|The Edge Power List 2012|
|Written by The Edge|
|Saturday, 29 December 2012 00:00|
POWER in Malaysia, political power that is, has long been centralised. But social and demographic changes over the last five years have radically altered the political scene, producing new forces that are challenging the government's ability to manage social outcomes. In the process, new players have emerged - ordinary Malaysians doing extraordinary things.
To capture this changing landscape, we bring you The Edge Power List, which is a new feature in our year-end bumper issue.
It is a list that won't register on the traditional scale of influence and power. It represents a combined effort from the reporters of The Edge to recognise people who are bringing change to their respective fields. They include politicians who are boldly pushing for reform, Malaysians who are at the forefront of the country's civil society movement, intellectuals who are shaping the national debate and personalities who are quietly shaping culture and society by advances in the arts, fashion and entertainment industry. Welcome to the Power List.
A display of unflinching leadership and commitment to a cause
Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan and A Samad Said
Bersih 2.0 co-chairpersons
A people's movement for fundamental electoral reforms came together definitively in 2012 when the Bersih 3.0 sit-in protest occupied downtown Kuala Lumpur and 85 cities worldwide on April 28.
At the heart of the initiative was a list of eight demands by Bersih 2.0, the coalition for clean and fair elections, that the Election Commission cleans up the electoral roll, ensures a level playing field and ends electoral fraud. When the grace period for the commission to act unequivocally ran out, the coalition took on the moral duty of challenging the institutions of state to recognise the public will for integrity in the democratic governance of the country.
The people responded to Bersih 2.0's call with a resounding turnout at the sit-in (Duduk Bantah in Malay), which the organisers estimated at around 300,000. Bersih 2.0 co-chairpersons Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan and A Samad Said have become iconic figures because of their unflinching leadership of the movement, demonstrating a level-headed commitment to pursuing core electoral reforms.
The violent reaction of the state forces to the protest, with vicious beatings, excessive use of tear gas and water cannons and sweeping arrests merely inflamed public sentiment against the authorities.
Afterwards, there was legal action by the government against Ambiga and other Bersih 2.0 committee members, and crude protests in front of Ambiga's house, including an infamous aerobics exercise where a group of ex-servicemen swayed their behinds in the direction of her gate.
Ambiga's high profile as a former president of the Malaysian Bar and Samad's stature as a national poet laureate have added respectability to the push for electoral reforms, which require the overhaul of fundamental democratic institutions and practices. Ambiga has previously been honoured with the US Secretary of State's International Women of Courage award. She has also been decorated with the Legion of Honour, France's highest civilian award. — By Rash Behari Bhattacharjee
Mobilising the country's green movement
Himpunan Hijau coordinator
Himpunan Hijau, the two-week march from Kuantan to Kuala Lumpur in November to protest against the Lynas rare earth processing plant in Pahang, is outstanding for several reasons.
It may have been the longest mass demonstration in the country's history, spanning some 300km from the east coast of the peninsula to Kuala Lumpur on the west coast. It may also have been Malaysia's biggest environmental protest, swelling from about 40 people when it started on Nov 13 to some 20,000 when it ended in the city on Nov 25.
The protest, which centres on health concerns, including radioactivity from the waste generated by the plant operations, could also be credited with a mass awakening on the environment in view of the public attention it received through multiple media channels. The true significance of the protest crystallised on the final day when the area around Dataran Merdeka was packed with protesters, indicating that a significant number of people are deeply concerned about the implications of living with the largest rare earth refining plant in the world.
This is despite the constant affirmations of Lynas, federal government leaders, regulatory agencies and various experts that the plant is safe, suggesting that a sizeable segment of the people perceive that the plant's proponents may be suffering from a credibility deficit on the safety question.
Wong Tack, the environmental activist who spearheaded the march, showed great resolve against the giant mining corporation and the federal authorities, and brought public unhappiness over the RM2.5 billion development into intense focus. Wong's determination in the face of official pressures has undoubtedly inspired many bystanders to join in the march.
Wong heads the Sabah Environmental Protection Association, which is a member of the Green Surf coalition of Sabah-based environmental groups.
The protest occurred against a backdrop of legal challenges by both the proponents and opponents of the plant. In May, the mining company sued anti-Lynas activists and a news portal for defamation while the concerned groups have been in court to try and revoke the plant's temporary operating licence.
Crucially, the movement that has been ignited by the march is a likely game changer in the political arena, given that the general election is rapidly approaching.
Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin
Former Mufti of Perlis
Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin, a Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) lecturer who was appointed Mufti of Perlis from November 2006 to November 2009, is known for his no-holds-barred views on some of the Malay rituals and beliefs that have been regarded as a part of Islamic teachings all these years.
One of them touches on the 40-day mourning period after the death of a leader or a member of the royalty in the country, which he says is against the teaching of Islam. The former mufti touched a raw nerve with this view because it involved leaders and the royalty of the country.
Asri, who holds a PhD from the International Islamic University of Malaysia, also touched on other un-Islamic Malay superstitious rituals and beliefs that "surprised" the Malay community in this country. These included hanging pictures of certain individuals, like the sultan or a sheikh, in the belief that it brings good luck or increases their earnings, or tying a black thread on a newborn's hand in the belief that it would protect the baby from bad luck.
For speaking up publicly about these superstitious rituals and beliefs, Asri was branded a follower of the Wahhabi, a conservative strand of the Islamic faith prevalent in Saudi Arabia.
"My grasp of Islam is that Islam is a religion that blesses everyone, regardless of race or religion. More than that, the blessing encompasses the entire universe. Any interpretation of Islam that leads to injustice, oppression, hostility to other people, ignorance, caste systems in society, racism, fanaticism that doesn't respect the rights of others - all of these must be rejected.
"Islam must be described as a religion of love for others, with a respect for rights, respect for knowledge, rejecting superstition and basing all practices on real arguments," he said when interviewed by The Wall Street Journal in August last year.
For his outspokenness, in saying that true Islamic teachings should be based on the Quran and Sunnah, Asri says he was ostracised by his fellow muftis. He was barred from preaching in Selangor even though other muftis were allowed to do so. The Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (Jakim) did not invite him to sit on the Fatwa Council, an important body that formulates various religious edicts in the country.
Asri is now back as an associate professor at USM. He was a Fellow at Oxford University in 2011/12. — By Othman Abu Bakar
A consistent contrarian in ruling party
Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah
Deputy Minister of Higher Education
In a political party, where the easiest route up the ladder is just to agree with the leadership and echo their views, Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah is a breath of fresh air.
Political dissent is something Umno, past and present, does not tolerate very well but Saifuddin, who is Deputy Minister of Higher Education, is the consistent contrarian within the ruling party, not afraid to give differing views. He is not good at toeing the line but he is not a rebel without a cause.
He wants Umno to face reality in an environment where the expectations of the rakyat and voters have changed. He often talks about the need to replace the politics of the old, one that is still well entrenched within Umno.
The new politics is about political integrity, as he articulates in his article in our special report, Malaysia at the Crossroads, in this issue. It's about replacing politics that is dirty, corrupt and adversarial with one based on idealism, activism and intellectualism - that of values, knowledge, wisdom, service, transparency, accountability and good governance.
He advocates freer speech, freedom of expression and academic democracy and promotes the culture of debate. He is the voice of reason and moderation in Umno and opts for that politics of participation rather than one that invokes fear.
But in adopting this politics of accommodation and listening to others, including his foes in the Opposition, Saifuddin is being criticised by many within the party. He is branded by pro-Umno bloggers as a recalcitrant who is going against the tide and whose populist comments among the non-Umno crowd will not benefit the party.
To his nemesis, he is politically naive, an attention-seeker who does not know how to differentiate between what is a pro-government statement and what is not.
As a politician, if he aspires to be among the top in Umno's hierarchy, he is taking a risk that many are not brave enough to take. Many have travelled this route before and have not survived. A notable survivor though was Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, but Saifuddin is not in that league, say his detractors.
So, if that is the case historically, will he change his political game plan? Many do not expect him to. — By Azam Aris
Educating her people
Tijah Yok Chopil
Orang Asli activist
Orang Asli activist Tijah Yok Chopil saw an another two villages added this year to the roster of the Pendidikan Celik Huruf Programme (PCHP) she has been running since 1986. A small increment in the general scheme of things but a triumphant one nevertheless in her enduring struggle to educate her people.
The programme provides preschool and primary tuition to Orang Asli children and has been sponsored by the ECM Libra Foundation (ELF) since 2009 when it only reached three villages.
During ELF's three-year sponsorship, which has been extended for another three years, the programme expanded to five villages.
PCHP is a part of Sinui Pai Nanek Sengik (SPNS), an organisation formed by Tijah in 1995 to look into Orang Asli interests and the betterment of the community.
SPNS, which means "New Life, One Heart" in Tijah's native Semai tongue, had initially converged organically as the Kampung Chang Women's Group (KCWG) but evolved to include the village men in their agenda.
Tijah had, at an early age, been struck by the alienation of the community, realising that the 18 ethnic tribes needed to be united as well as empowered. But being a vocal young woman did not go down well with some, so Tijah set about uniting the womenfolk under the banner of KCWG, which eventually became SPNS.
Tijah, who is from Kampung Chang, Perak, is passionate about educating her people. At 17, she began teaching family members and neighbours' children to read and write after her siblings were forced to drop out of school due to lack of funds. This laid the foundation for the formation of PCHP.
But SPNS also has other concerns. On a visit to Kampung Gesau, one of the villages in the PCHP, it was found that even basic amenities such as piped water were lacking.
With ELF's help, they are looking into erecting a dam and channel water from a stream a few kilometres from the village. A community hall will also be built for the villagers.
But Tijah's quest for amelioration does not end there. On March 17, 2010, Malaysia saw the largest convening of Orang Asli in a peaceful protest at Putrajaya.
They had come to protest against the land titles policy the National Land Council had passed in December 2009, without consulting the Orang Asli, as it ignored the fundamental rights of the indigenous people,
Tijah had worked to inform the Orang Asli communities across the peninsula about the policy, which many of them did not even know about, rallying about 3,000 people for the demonstration.
