M. Bakri Musa
With great fanfare, Prime Minister Najib Razak recently announced the mega property development, The Tun Razak Exchange (TRX). The project would symbolize the nation’s aspiration to be “the leading global centre for international finance, trade and services.”
Najib wants that to be his legacy. Even if successful (and a very big if), it would simply be a physical monument, in the same manner that Petronas Towers is to Mahathir. The only thing Malaysian or Malay about that much-hyped tower is the land on which it is sited. Everything else – from the design, engineering and construction – was done by foreigners. The only work done by a Malaysian (or Malay) was the ribbon cutting at the glittering opening ceremony.
The legacy of Tun Razak the father is his imaginative rural development schemes, like the massive FELDA program that benefited millions of poor landless rural dwellers. The beneficiaries, let it be explicitly stated in case this fact is missed, are mostly if not exclusively Malays.
For Najib the son however, if TRX were to be successful, it would benefit leading global companies with their highly skilled and generously paid workers. Those “knowledge workers” will most likely be expatriates, and if Malaysians, only those highly educated and proficient in the language of international finance – English. Again, let it be said in case this fact too is missed, they will be mostly non-Malays.
What an irony for a former UMNO Youth leader who once threatened to “bathe the keris with Chinese blood!” Quite a transformation!
Veering off the race angle, it will take more than grandiose skyscrapers to be a leading financial center and to attract global companies. I would have much greater confidence in TRX’s success if the government were to simultaneously announce a comparable mega program to upgrade our universities (especially their economics and statistics departments as well as our business schools) so the nation would have the necessary brains to go with the brawns. Thus far only one of the nation’s business schools (UPM) has international accreditation.
This mega billion TRX, as with the recent Initial Public Offering of the massive FELDA Global Ventures (FGV), is orchestrated by the Prime Minister’s Department. Najib Razak is now more property developer and investment banker when he should be the leader of all Malaysians and the nation’s chief executive. There is no shortage of critical problems facing Malaysia. If he needs any reminding, there are our crippling corruption, rotten education system, and our deeply polarized citizenry. There are many others.
Property development and investment banking are highly lucrative pursuits; I have no problem with either. If Najib wishes to pursue both or either, he should join his brother in the private sector and quit being Prime Minister. The awesome responsibilities of that high office are very different and much broader, not least of which is to help those who need it most, like those poor landless villagers, not global corporations or the highly educated. They can take care of themselves, thank you very much.
The Cart Before the Bullock
On launching TRX Najib declared, “The Government will go out of its way to ensure that the exchange is a success and, as a first step, I can announce to you today that we will begin a comprehensive review of business regulations.”
“Our logic behind this review is simple,” he continued, “anything that contributes to future progress stays, anything that is outdated goes.”
Well and good! I wish he had done that first. That would also be less expensive. Businesses and investors are less attracted by fancy buildings, high rents and generous incentives, more with ease of starting a venture, availability of talents, and most of all the prospects of healthy profits. Have them and businesses as well as investors from all over will pour in. They will then build their own mega headquarters.