Monday, January 07, 2013
Privatisation of Government Land: Ways of Skinning the Cat
A Kadir Jasin
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THERE are many ways to skin a cat, so goes an English saying. Since a fair number of today’s political bigwigs are English educated, some spending many years in England, I believe they know its meaning.
I believe that the cat refers not to our lovable tabbies at home but to the big cats that the colonials loved to hunt – the tigers, lions, leopards, cheetahs and jaguars.
So when the government granted the privatisation of a 223.33-acre military land in Bukit Raja, Selangor, to a little-known private company, Awan Megah Sdn Bhd, which belongs to the Selangor Wanita Umno chief, Raja Ropiaah Raja Abdullah, turned into a mischief, it appears that it had not skinned the cat the right way.
And its silence on the vicious allegations that the family of the Prime Minister, Mohd Najib Abdul Razak, was involved with carpet dealer, Deepak Jaikishan, is deafening.
The spat between the Umno bigwig and Jaikishan, who claimed ownership of the land, saw the ghost of murdered Altantuya Shaariibuu and the second statutory declaration by the mysterious PI Bala being brought to live just as the General Election is around the corner.
In the process, carpet trader sued his business partner Raja Ropiaah (which he recently claimed had been withdrawn) and published an online book about the deal in which dragged members of Mohd Najib’s immediate family into the cesspool -- something that the opposition loves to embrace and the Barisan Nasional could not afford as the GE looms.
The sad thing is, the iconic Armed Forces Fund Board (LTAT) had been dragged in as well or, more appropriately, had been used to solve the problem of the smelly carcass of the badly skinned big cat.
Its property development arm, Boustead Holdings Berhad, had stepped in to buy the land and the concession that goes with it for a combined price tag of RM160 million.
I would not dare claim to know much about land appropriation and property development. But when I was briefly involved (as a junior partner) in the Management Buyout (MBO) of the New Straits Times Press Berhad (NSTP) and Sistem Televisyen Malaysia Berhad (TV3) back in the early 1990s, we were involved in the privatisation of the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station land that is today known as KL Sentral via the Bursa Malaysia-listed property developer, the Malaysian Resources Corporation Berhad. Today, MRCB is owned by the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) and KL Sentral has become the showpiece of urban renewal. (I left NSTP and severed all relationship with MRCB/NSTP/TV3 groups in 2000).
There are certainly other better ways of privatising the Bukit Raja land and, for that matter, all military and government-owned landed properties. I have seen companies offering better terms for military land. For instance, from the outset they roped in the LTAT by forming or proposing to form joint venture companies in which the LTAT is the majority shareholder. The private sector companies that made these proposals are reputable Bursa Malaysia-listed companies.
In one case that I came across, a Bursa Malaysia-listed property developer proposed to acquire a piece of Ministry of Defence land and replace it with a piece of land of equal size elsewhere and build on it whatever is required by Mindef.
It also pledged to build a military enclave on the privatised site whereby serving and retired military personnel would be offered special discounts to buy houses and apartments.
But they were not always successful. People linked to political parties or have access to the inner circles were more likely to receive the privatisation and they would then sell the projects to developers for quick profits.
In the case of the Bukit Raja land, it was sold to Boustead. If indeed Boustead had been eyeing the land since 2005, as it was reported telling Bursa Malaysia, it should have made the bid itself instead of buying it from a vendor.
The moral of the story is, you either skin the big cat well or you will get scratched. In the worse case scenario, the dying cat may bite off your head.
The Manik Koran Peddlers
This brings back memories of the time past when we had less conspicuous sleigh-of-hand traders, who, we in the north of the Peninsula, called tukang silap mata.
They were usually Hindu Indians who claimed to have special powers stored in their tangkal (amulets). The Malay peddlers, on the other hand, had azimat. Many unwary, gullible and greedy people lost fortunes to them.
Then there were the Manik Koran traders. They were usually middle aged Pakistani men who peddled trinkets and Koran on bicycles in villages and small towns.
The unique combination of trinkets (manik) and Koran gave them the title Manik Koran traders. Some also sold carpets and prayer mats.
Having left their wives in Punjab or Sind in Pakistan, one could not blame these Manik Koran traders if they were sometimes randy. Many village women fell for their charm, fair complexion and generosity.
Some went on to marry local women and settled down permanently in Malaya, but were still referred to as “kling” (from the ancient Hindu Empire of Kalinga). Hence we had a Pakistani shopkeeper we called kling Ibrahim in our village.
Further back into time, the Malacca Empire fell to the Portuguese in 1511 when an Indian aide of the Sultan, Kitol, betrayed his boss by siding with the attackers.
- A KADIR JASIN
- I was born in 1947 in Kedah. I came from a rice farming family. I have been a journalist since 1969. I am the Editor-in-Chief of magazine publishing company, Berita Publishing Sdn Bhd. I was Group Editor NST Sdn Bhd and Group Editor-in-Chief of NSTP Bhd between 1988 and 2000. I write fortnightly column “Other Thots” in the Malaysian Business magazine, Kunta Kinte Original in Berita Harian and A Kadir Jasin Bercerita in Dewan Masyarakat. Books: Biar Putih Tulang (1998), Other Thots – Opinions & Observations 1992-2001 (2001), The Wings of an Eagle (2003), Mencari Dugalia Huso (2006), Damned That Thots (2006), Blogger (2006), PRU 2008-Rakyat Sahut Cabaran (2008), Komedi & Tragedi-Latest in Contemporary Malaysian Politics (2009) and Membangun Bangsa dengan Pena (2009).