Is The World’s Richest, Also World’s Greediest?
Emeritus Professor Tan Sri Dato' Dzulkifli Abdul Razak
Opinion - Bacalah Malaysia
June 7, 2023
The latest Forbes list of the 50 richest Malaysians is out. There is no real surprise as such, given the extra tight economic situation worldwide.
Malaysia is no different. More likely, worse off given the alleged free-falling ringgit of late.
What is surprising, however, is the collective gains made by the 50 listed companies.
Analysts reported that despite the country’s post-pandemic revival, the stock market uncertainty, and the ringgit down by nearly two per cent, Malaysia’s 50 richest collective wealth edged up to US$81.6 billion.
At one point the Prime Minister (PM) suggested that half of the profits they made could be shared with the poor.
Although this was hyped towards one particular group, it could apply to the rest, if the government is really serious about it.
But, since then, not much was heard about it. Maybe the cushioning effect of the controversial “nicotine-tax” enforced beginning April 1 is sufficient. Moreover, it is less messy, involving the underaged from the lower socio-economic group.
Compared to taxing the rich and mighty who will raise all sorts of issues and actions, including keeping their wealth off-shore! This is unethical no doubt, but ethics does not seem to feature strongly in such an exercise. Two examples illustrate this point well, as documented by local media reports.
One revolves around the alleged issue of monopoly which could be traced to the previous government in extending a national concession as the single gatekeeper (Bernas) for rice imports for another 10 years, as announced in the Dewan Rakyat.
The then Agriculture and Food Industries Minister said the decision to allow the firm to have sole prerogative on the rice import industry until January 2031 is final.
“The question of monopoly is one of the factors that was discussed in detail in the cabinet previously. However, in the end, the cabinet and government decided to extend Bernas’ contract.”
To backtrack is seen as “an irresponsible government if we sign a 10-year contract and decide now that we don’t want it anymore and cancel (the agreement)”.
In contrast, this did not go down well with the current PM when he reportedly revealed that he spoke to the tycoon involved about the perceived monopoly of rice import through Bernas.
The PM claimed that he had “reprimanded” the billionaire, without revealing details of the purported conversation. Being the finance minister as well, he in fact vowed to carry out his reform agenda fully and said among his top priorities would be to break existing monopolies over supply chains by politically-connected elites.
The second example relates to a civil society group in support of Sungai Ara residents’ case against one hills project in Penang. More than 1,500 residents from the Sunrise Garden Condominium and private homes within 20m of the proposed development are objecting to the project.
Notice of the project was reportedly distributed between 2010 and 2011. On November 20, 2015, the Appeals Board under the Town and Country Planning Act 1976 upheld the objections by the residents against the approval of the project and the grant of planning permission by MBPP (Pulau Pinang City Hall).
However, the developer had argued that MBPP had granted planning permission for the project as the proposed development is a “special project”. The resident groups were shocked that MBPP and the state stood in favour of the developers instead of the plight of the residents.
They even counter-argued that sensitive hill lands with slopes exceeding the gradient of 25 degrees are unsuitable for the development. Lands more than 76m above sea level and/or with a gradient exceeding 25 degrees cannot be approved for development.
The residents appealed in June 2017, and the decision in favour of Sunway City was made on May 21, 2021. The outcome ruled that MBPP was wrong in granting the approval, as it had failed to consider properly that (in this case), the primary objective of the Penang Structure Plan 2020 that was gazetted in 2007 is to preserve hill lands.
On winning the case, the Penang Forum spokesperson stressed that it will stop a slew of other developments close to hill slopes in the future.
The developer has proposed constructing 600 units of high-rise apartments and bungalows on hill lands covering 32.27ha, approximately 43 percent of which are on slopes exceeding a gradient of 25 degrees.
Subsequently, MBPP and Sunway City were ordered to pay RM300,000 in costs to the residents. That these two cases were randomly cited due to their wide exposure in the local media, yet still made it into the top 20 of the Malaysia’s richest list raised many questions!
How “clean” is the purported list? Until this is clarified, the list looks untenable! What is more the two entities are closely linked to universities associated with the same business persons.
Do we ignore the impact on the quality and sustainability of education offered, when the richest is also the greediest as demonstrated above? – BACALAHMALAYSIA.MY
- The writer is the rector of the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM)