Malaysia’s UMNO scandalsBy Asia Sentinel Nov 30, 2011 12:31PM UTC
A new set threatens, writes Asia Sentinel’s John Berthelsen
For weeks, just in time for Malaysia’s United Malays National Organization’s annual general assembly which opened this week, the party has been embroiled in an embarrassing scandal involving a 2007 government decision to spend RM300 million (US$94.3 million) to establish a national feedlot corporation to slaughter as many as 60,000 cattle annually under Islamic halal dietary requirements.
The scandal seems emblematic of a long series of such situations that imperil Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s vow in April 2010 that the government “can no longer tolerate practices that support the behavior of rent-seeking and patronage, which have long tarnished the altruistic aims of the New Economic Policy.”
The National Feedlot Corporation, as it is known, has never slaughtered 10 percent of the projected total and has since scaled back its target to 8,000 head but hasn’t been able to meet that target either. Worse, the company has been losing millions of dollars every year – while pouring funds into an RM10 million condominium in Kuala Lumpur, among other things, and spending RM800,000 for overseas travel and entertainment.
The scandal is doubly embarrassing because the agreement to establish the National Feedlot Corporation, made when Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was prime minister, went to the family of Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, the Minister of Women, Welfare and Community Development and head of the women’s wing of UMNO. Her husband, Mohamad Salleh Ismail, is the chairman. Her three children are respectively the chief executive officer and executive directors of the company. None had any experience in cattle production or beef supply prior to the establishment of the company.
The report of the NFC’s operations was contained in the 2010 report of Malaysia’s Auditor General, which was delayed for weeks before it was finally released. The scandal has generated tensions inside UMNO, with some reformers demanding that Shahrizat be forced out of her job as minister. However, the leadership has circled the wagons to protect her. In particular, Muhyiddin Yassin, the deputy prime minister, has said there was no case to be brought against her. Muhyiddin was the agriculture minister in 2006 when the project was approved. Others who have come to her defense are Abdullah Badawi and his son-in-law, Khairy Jamaluddin, the head of the UMNO Youth Wing.
The National Feedlot scandal is said to have the potential reformers worried because party operatives thought they had the Selangor electorate turned around and that they could take the state back from the opposition Pakatan Rakyat in national elections expected to be called early next year. However, Asia Sentinel has been told, the refusal to hold anybody to account in the feedlot scandal could well turn the tide back against them, especially as other patronage scandals continue to bubble up.