Rafizi Ramli – From unknown to exposé man


(The Sun) – PKR strategies director Mohd Rafizi Ramli was little known outside his party until in November last year, when he started revealing, in tantalising bits and pieces, what would become known as the National Feedlot Corporation (NFCorp) scandal.

But unlike other spurious allegations made about ministers and agencies linked to the government, the NFCorp exposé was backed by documentation on the misuse of a RM250 million government soft loan for the National Feedlot Centre, a cattle-breeding project under NFCorp in Gemas, Negri Sembilan.

Part of the money was used to purchase luxury condominiums, vacations and a Mercedes-Benz car – the details kept coming, so much so the wife of NFCorp executive chairman Datuk Seri Dr Salleh Mohamed Ismail, the then Women and Family Development Minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, ended up resigning under pressure.

“It is all mere common sense. The fact that they blundered, made it all the more easier,” said Rafizi, insisting that all the facts for the NFC scandal were obvious and all one had to do was put two and two together.

A Petronas scholar in the UK, Terengganu-born Rafizi became “political” only after the 1998 sacking of the then deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

He became actively involved in the Free Anwar Campaign and when PKR was set up in 1999, he joined as Youth Exco. His family had no political affiliations before 1998.

“After Anwar was sacked, we saw the other side that we never knew existed before – the manipulation of the media, and the whole trust you had in the police and judiciary suddenly is gone. All your life you had one version of truth from the media,” said Rafizi in an exclusive interview with theSun recently.

Although he did a degree in electronic engineering at Leeds University, he took up chartered accountancy and practised in London for two years at Jeffreys Henry Chartered Accountants.

Rafizi was appointed PKR strategies director after the 2008 general election.

In 2009, he was appointed the Selangor Economic Advisory Office CEO, a post he holds till today.

He said that NFC is not actually something new when he exposed it on his blog in November 2011.

“I work on Anwar’s speeches every time he attends parliament – and one of the things we brought to parliament was NFC. We brought it up for two years but nobody noticed – until the Auditor-General’s 2011 report brought it up. We wanted to get more details to bring it up to parliament but the more we dug, the more dirt we found.”

His accounting expertise helped when he began investigations into allegations of misappropriation by NFCorp.

He said that the expose has charted a new territory in Malaysian politics. “Now we have documents to back it up. Before this, statements were made but they disappear. Allegations fly around but it dies there.”

“For once, it is so documented (inside people gave information) and our presentation captured the public imagination like a soap opera.”

“We did not target Shahrizat. We targeted NFCorp – it is so scandalous! It is RM250 million that was supposed to benefit the poorest of the poorest of society, farmers and cattle herders. If you talk to the kampung people, they will tell you that they can’t even get a RM500 assistance to start a farm. They go up and down.”

“Then you find that the government gave RM250 million and 5,000 acres of land – not to thousands of farmers – but to one minister’s husband. Shahrizat just happened to be that minister. But that does not absolve her from the blame – if the project were to be given to a different minister we would have pursued it the same way.”

Rafizi insisted Shahrizat’s resigning over the scandal is collateral damage.

“Track back our statement from the first exposé until now – it was never about her resigning. What we’ve always asked for the government is to be open and admit that there was a complete breakdown of accountability and governance when they awarded the project in 2006,” said Rafizi.

“You had six bidders, five whom were clearly not qualified – including NFCorp – because it was recently set up and had no track record in farming. The only one really qualified was Felda Farm Products, which had 15 years of experience in farming.

“You have to question the government how it evaluated the bidding – when instead of giving the one company which has the chance to make it happen, it gave it to a minister’s family? Clearly whoever is responsible know there is a conflict of interest. You have to ask ‘why was it not an open tender?’ It was a closed bid by invitation.”

“Clearly corruption and abuse of power have taken place. All we ask is for the money to be recovered and given to the people who need and deserve it,” said Rafizi.

To get the proper documentation, Rafizi relied on whistleblowers, all of whom were anonymous.

“I have never met anyone personally. All communication has so far been electronic or they drop off documents at the doorstep. These sources gave inkling or leads – we had to dig on our own. Like the Singapore condominium units and the steakhouse linked to NFCorp. It was talked about in forums and such, and we actually went to Singapore and went to the Land Office and we just checked. We got the title and then it was just putting two and two together. It was about asking the right questions,” he said.

He alleges that the misappropriations were being done so blatantly, and with impunity.

However, he thinks his private investigator days seem to be over after this exposé as people already know him now.

“Sometimes I drag a friend or two when I go poking but I can’t do this again. When I went to the Gemas (NFC) farm I claimed to be a taukeh lembu asking about cows. Likewise, I went to Singapore to track down the condos – I said I was from KL, wanting to buy condos.”

He said there were two dimensions to this scandal. One is the public’s right to know and the other is to get the authorities to find those accountable and hold them to it and that was of course through police reports and to Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission right after the exposé.

Rafizi’s motive was to get Malaysian politicians to be more wary of public pressure, and warned that everything they do and own will come under public scrutiny.

The 35-year-old said that he has many more exposés lined up but is playing his cards close to the chest as “they are not fully developed”. But that doesn’t mean politicians can sleep easy.

“We won’t wait for the elections honestly. Because we don’t have the might of the media on our side. If we drop it during election, it won’t have enough time to gain traction. If we stumble upon another scandal, we will drop it now,” Rafizi said.

He knows very well that there is now a price on his head for all his doing. Already, he and PKR wanita chief Zuraida Kamaruddin have been slapped with a RM100 million lawsuit by Shahrizat and several other suits are pending. He has also been threatened.

“I am not walking around with a bodyguard but I would not mind if the party gets me one!”

“Some bloggers have been on full-force – speculating about my personal life, my sexuality, even claiming my wife wants a divorce. Suspicious people leave things at my house – it bothers me because it bothers my wife.”

“Thank God so far nothing physical has happened,” said Rafizi, who is contemplating standing for the next general election.

“I don’t think I have much options now with what has happened in the last few months – I must walk the talk.

“I cannot go around lambasting the Barisan Nasional – but when it comes to me standing in the line of fire, I can’t say I don’t want to. It’s not an option.”