Leadership appointments and the optics

What matters at the end of the day is, these appointments are merit-based and justified instead of being perceived as political rewards

pic by BERNAMA

THE changes at government-linked companies (GLCs) and agencies seem to show no sign of letting up, three months after Perikatan Nasional took over the federal administration.

After all, it is already an expected norm that when a new government takes over, changes are abounding at most of the GLCs, government-linked investment companies and relevant agencies.

One could always argue that it is the prerogative of the government to appoint individuals who can work as a team with them.

After all, these firms would involve public funds and taxpayers’ money, and as such, it is incumbent for the government to have capable individuals who can be trusted to manage it accordingly and responsibly.

Still, no matter how one looks at it, news of politicians or politically-linked individuals filling the top posts of GLCs seems to leave a negative impression to the public.

Admittedly, the previous Pakatan Harapan administration was not completely blameless with regards to political appointees, but the massive removal of technocrats, in favour of politicians, does not bode well with the public’s perception.

As many critics observe, the removal and replacement spree happens when the people are facing various issues, like unemployment risks.

Currently, the shortest-serving chairman at Petroliam Nasional Bhd’s subsidiary, MISC Bhd, Tan Sri Noh Omar (picture), is highly speculated to be appointed as the chairman of Perbadanan Usahawan Nasional Bhd (PUNB).

Noh’s sudden departure from MISC has seen tongues wagging, as he only served the shipping firm for merely 16 days before resigning.

As it is, MISC is not without a chairperson, while rumours are rife that its current chairperson Datuk Hazimah Zainuddin has been asked to leave PUNB to pave way for Noh.

I have contacted both Noh and PUNB for clarification, but there has been no response so far.

The constant changes at these public institutions, according to analysts, may not bode well for investors’ confidence.

The odd circumstances that led to the resignation of Abdul Jalil Abdul Rasheed from Permodalan Nasional Bhd (PNB), for example, only magnified the uncertainties faced by the Malaysian corporate’s landscape.

If the issue is really Abdul Jalil’s qualifications, does this mean that the Securities Commission Malaysia’s (SC) and PNB did not conduct due diligence on him before he was made CEO last year?

The SC had stated that it will investigate allegations on the 37-year-old qualifications, while PNB said it is attending to the matter.

Still, what does not help the public perception, or optics, as one may say, is that the CEO post for PNB has been left vacant for more than a week.

And it does seem strange that no replacement has been named, for such a highly respected institution.

The Malaysian Reserve earlier reported that Ahmad Zulqarnain Onn of Khazanah Nasional Bhd was one of the front-runners to replace Abdul Jalil, but there has yet been any news or official announcement on the matter.

Sources close to the matter say that another Khazanah man, Tan Sri Azman Mokhtar, has also been offered a chairmanship post, but there has been no public comment on the outcome yet.

A normal practice involving a public-listed entity would identify a replacement candidate first before a CEO or leader is asked to vacate their post.

At the very least, an interim leader will be appointed to ensure a smooth transition, but it seems to not be the case for the firm.

Perhaps this is the new normal that some would have to take time to adjust to. However, as mentioned earlier, it certainly does not instil confidence among investors.

“I think at the end of the day, anyone can be appointed as chairmen or directors, as long as he or she can improve the operation,” a GLC officer who spoke under condition of anonymity said.

Having capable and savvy politicians onboard GLCs may not be a bad thing, if it means corporate governance and administration of public entities can be improved.

What matters at the end of the day is, these appointments are merit-based and justified instead of being perceived as political rewards.


Azreen Hani is the online news editor of The Malaysian Reserve.