The task is overwhelming but Tijah remains undaunted in her tireless battle to better the lot of her people. — By Janice Melissa Thean
Filling the country's information void
Executive director, Merdeka Center for Opinion Research
The only independent opinion research company in Malaysia, the Merdeka Center fills a void in the country's information services that enhances the quality of public engagement in a range of sectors from policy debates to political processes.
A citation for Ibrahim, who is on the Yale World Fellows Program, provides a valuable assessment of his contribution to society.
Describing him as an entrepreneur and innovator in the public polling sector, it notes that Ibrahim has "contributed significantly to better governance, policy development, citizen outreach, and democratic processes within Malaysia's political system". The centre has become a central player in national politics by improving the quality of public debate, widening public participation in the political process, and contributing to the formation of a more coherent civil society, it says.
The centre's frequent opinion polls on high visibility issues are well covered in the media as they provide much needed insight into public sentiment on events and trends that have important impacts on the public interest.
The survey findings are often unflattering to specific groups or public figures and so can be the subject of hot disputation. However, the centre's methodology stands scrutiny from all quarters, and criticism of the findings can be usually attributed to partisan attempts at damage control.
Recent findings on voter sentiment in Sabah, for example, reflect the public's anxieties about the large presence of illegal immigrants, dissatisfaction with the political leadership, the high cost of living and the perception that Sabah was lagging behind the other states in terms of economic development and infrastructure.
Predictably, Sabah government leaders were quick to discount the validity of the poll findings, saying that the survey was a ploy to discredit Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman.
Nevertheless, the centre's surveys provide an important barometer reading on public sentiment concerning such issues as ethnic relations, the electorate's political leanings, the effectiveness of government programmes, perceptions of the media, quality of life and a host of vital concerns. — By Rash Behari Bhattacharjee
Man to watch in coming election
Director of strategy, Parti Keadilan Rakyat
In Malaysia, the term "whistleblower" has almost become synonymous with Rafizi Ramli, a potential game-changer in Malaysian politics of late.
Rafizi shot to prominence in November 2011 after exposing the RM250 million National Feedlot Corp (NFCorp) fiasco that led to the fall from grace of the then Special Adviser to the Prime Minister for Women and Social Development Affairs, Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, and her subsequent resignation from Cabinet.
The Terengganu-born Rafizi, who attended the Malay College of Kuala Kangsar, was a star pupil at the institution, and went on to pursue an engineering degree at Leeds University before becoming a chartered accountant.
Despite being arrested and charged for alleged breach of provisions under the Banking and Financial Institutions Act (Bafia) in relation to the NFCorp case as well as threatened with a multi-million ringgit legal suit by Shahrizat, Rafizi has remained steadfast in exposing what he alleged as shenanigans involving members of the ruling government.
In June 2012, Rafizi accused Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak of intervening in the RM1 billion Ampang Line LRT extension contract, showing as evidence a copy of the relevant minutes from the Finance Ministry's procurement committee. He also had a letter conveying the government's decision to award the contract to a consortium led by George Kent (M) Bhd even though it was at a higher cost.
Later in July 2012, Rafizi claimed that the country's MRT project may balloon to RM100 billion, close to three times its initial estimate. The initial figure had been bandied around RM37 billion and then it was RM50 billion to RM60 billion.
Rafizi has remained a thorn in the ruling government's side and in November dropped another bombshell, this time over the RM40 million donation to Sabah Umno by businessman Michael Chia. The director of strategies for Parti Keadilan Rakyat had been lobbying for Hong Kong's Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) to reopen investigations on the alleged RM40 million money laundering case involving Sabah's Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman and Chia.
Musa is said to be considering taking legal action against Rafizi. However, this has not stopped Rafizi who has vowed to continue exposing abuses of power and corruption involving members of the ruling coalition.
Rafizi will be among the opposition's key campaigners in Sarawak and Penang in December, and a man to watch out for and listen to in the run up to the 13th general election. — By Surin Murugiah
The epitome of accountability
Tan Sri Ambrin Buang
If there is one government figure who is the epitome of accountability, it must be Tan Sri Ambrin Buang, the Auditor-General.
Every year, the tabling of the Auditor-General's Report in the Parliament is as eagerly awaited by watchdogs of the public interest as it must be dreaded by spendthrift public officials whose financial indiscipline comes under the Audit Department's scrutiny.
One of the more sensational cases that have arisen from the report is the National Feedlot Centre project that was linked via a joint venture to the National Feedlot Corp (NFCorp). The Auditor-General found that the centre had not met its objectives due to various factors.
Subsequent details revealed by the opposition showed that NFCorp directors had allegedly misused a RM250 million soft loan from the government to buy luxury condominium units, a limousine and for other expenses.
Fallout from the case led to the charging of NFCorp executive chairman Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Salleh Ismail for criminal breach of trust, and the resignation of his wife Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil from the Cabinet. In turn, PKR leader Rafizi Ramli was charged with violating banking secrecy in relation to the company.
Despair is often expressed at the annual litany of cost overruns, procurement at exorbitant prices, poor financial management and non-adherence to procedures that are enumerated in the report - the impression being generated that the report is merely for the record, and that the controls are ineffective.
On the contrary, Ambrin's relentless drive for accountability has begun to show results in the seven years that he has helmed the department. For example, the Accountability Index introduced in 2007 has encouraged agencies to improve their financial management methods, with 31.4% earning a "very good" rating in the latest report.
