Changes seen at state-owned agencies after Mara shake-up

Analyst says major reshuffles at state-backed funds including Khazanah, PNB, EPF and TH could be next, in line with the political changes in the country


MORE changes are expected at other government-linked agencies after the contracts of the chairman and seven board members of Majlis Amanah Rakyat (Mara) were abruptly ended, citing they were political appointees.

Four sources confirmed with The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) the termination of the affected Mara board members. The contract of Mara Corp Sdn Bhd chairperson Akhramsyah Muammar Ubaidah Sanusi and Universiti Teknikal Mara Sdn Bhd chairman Prof Emeritus Datuk Dr Sukiman Sarmani were ended.

The announcement of the termination was made in a letter signed by Rural Development Ministry (KPLB) Secretary General Datuk Dr Ahmad Jailani Mohamad Yunus. It was distributed to Mara DG and GMs of other land development agencies under the ministry.

The letter said: “The rural development minister has agreed to terminate all politically appointed directors in agencies and subsidiaries owned by the agency under the KPLB, as decided by the Cabinet during its meeting on March 11, 2020.”

The letter listed all the political appointees including Mara chairperson Dr Hasnita Hashim.

Hasnita, a PhD holder in Nuclear Physics from Oxford University, was appointed to the position by the previous Pakatan Harapan (PH) government.

“The termination is effective March 18,” according to the letter sighted by TMR.

A source told TMR: “The termination applies to all except council members who represented the ministry, like from the Ministry of Finance (MoF) and KPLB.”

Besides Hasnita, other Mara board members who had their contract shortened are Datuk Syed Tamim Ansari Syed Mohamed, Tengku Tan Sri Mahaleel Tengku Ariff, Dr Nungsari Ahmad Radhi, Zakri Mohd Khir, Datuk Dr Ameer Ali Mydin, Datuk Jamelah Jamaluddin and Ahmad Bazlan Che Kassim.

“Their contracts (were supposed to) end on Sept 30 this year, but were ended slightly earlier. The reason for their termination was that they were appointed by the previous government (political appointees),” the source said.

Hasnita previously chaired Maybank Asset Management Group and has 26 years experience in global financial management. She was appointed on Oct 1, 2018, to succeed Datuk Dr Awang Adek Hussin, who resigned from the position before May 2018.

When asked when the new board would be appointed and possible candidates for Mara chairperson, the source said it all depends on the minister.

According to several news reports, former Education Minister Maszlee Malik has been tipped to hold Mara’s No 1 post.

The termination was issued via a letter by newly-minted Rural Development Minister Datuk Abdul Latiff Ahmad on Tuesday, believed to be part of a restructuring exercise in federal agencies due to the recent change of government.

“It is with joy we announce that the honourable rural development minister on March 17 had agreed to end the contracts of all politically-appointed board members of agencies, companies owned by agencies of the KPLB as decided by the March 11 Cabinet meeting,” the letter read, according to a second source.

Another source said : “I believe this does not only apply only to Mara, but also agencies under KPLB. There are several other political appointees under the ministry, either political figures or corporate leaders and professionals.”

Akhramsyah is a Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia supreme council member.

Federation of Public Listed Cos Bhd president Tan Sri Megat Najmuddin Megat Khas described the removal of political appointees due to the change in Putrajaya’s administration as business as usual.

“It has been a practice by past governments. This also applies to the government-linked companies (GLCs),” he told TMR.

Megat Najmuddin also did not object if the government chooses to appoint a political figure in Mara as was practised prior to PH’s administration.

“In fact, there should be a full-time politician to head Mara like before because it had been the normal practice,” he said, adding that not all politicians are troublesome.

“They will be guided by the council in the decision-making process. So, it is a collective responsibility. (The) chairman cannot make the call by himself,” Megat Najmuddin said.

Dr Nungsari confirmed his contract termination when contacted by TMR. He hoped that Mara could remain professional and not be used as a political platform by politicians.

“There must be a clear separation between policy which is determined by the minister or government and to be executed by the council and management,” he told TMR.

He also stressed that Mara should not play the Bumiputera equity or investment role because it has been taken care of by organisations like Permodalan Nasional Bhd (PNB) and Ekuiti Nasional Bhd.

University of Malaya political economist Prof Edmund Terence Gomez said major reshuffles at state-backed funds including Khazanah Nasional Bhd, PNB, the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) and Lembaga Tabung Haji (TH) could be next, in line with the political changes hitting the country.

“Apart from Mara, I am watching carefully with what is going to happen in Khazanah and PNB. These two funds control the largest amount of public listed companies in Malaysia. I will also be looking at institutions like the EPF, which is controlled by the MoF.

“In those institutions, I’m looking to see what changes will be made there and who will take over. Will Prime Minister (PM) Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin appoint himself as chairman of Khazanah?

“If so, who will be the minister with him in Khazanah? Will it be Finance Minister Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Tengku Abd Aziz or will it be Senior Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali?

“TH is also important because it has a lot of roots in the Malay heartland as well. If it were not for the Covid-19 crisis, we would have already seen these things happening,” Gomez told TMR.

Replacements for the vacated roles at Mara have yet to be announced.

After PH’s May 9 general election victory, sweeping changes were made at the board levels at Khazanah, TH, Petroliam Nasional Bhd and the Federal Land Development Authority, as well as and state-owned agencies and firms.

Gomez, who is the lead author of the “Government in Business: Diverse Forms of Intervention” report by the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs, said changes are also expected at the state level, particularly those involved in power transitions.

Selangor Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Amirudin Shari had previously said there were no plans to remove political appointees and it was “business as usual” for Selangor GLCs and statutory bodies.

“This is very important because Selangor is a highly industrialised state and they have a huge number of GLCs which contribute to the state economy.

“So here, we are seeing that it is not just happening at the federal government level, but also in states like Perak, Melaka and definitely in Johor,” Gomez said.