem suspicious that Khalid suddenly chose to become so accommodating with the federal government just after it was made clear to him that the party felt he needed to be replaced?
The interesting thing is that Khalid and his camp have never denied the substance of the allegations against him. They have never taken legal action against the many people who have spoken out over these issues.
Indeed, the only thing they did was to basically impinge the integrity of their critics – suggesting that these have political motives or designs on Selangor’s exchequer.
But these are serious shortcomings on Khalid’s part from an administrative standpoint – whatever one’s political standpoint is.
Khalid’s actions are not of a disinterested public servant. Indeed, it is hard to see how anyone could benefit from these actions except himself and the vested interests enabling him.
Party politics aside, his actions over Selangor’s land and water have damaged the same public interest he claims to be upholding.
We understand that many voters will be confused and angry by all that has transpired. Many efforts were made for a smooth transition to avoid the long-drawn episode Selangor is in today.
For someone who was there when he signed up for the party and served him loyally as his political secretary, this is a doubly sad ending.
But what we did was for the greater good of Selangor.
We had no other option.
Khalid Ibrahim must go. – August 12, 2014.
[Source : Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad is the state assemblyman for Seri Setia and Deputy Speaker of the Selangor state assembly. He is also author of two books, Moving Forward: Malays for the 21st Century and Coming of Age: A Decade of Essays].