That notwithstanding, the RM3.6 billion cost overrun in the double-tracking railway project that the 2011 report highlighted points to the scale of the problem that Ambrin is confronting. - By Rash Behari Bhattacharjee
Staying at the centre of public debate
Wan Saiful Wan Jan
Chief executive, Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS)
In the short six years that the Ideas policy institute has been in existence, it has been in the thick of public debate on the top issues of the day, including electoral reforms, education policy, the subsidy burden and free trade.
Indeed, its engagement with such public interest concerns sets the pace for more established policy institutions, especially in the current environment where the critical re-examination of national and global issues is becoming the order of the day.
Not surprisingly, the institute was recently ranked as the 13th best new think-tank in the world in the 2011 Global Go-To Think Tank Report.
Ideas was established in 2006 as the Malaysia Think Tank London by three friends, with Wan Saiful as the chief executive. The others in the institute - which aims to promote libertarian ideals based on four main principles, including the rule of law, limited government, a free market and individual liberty - were Negri Sembilan prince Tunku Zain Al-Abidin Muhriz and Wan Mohd Firdaus Wan Mohd Fuaad.
The institute's formation was inspired by Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj's Proclamation of Independence in 1957, which aimed for the nation to "be forever a sovereign democratic and independent State founded upon the principles of liberty and justice and ever seeking the welfare and happiness of its people and the maintenance of a just peace among all nations".
Ideas has been vocal on the excessive dependency on government subsidies and has called for the restructuring of subsidies to allow fiscal balance and improve the country's economic competitiveness. The independent not-for-profit organisation has also called for greater independence for the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) by reforming the judiciary and Attorney General's Office.
Wan Saiful is also the editor of AkademiMerdeka.org which was launched by Ideas together with Washington-based Atlas Economic Research Foundation. The website is aimed at promoting free-markets, peace and liberty through Bahasa Melayu and Bahasa Indonesia.
As Malaysia moves forward to a more liberalised economy, Wan Saiful has been at the centre of the debate, emphasising the importance of free market-based policies to the country's development. — By Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani
The man with many regulated assets
Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Albukhary
As the country heads into an election year, well-connected tycoon Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Albukhary has managed to add a few more regulated assets to his sprawling empire.
Earlier this year, he took over national carmaker Proton Holdings Bhd, won the bid to privatise Penang Port and, just before 2012 draws to a close, was awarded the biggest allocation of the 4G-Long Term Evolution spectrum. The latest catapulted him into the telecommunications sector - probably the last regulated field within the country where the billionaire does not have an exposure, with the exception of gaming.
These new businesses that he managed to secure in 2012 are not just huge, but also of national importance. However, it shouldn't be a surprise since businesses of such a nature are a trademark of the low-key tycoon.
A cattle farmer in his teenage years and a rice trader in Kedah in the 1990s, the 60-year-old Syed Mokhtar has had a meteoric rise over the past 10 years, having amassed a fortune in nearly all the industries that matter within the country.
Through DRB-Hicom Bhd, one of his flagships, he owns national carmaker Proton and has secured defence contracts worth RM7.6 billion to make armoured vehicles. DRB-Hicom also controls national postal company, Pos Malaysia Bhd.
Syed Mokhtar also controls national rice trading company Padiberas Nasional Bhd, the Port of Tanjung Pelepas, Senai Airport, power player Malakoff Corp Bhd, and one of the handful of sugar-refining concessions in the country through Tradewinds (M) Bhd.
In the financial services sector, he owns Bank Muamalat Malaysia Bhd through DRB-Hicom, apart from an insurance company amongst others.
His business empire's combined debt is a matter of concern among certain quarters, especially opposition politicians. Among the listed companies he controls, total borrowings are said to amount to over RM32 billion while net borrowings still stand at over RM22 billion. Notably, the bulk of the debt is backed by cash flow generating assets, such as power and ports.
Expansion of the Syed Mokhtar business empire doesn't look like it is slowing anytime soon, with the tycoon also reportedly looking at national railway company KTM Bhd as well as Selangor's water assets. Last but not least, MMC Corp Bhd - another of his flagships - in a joint venture with Gamuda Bhd, is expected to win major tunnelling jobs for the two new mass rapid transit (MRT) lines to be unveiled next year, on top of the existing award for the first line that's worth close to RM9 billion.
Syed Mokhtar may not be the country's richest man. But the extent of his empire and their far-reaching impact on the country's economic interests have far surpassed those of the Hicom group under the helm of the late Tan Sri Yahaya Ahmad from 1980s to 1990s, and that of the Renong/UEM group under Tan Sri Halim Saad of the same era.
The two conglomerates crumbled during the 1997/1998 Asian financial crisis over mountainous debt, which resulted in their key assets being "nationalised" through long and often messy restructuring exercises. But for Syed Mokthar, who has been through two global economic crisis, his group of companies remains strong largely thanks to the defensive nature of the businesses coupled with his ability to secure major government contracts and concessions.
As the ruling government - which has given its blessing to his ascent in the country's economy - faces what is expected to be its most difficult election, a question many will ask is whether it will be business as usual for the tycoon after the polls. — By Siow Chen Ming
Fighting a lone battle
Dr Kua Kia Soong
In the last few years, Dr Kua Kia Soong, co-founder of Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram), has been fighting a lone battle to shed light on the Scorpene submarine deal, despite recent attacks on the non-profit organisation. Unlike other civil, social and environmental causes that have received wide mainstream media coverage, the Scorpene issue remains taboo, picked up mainly by alternative media, making Kua's effort all the more difficult.
Suaram started off protesting against the draconian Internal Security Act 1960, which allows detention without trial. Since the 1960s, more than 1,000 opposition leaders, political activists, trade unionists and students have been detained under the ISA.
Kua himself was a victim of the ISA during "Operation Lalang" in late 1987, when a massive crackdown on more than 100 political dissidents and critics was ordered by then prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. He later published a book on his 445 days under detention, which became a best-seller.
Kua has headed Suaram for the past 23 years, leading it from strength to strength as it takes on more controversial cases. The NGO has been prompt to oppose moves to suppress the freedom of expression and assembly, rights of individuals and workers. It also speaks up against racial polarisation and religious discrimination.
In recent years, the NGO even went head-on against the authorities to expose alleged malpractices. The most high profile issue Suaram has undertaken so far has to be the one on Scorpene. As the case allegedly exposes corruption, deception, suppression of truth, and has even landed in a French court, it has caught international media attention.
Despite harassment by certain quarters, the 61-year-old frail-looking Kua continues his crusade relentlessly.
Hailing from Batu Pahat, Johor, Kua started his working life as a lecturer at the National University of Singapore after graduating with a Master's in Economics (1976) from the University of Manchester. He subsequently obtained a PhD in Sociology from the University of Manchester.
Upon his return to Malaysia in 1983, Kua joined Chinese education NGO Dong Jiao Zong as an adviser and later became the research director of Huazi Resource & Research Centre set up by Chinese associations. Not content with the status quo, he plunged into DAP's opposition politics in 1990 and became a Member of Parliament for Petaling Jaya. But he left DAP in mid-1990s.
In 1996, Kua was again arrested with other activists for organising the Second Asia-Pacific Conference on East Timor after it was disrupted by a mob from the ruling parties.
Kua was the principal and academic director of New Era College in Kajang until 2008. Since then, he has put his heart and soul into Suaram and writing.
Kua dares to challenge conventional thinking and his book, May 13: Declassified Documents on the Malaysian Riots of 1969, based on documents from the Public Record Office in London, is much sought-after as it offers another perspective on the May 13 incident.
Kua's other books have touched on flaws in the national education policy, struggles of Chinese education, racial polarisation and national unity. — By Ho Wah Foon
Azman continues to steer GLC transformation
Tan Sri Azman Mokhtar
Managing director, Khazanah Nasional Bhd
The extension of Tan Sri Azman Mokhtar's contract as the managing director of Khazanah Nasional Bhd ahead of the 13th general election signals the continuation of the transformation of government-linked companies (GLCs) under his stewardship for another three years.
So far, Azman's report card has been commendable.
Since taking the helm at the state investment arm in 2004, Khazanah's adjusted net worth has grown by 10.2% per annum to reach RM70 billion in 2011 from RM33.3 billion in 2004. Realisable asset value, meanwhile, more than doubled over the same period to RM108.1 billion from RM50.9 billion.
The results for 2012 will be revealed at Khazanah's annual review next month and it is expected to show a similar growth momentum.
The notable dealings by Khazanah this year included the disposal of its 42.5% stake in Proton Holdings Bhd to DRB-Hicom Bhd; the mega listing of its two core holdings - IHH Healthcare Bhd and Astro Malaysia Holdings Bhd; and the multi-billion development agreements inked just this month in Iskandar Malaysia mostly through its unit UEM Land Holdings Bhd.
Analysts estimate that Khazanah raked in some RM10 billion in gains this year from the divestment of Proton and the listings of IHH and Astro. Meanwhile, the RM36 billion worth of development agreements secured in December this year is expected to be gradually realised over the next decade.
Nevertheless, there have been bumps along Azman's path.
One such incident is the unwinding of the share swap between Khazanah and Tune Air Sdn Bhd of their partial shareholdings in Malaysian Airline System Bhd and AirAsia Bhd.
Analysts say while the transaction has its merits on paper, Khazanah failed to take into account the political backlash underpinned by the unions' protest against the deal that eventually led to the reversal of the swap.
While Khazanah booked intangible losses from the swap (as MAS share price fell more than AirAsia's during the eight-month period leading to its reversal in May 2012), it admitted the exercise was a "distraction" to the national carrier's turnaround.
After the controversial deal, critics say Azman may have "overstayed" at Khazanah but his contract extension proved them wrong and clears the air on his future at the state investment arm. — By Isabelle Francis
Making a stand on minority interest
Michael Chow Keat Thye
Minority shareholder, Eastern & Oriental Bhd
Michael Chow Keat Thye may not be a well-known public figure and his name certainly won't ring a bell to many. But when it comes to shareholder activism, Chow is one name worth noting.
Many minority shareholders of Eastern & Oriental Bhd (E&O) would have, by now, accepted that Sime Darby Bhd, which has bought a 30% stake in the property company at a hefty premium, will not make a mandatory general offer (MGO). But certainly not Chow.
The 44-year-old lawyer has taken action to defend his rights as an E&O minority shareholder.
He filed an application for a judicial review to challenge Securities Commission Malaysia's (SC) ruling that Sime Darby's purchase of the 30% stake in E&O did not trigger an MGO obligation.
Chow is asking the court to compel the SC to revoke its waiver, arguing that the premium that Sime Darby paid was clearly a bid to gain control of E&O.
Three substantial shareholders of E&O - Terry Tham, GK Holdings Ltd and Tan Sri Wan Azmi Wan Hamzah - had sold part of their shareholding to Sime Darby for RM2.30 a share or RM766 million, a 59% premium on the market price then.
Tham sold a 12.2% stake, Wan Azmi 9.1% and GK Goh Holdings Ltd 9.5%.
The deal sparked a debate as to whether Sime Darby could be deemed to be acting in concert with the three vendors, a claim which Sime Darby and the trio denied.
After investigating the matter, the SC ruled in October last year that the conglomerate's acquisition of the 30% equity interest in E&O did not trigger an MGO obligation under the Malaysian Code on Takeovers and Mergers 2010.
The SC also found no collusion between Sime Darby and Tham with regard to the deal.
Meanwhile, Sime Darby said that its unit, Sime Darby Nominees Sdn Bhd, had applied to intervene in Chow's judicial review application against the SC decision.
Sime Darby is seeking to intervene on the basis that the group should be afforded the opportunity to be heard during the proceedings, given that its legal and commercial interest would be directly affected by the case.
This could turn out to be a long drawn legal battle but Chow has, at least, made a bold step to defend his right as a minority shareholder. This could serve as a case to remind public-listed firms of their duty to corporate governance and minority interest. — By Kathy Fong
Widening Maybank Kim Eng's regional footprint
Tengku Datuk Zafrul Aziz
CEO, Maybank Investment Bank Bhd
Taking over as CEO of Maybank Investment Bank Bhd in June 2010, Tengku Datuk Zafrul Aziz has rejuvenated the unit that was seen as an "also-ran" in the investment banking industry with a clearer direction and strategy, not only in Malaysia but also in the region.
He spearheaded Maybank's RM4.2 billion merger with Singapore-based broker Kim Eng Holdings Ltd in 2011, giving the group a regional footprint that rivalled CIMB Group and ahead of other local banks. Coupled with Maybank's balance sheet strength, the merged Maybank-Kim Eng - as the group's IB arm is known - has been moving up the region's league tables as it wins deals locally and abroad.
Under Zafrul's leadership, Maybank Kim Eng has been involved in all the major initial public offerings in Malaysia the last two years. It also got a sizeable piece of merger and acquisition deals in the country, which include the sale of tycoon T Ananda Krishnan's power assets to 1Malaysia Development Bhd for RM8.5 billion and the RM12 billion merger between SapuraCrest Petroleum Bhd and Kencana Petroleum Bhd.
Having gained 8% share so far this year in Asean's investment banking market, Maybank Kim Eng is aiming for 10% next year.
Zafrul graduated from Bristol University with a degree in economics and accounting in 1996. His first stint was as a corporate finance executive in AmBank Group. He went on to become an analyst in a foreign bank before diving into the corporate world and setting up the investor relations department at Tenaga Nasional Bhd.
Following that, Zafrul returned to the investment banking world, joining CIMB Group.
He then took up a top position at Avenue Securities and after three years there, joined Citibank for a year before starting up Tune Money with Tan Sri Tony Fernandes and CIMB Group.
In 2008, Zafrul sold his 10% stake, exited Tune Money and became a director at K & N Kenanga Holdings Bhd, before he joined Maybank.
The affable Zafrul is also said to be well connected - his mother was a former director-general of the Economic Planning Unit within the Prime Minister's Department.
At only 39, Zafrul still has a long way to go and it will be interesting to see where his ambitions and pedigree take him. — By Joyce Goh
How Liew one-upped PNB
Tan Sri Liew Kee Sin
President and CEO, S P Setia Bhd
It has been an eventful year for S P Setia Bhd president and CEO Tan Sri Liew Kee Sin, marked by the property group's joint acquisition of the Battersea Power Station in London with Sime Darby Bhd and the Employees Provident Fund.
The year also saw him emerge as a joint offeror with Permodalan Nasional Bhd (PNB) after a battle over what was perceived as a hostile takeover bid by the fund when its shareholding crossed the 33% mark, triggering the conditional takeover in September 2011.
Liew, who had 8.56% interest in S P Setia, was said to be taken aback by the surprise takeover offer as he had been in the dark about PNB's plan. However, after eight weeks of negotiations, Liew had what he considered to be a win-win deal.
In addition to Liew becoming a joint offeror, the earlier offer price of RM3.90 for each S P Setia share was revised upwards to RM3.95.
PNB, Liew and S P Setia also entered into a management agreement where the latter would remain as group president and CEO for three years. Liew would have sole and exclusive power and authority over the management and general conduct of business of the group.
To ensure independence of the board, there was to be no change in directors with all 12 members retained.
Liew was also given a put option which gave him the right to sell his stake to PNB progressively at RM3.95 a share.
