DAVOS evokes awe and wonderment in some of us. Not so much for the outcome of the rich and mighty pilgrimage to an annual forum held there. It’s more a yearning to be in the Swiss Alps, surrounded by big names from the world of politics and corporate. The icing on the cake would be that someone else picks up the tab after you leave the table or your classy hotel. Many would die for such a junket.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) came back to the popular ski resort, as they would have promised their faithful followers.
Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim did not attend the well-branded forum. Banker-turned-politician Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz, though, was there. The Minister of International Trade and Industry took part in the four-day forum that ended on Jan 20. So did officials from entities like Khazanah Nasional Bhd, Employees Provident Fund (EPF) and Permodalan Nasional Bhd (PNB). And some corporate leaders.
So, did the Malaysian prime minister make the right call? Should he have gone?
For starters, WEF is quite an event, attracting a few thousand people from hundreds of corporations globally. You have statesmen, business leaders and academicians present. Ostensibly, it is an economic forum, but political and corporate leaders milk it for their own personal branding.
Big names get invited to the forum. In 1992, South African president FW de Klerk and African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela took the stage. Mandela, the freedom fighter, gave a stirring speech. Two years later, then Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) chairman Yasser Arafat did a similar act, again to thunderous applause.
At this juncture, Anwar does not have anything tangible to “sell” at Davos, be it about himself or the nation. The world has followed his struggles, well documented and widely reported. But those struggles may be a little too distant into the past. So, his story may come around, provided he steers Malaysia to a vantage position.
Thus, it made political sense for Anwar to skip Davos. In doing so, he was able to send two important messages. One, his razor-sharp focus is on the rakyat and the nation. Second, the two administrations prior to him did not leave anything noteworthy. After the momentous victory in 2018, the Pakatan Harapan (PH) fell not too long later. The two administrations that followed did not really inspire the nation. Some may argue that they even brought about stagnation, if not actually putting the nation on a reverse gear. So, at this point of time, Malaysia really does not have a success story it can shout out loud.
So, Anwar and his team were wise to give Davos a miss, this time round. Imagine having him globe-trotting before he gets his house in order. That would be embarrassing.
But are there real dividends to attending Davos-type meetings?
Seen from a political angle, some would argue that Davos is a gathering of the clan espousing and imposing US-Eurocentric views. You then have the other half of the world in tow, more to hobnob with the bigwigs for contacts and forging or strengthening relationships. It sure is a great place to be seen and heard, and maybe do a little listening. A feel-good proposition.
“You may ask what else has our presence in Davos over the years specifically benefited the country, which it could not have done at the United Nations, Asean or through bilateral efforts like trade investment missions? What would we lose if we don’t attend? Zilch,” said a former high government official.
For Tengku Zafrul and company who went to Davos on taxpayers’ money, as we would presume, they should give a detailed account as to how their presence in the Alpine resort town in Switzerland has benefited the country. Perhaps, one of the MPs can raise this question when Parliament sits next. The rakyat will rest easy when they know the government’s kitty was not used to splurge on some fanciful tryst or a trifling meeting.
- Habhajan Singh is the corporate editor at The Malaysian Reserve.
- This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition