Dennis Ignatius appointed CEP’s spin doctor to counter criticism

We must find solutions to the mess that Najib and Umno-BN bequeathed the nation, writes Dennis Ignatius, former diplomat and Council of Eminent Persons (CEP) spin doctor

Daim Zainuddin has just completed a very important mission to China to discuss issues relating to the lopsided contracts that the previous government signed with China. Many of these costly projects are not viable, don’t serve Malaysia’s interest and should never have been signed.

Unravelling the mess that former prime minister Najib Razak left behind is now going to take all our political, financial and diplomatic skills. Our economic prosperity and the future of an important bilateral relationship depends upon it.

Much is being made about Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s choice of envoy and the manner in which the meetings were held; it is a distraction from the important issues at hand. 

“Four-eyes” meetings are not at all uncommon in diplomacy especially when sensitive matters need to be discussed. And make no mistake, there are critical issues on the table right now that require very careful handling.

It is also important not to second-guess the prime minister on this matter. He, more than anyone else, knows what’s at stake and should be given the room he needs to try to get the best deal he can under these very difficult circumstances.

If he thinks Daim can get the job done, then we ought to give him the benefit of the doubt. 

And if Daim feels he can discuss the issues better in a more private setting, there’s no reason to fault him for it. So long as our ambassador in Beijing (who has an important role to play going forward) is kept fully appraised, there should be no problem.

As the late Deng Xiaoping, one of modern China’s greatest leaders, was fond of saying: “It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice.”

At the end of the day, what is important is that we find solutions to the mess that Najib and Umno-BN bequeathed the nation. If they had acted with integrity and with the best interests of the nation at heart, we wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place.

As well, we should be very wary of attempts by certain quarters in Singapore to muddy the waters by inciting division and doubt and undermining the government’s effort to overcome the challenges we face. They have their own agenda. We should not be influenced by it.

Reports emanating from the republic, for example, that disgruntled anti-graft officers and others were trying to sabotage Daim’s mission by conducting raids on Chinese government firms just as he was about to meet the leadership in Beijing, are sheer nonsense.

The timing of the raids were unfortunate, of course, but to suggest that it was a deliberate attempt at sabotage is simply preposterous.

Attempts to turn public sentiment against the Council of Eminent Persons (CEP) are also mischievous. CEP’s role, now that the government and Cabinet are firmly in place, is an internal matter for Malaysians to deliberate upon, without instigation from abroad.

Hopefully, Daim’s visit has helped resolve some of the vexatious bilateral issues, clearing the way for Mahathir’s visit to China.

It is in the interests of both countries to quickly put the mistakes that were made by both sides behind us and work towards building the best possible political and economic relationship based on mutual respect and shared interests.

Dennis Ignatius is a former ambassador and CEP spin doctor