The episode clearly showed the clout Liew had, and continues to have, with S P Setia's various stakeholders, namely employees, customers, suppliers and investors. The takeover had raised concerns about the continuity in the company's leadership.
While PNB may have simply been opportunistic when it launched the takeover bid, it did not foresee the backlash against the move. Although it consolidated its shareholding in the group, Liew came out the winner.
Now with Liew paring down his stake in S P Setia to 5.63%, investors must have been spooked as the company's share price declined to RM3.03 on Dec 19 from the year's high of RM4.10 despite positive news flow.
Selling shareholders must be asking the same question: "What will happen to S P Setia if, and when, Liew leaves in 2015?" PNB, now with a 51% stake, will have to address this.
PNB had little problem taking over property companies Petaling Garden Bhd and Island & Peninsular Bhd in the past but S P Setia has proven to be a different case, mainly due to Liew's leadership and management style as well as his one-upmanship. — By Jenny Ng
Art with an agenda
Lee Hui Ling
Lee Hui Ling stands apart from the many young contemporary artists emerging in Malaysia today - she creates art with an agenda. Lee's art is informed by her deep concern for the environment and a love for nature, which were instilled in her as a child. She wants her works to inspire more than just a sense of awe, but an action as well.
The 30-year-old is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, New York, and is currently pursuing a master's in creative practice at the Transart Institute. In addition to being a Greenpeace activist, she recently formed Swim for Oceans, a non-profit organisation that seeks to gather a community of swimmers, divers, water lovers and supporters to campaign and save the world's oceans. Lee spent this past year creating a series of pen-and-ink drawings that celebrates the beauty of the elemental DNA of nature.
This all came about after Lee stumbled upon the amazingly detailed and fanciful illustrations of eminent German biologist, physician and naturalist, Ernst Haeckel. "Haeckel did such exquisite drawings of underwater creatures. The way he interpreted them, it was a unique marriage of art and science," says Lee.
Intrigued by what she saw, Lee was compelled to research about oceans and sea creatures. She found "an incredible diversity of creatures yet to be documented that have not been properly studied" and that are facing the real danger of disappearing because of the increasing acidification of oceans.
Her series of drawings, titled Subterranea, expresses "the intricacy and sheer creativity of the divine powers that created these wonderful things - Subterranea, the theme of my artworks, is basically saying that if you go below the surface of the earth and of the water, you would find treasure. What I want to inspire people is to have the passion to learn more about the oceans and about nature, to take it to a deeper level", she says. — By Elaine Lau
Arbiter of Malaysian fashion
Datuk Farah Khan
Founder and president, The Melium Group
If there's anyone who defines the business of style in Malaysia, it is Datuk Farah Khan, founder and president of fashion retail leader The Melium Group. Malaysia's foremost arbiter of fashion has certainly come a long way from Le Salon, one of the country's first style emporiums that gave local fashion fans access to designers such as Thierry Mugler and Alberta Ferretti back in the 1980s, when designer offerings were pretty scarce.
Building from the single distribution rights for Aigner acquired in 1989, Melium - which Farah established with Moti Melwani of Singapore's Melwani Group in 1989 - is today a leader in the luxury and lifestyle industry, with a portfolio of over 50 premium brands, including Ermenegildo Zegna, Stuart Weitzman, Furla, Givenchy, Tod's and Hugo Boss. Over the years, the business has also grown to include food and beverage - Australia's international caf¨¦ chain D?ME Caf¨¦ and Melium's own Aseana Caf¨¦bar - and innovative retail concepts. One of Melium's biggest breakthroughs was the opening of the country's first premium outlet - MO Outlet - at the company's headquarters, 10 minutes from KLCC. The other is The Melium Galleria, launched in 2007 - a one-stop centre for high fashion, relaxed dining, trunk shows and exhibitions.
Amid fortifying the Melium business, she also found time to create and cultivate her eponymous fashion label. FARAH KHAN is the first Malaysian fashion brand to be sold in over 31 fashion capitals worldwide, including Milan, Rome, Moscow, Dubai and Sao Paulo.
The controlling stake of Melium now belongs to the public-listed Insas Bhd, but there's no mistaking that Farah still runs the show, and that Melium is in essence hers. It was her leadership and keen insight to what's in vogue that led to the group's dominance in the retail landscape across Kuala Lumpur's shopping destinations - Suria KLCC, Pavilion Kuala Lumpur and The Gardens Mall. Kuala Lumpur still has far to go as a style capital, but Farah's enterprising moves has certainly contributed to putting the city on the fashion map, at least as a shopping destination. — By Jacqueline Toyad
Rising star captivates ears and hearts of Malaysians
Every once in a while, a star is born, one who excites and fascinates those in his or her wake. In the past few years, we've been lucky enough to witness the ascent of such a star, in the form of Yunalis Zarai, more popularly known as Yuna.
With an entrancing voice that is a cross between Feist and Norah Jones, matched with poetic lyrics, Yuna also captured the attention of those outside Malaysia, including US management firm Indie-Pop. The firm took Yuna under its wings, flying her out to Los Angeles where she signed with Fader Label in the summer of 2010. She released the Decorate EP in the US in 2011, which fans, critics and celebrities lauded.
