Mara in orbit. Maintain trajectory!

The new Mara board must assume responsibility fast and empower Mara Corp to greater heights


SOME believe that national policy enabler Mara (Majlis Amanah Rakyat) deserves greater attention especially post the 14th General Election (GE14). Mara believes that it should be narrowly focused on education and entrepreneurship.

Conflicting messages emanating from the new custodians are quite disconcerting hence this note.

Indications are that Mara should take the lead as the prime economic vehicle to help attain Shared Prosperity Vision 2030 (SPV2030) as its long-established machineries have the range and reach.

The new Mara board must assume responsibility fast and empower Mara Corp to greater heights, although post GE14, the prime minister inherited government machinery that is not the same as the one he had left to his successors when he retired in 2003.

The “system” may be somewhat impaired, dysfunctional and many agencies quite obviously disconnected and in disarray. The need to realign them back to work in tandem is critical.

Besides reforming civil service, putting in check an balances, empowering an independent Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission/ National Centre for Governance, Integrity and Anti-Corruption for maximum governance and integrity are preconditions to attain SPV2030’s developmental goals including the elusive poverty eradication target.

A smooth-running machinery that spans ministries, agencies and policy enablers will provide the much-needed tailwind for Captain Kirk aka Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Our planners post-independence left a great legacy of development institutions with clear mandates (given their respective roles/ approaches) to uplift the overall wellbeing of Malaysians.

One major Bumiputera empowering institution is Mara. As a policy enabler, a national institution with a statutory mandate, Mara since the late 60s (or early 50s if we take into account its predecessor, Rural and Industrial Development Authority) has made giant strides in education and entrepreneurship enabling.

Mara has become the “go-to” place for aspiring students, professionals, budding entrepreneurs, as well as pioneering and visionary industrialists. Mara is actually an ecosystem from talent development all the way to value/wealth creation through ventures and partnerships.

As the premier socioeconomic agency with an overarching role that in fact goes beyond the Rural Development Ministry (note: At the point of its inception under the Ministry of National and Rural Development) to include primarily strategic/developmental (Mara itself) and purposeful/synergistic commercial/industrial initiatives (through Mara Holding in the early days and more recently through Mara Corp), which mutually reinforce each other.

Mara founders, especially Parliament lawmakers knew well that for Mara to surmount such an unfriendly terrain that it would need autonomy and latitude, one that is almost entrepreneurial to reclaim so much lost economic ground.

Mara became the foundation and pillar for Bumiputera to be incubated, to be nurtured/groomed and “catapulted” into self-reliant successful individuals, leaders in finance, business and government.

While Mara has its strategic/ developmental role clearly cut out to fulfil its statutory objective, Mara Corp needs to assume a truly commercial (versus Mara’s more bureaucratic understandably) operating paradigm.

This way, Mara Corp can move nimbly with some agility and latitude.

As a recent consolidator of Mara’s venture, Mara Corp’s board and management comprising of professionals must be given the leeway to deal with any corporate transgressions of the past and murmurs coming from Mara of a “shutdown, divestment ” and “blame-it-on-political-interference” seems all too convenient.

If ventures can be turned around (and very likely they can), Mara leadership should give where applicable all the moral and arm’s length financial support to Mara Corp as their businesses are thriving organisms meant to flourish to form the protective roof for a sustained economic security which forms the Mara’s “pillars”.

The Mara business portfolio managed by Mara Corp needs to be allowed to accelerate local/regional partnerships. Be the big fish in small ponds (Malaysia).

As dominant players here they should aspire to be fierce competitors in the regional/global arena.

And be part of Malaysian Inc’s expansion into economic blocs like China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Asean, APEC with enhanced multilateral development financing arrangements such as The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, Japan Bank for International Cooperation, Islamic Development Bank and others alongside the highly challenged national Development Financial Institution system.

Mara Corp’s pioneering Lynas Corp Ltd partnership would put Malaysia on the rare earth industry map. Only those who are out of sync with the advent of the New Economy would not want Mara Corp to continue with such endeavour.

Let’s not dwell on “one-upmanship”. One can replicate such a partnership model with a few industries in line with the 12th Malaysia plan and calibrate it with the upcoming industrial master plan.

Malaysia needs to reindustrialise in more ways than one. All the stakeholders, agencies must harmonise to realise this goal.

Mara is the natural partner to cement collaboration with Huawei Technologies Co Ltd and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (though on this score Singapore has done a “Dyson” on Malaysia) to jointly develop artificial intelligence talent, products for the world market.

Mara Corp can be the “lunar probe” to help the Mara “mothership” and its stakeholders conquer new galaxies.

At such a crucial time of the post GE14 economic turnaround, going astray or veering off its original mandate (which was the case for a government-linked investment companies) is tantamount to a dereliction of its duty.

To limit the 1966 Mara Act and mandate “to suit their limited thinking and capability” is definitely not the answer as decried by many stakeholders. Speaking of which, stakeholder engagement is key to ensure policy alignment and validation. It would be a shame if Mara does not tap its “power to convene” with a range of prominent and “younger” agencies.

If its custodians feel that this is too much to handle or stomach, then they should reach out to that rich talent pool of Mara alumni and related agencies to put things right.

We also hope that the Mara leadership — especially its board — would persuade the government to reinstate the 2020 budget’s omission of Mara’s emolument.

They need to eliminate speculation that there is an ulterior motive by certain quarters to force Mara to dispose assets, to not pay salaries including Mara Corp’s as well as to bury past misdeeds for good. Well, hopefully not.

Mara leadership must do the right thing. Mara custodians must be mission-oriented. They must implement the full mandate.

Let professionals come in and deliver it, in terms of investment, industry development and socio-economic development.

Moreover, I hope the Mara leadership understands the implication of limiting Mara’s mandate.

They have been told in public and in private that this will lead to the downfall of this government.

I pray they will take heed. And if they don’t, then the minister in charge must take heed.

The Mara leadership must uphold the 1966 Mara Act and if they can’t, they should ask themselves if they are indeed doing the right thing or wavering amid all this persistent “noise”.

Let’s not be further distracted by past issues, ministry circulars, and gazettes. Do not amend a well thought out (rigorously debated — refer hansards 1965-1975) legislation that has worked well for the past half a century thus propelled millions of students, entrepreneurs as key contributors to sustainable development.

Let’s focus on the full mandate as we are collectively duty-bound to launch our communities, industries, businesses and aspiring leaders into orbit!

Rizal Ishak
Kuala Lumpur

The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the stand of the newspaper’s owners and editorial board.