But 2012 proved to be an even more stellar year for Yuna. She worked with Pharrell Williams, one-half of record production duo Neptunes and member of hip hop group N.E.R.D. The acclaimed hip hop star worked with her to produce a few tracks for her self-titled second US album, which peaked at No 19 on Billboard magazine's Heatseekers chart. The album's hit single Live Your Life, released in April this year, earned her various nominations including one for Favourite Asian Act award at the Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards 2012 and Best Asian Act at the 2012 MTV European Music Awards.
The talented 26-year-old, who was born and raised in Alor Setar, Kedah, began composing lyrics at just 14 years of age. She then taught herself to play the guitar and posted her first song on her Myspace page in 2006, which quickly gained her fans. She continued songwriting and performed English and Malay songs at various events, all while studying law at a local university.
Yuna's stellar sonic talent continued to capture the hearts and ears of Malaysians and in 2008, they welcomed her debut self-titled album. Her favourable emergence in the local music scene was given proper merit at the 2009 Anugerah Industri Muzik, where she picked up four awards, including Best New Artist, Best Local English Song (for Deeper Conversation), Best Pop Song and Song of the Year (for Dan Sebenarnya).
Yuna, who recently recorded an enchanting cover of The Beatles' Here Comes the Sun for the 2012 star-studded movie Savages, embarked on her Homecoming tour last month in Malaysia. The stage is set for Yuna, a star we can expect to see and hear much more of. — By Joanne Nayagam
Founder and CEO, The BIG Group
By the time Benjamin Yong turned 30, he had earned the reputation of restaurateur extraordinaire having founded and built The Delicious Group (M) Sdn Bhd to amazing success. The food and beverage brand expanded rapidly after it was acquired by Eastern & Oriental Bhd (E&O Bhd), with Yong holding on to a 49% stake in the company. However, it wasn't too long before the young entrepreneur sold that off to E&O Bhd to start a new venture, this time a little older and wiser, his project a little more ambitious.
BIG is the idea and BIG is the concept in Yong's new endeavour, which incidentally is also the acronym for Bright Ideas Group. We'd certainly seen his flair for injecting novelty and clever concepts to food and the dining experience during his tenure at Delicious, but what he's done with BIG since its inception in 2011 is nothing short of spectacular. Within a year, he had six dining concepts with a total of 16 outlets spread over the Klang Valley, as well as the innovative 50,000 sq ft gourmet marketplace, Ben's Independent Grocer, which is a mini-Disneyland for foodies.
BIG currently has a tally of 11 concepts in its eclectic repertoire, including Ben's General Food Store, Ben's, Plan b (with sub-brand Journal by Plan b), B'wiched (trendy sandwich bar), B.read (a bakery), Botanical (vegetarian), Barn BBQ (barn house-style grill), The Estates (a triple-threat restaurant/bar/lounge concept), Riceaurant (home-style Chinese) and Canoodling (noodles only).
Buzz is already growing about his latest product, Hit & Mrs, a bar with a retro-cool, speakeasy feel. It is another interesting concept that will build on word-of-mouth easily, just as his other outlets have.
His Midas touch lies in his restless and creative mind - keeping an eye on food trends worldwide, rendering them with a dash of local flavour and raising the bar in the Malaysian lifestyle-dining scene. What cinches it all is always his ability to deliver and execute - it's not just about bright ideas with Yong. — By Jacqueline Toyad
Still living the Olympic dream
Datuk Nicol David
World squash champion
She has conquered all before her but Nicol David remains unfulfilled - a queen without her crowning glory. But like all great champions, she will not rest until she scales the only peak that continues to defy her - the pinnacle of sporting excellence, the Olympics.
So, at 29, when most sportsmen and women would be looking to end their careers, Nicol remains the dominant force in women's squash, unrelenting and committed, as she crusades for the inclusion of her sport in the Olympics.
Her place in history is assured and, having won everything the sport has to offer, one would have thought she was ready to abdicate and move on to a less strenuous phase of her life. But Nicol, a six-time world champion and the most successful player in the history of the game, ready accedes that she will never feel complete until she gets squash into the Olympics.
She was bitterly disappointed when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) rejected the sport's appeal for inclusion in the London Games, having suffered a similar rebuff in its previous attempt.
But Nicol is nothing if not tenacious and these setbacks have only strengthened her determination to achieve her objective. She has continued to campaign aggressively for squash to be accorded a place in the 2020 Games, vowing to continue playing if it gets the nod even though she will be all of 37 then.
"I would trade my six world titles for an Olympic gold medal," Nicol said after winning her record sixth crown in Amsterdam last year.
She certainly would have won Malaysia's first ever Olympic gold medal if squash, which is an official sport at international meets like the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games, had been part of the Olympic programme.
"I was involved in the presentation to the IOC in our 2016 bid and was devastated when we missed out. I'm hoping that we have better luck the next time around," Nicol said in expressing her frustration at not being able to contest in the London Olympics in August.
"It will take a lot to stop me from being there if we make it for the 2020 Games. I wouldn't miss it for the world."
Do not discount her doing just that as Nicol's incredible success is a triumph of her indomitable spirit. — By Chandra Segar
This story first appeared in The Edge weekly edition of Dec 24-31, 2012.