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Sunday August 25, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Sunday August 25, 2013 MYT 10:28:04 AM
by razak ahmad
Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Aziz recently drew flak for appointing his son Nedim as one of his special officers, leading to allegations of nepotism. Speaking to The Star about the controversy, the outspoken Umno politician stood his ground against his critics.
Your son has attracted attention in the past, and before this issue there were allegations that he was linked to a wealthy businessman. How is he taking all this?
My son is just a normal Umno member. He is not an active politician. It is not my son these people are really upset with, it’s me.
Because I am an unorthodox Malay politician. One possible reason why I am different is that, unlike many of us Malaysians who are thin-skinned, I am thick-skinned. What people say about me does not bother me. Sometimes it is the reason why people are upset with me. For example, I have the fullest respect for freedom of expression. I fully subscribe to Voltaire, who said “I may not agree with what you say but I will defend your right to say it.” However, if you want to respect freedom of expression, then don’t get angry when I exercise my right of reply. They are hard on me, no problem. But when I respond to them in equal measure, they take it personally and get very angry.
> Your critics say it is inappropriate to have your son working in your office as it smacks of nepotism. What’s your response?
I am being transparent. I put his name on my ministry website so people can know about it. If I wanted to conceal things and it turns out his name is not listed anywhere, then yes, you can say something is wrong.
> Why is your son working for you and what does he do?
My son has been a volunteer in all my general election campaigns since 1999, when he was 16 years old. Some of the Umno Youth members are shy to approach me, but would seek out my son if they need my help. He serves as a “bridge” between youths in my constituency and me. When I was appointed deputy minister and later minister, youths elsewhere also became interested in seeking my help. I can’t tell them I can only help them if they are from my constituency, so that’s why I appointed him. As my special officer, he is in charge of helping me reach out to young people.
> He is paid from your pocket and does not draw a government salary?
Yes. As a minister you can appoint anyone as a special officer but you will be the one paying the salary. Anyone can check whether he is on the government’s payroll or on mine. The officially gazetted officers assigned to a minister are senior private secretary, private secretary, press secretary, special officer in charge of parliament affairs and special officer in charge of NKRA. The gazetted officers have clearly defined jobs but there are other things that need to be done, that’s why I appointed my son as a special officer to reach out to youths.
> Your son does not use government facilities when carrying out his duties?
Some people think that he must surely be using government facilities, but for what he’s helping me with, he doesn’t even operate from an office. He meets up with them at coffee outlets and uses his own mobile phone.
> There are now calls by your critics that you should contest for a supreme council position (Nazri is currently an appointed member of the council, which is Umno’s top decision-making body) in order to affirm your political legitimacy. Will you run?
What for? I have not been contesting a supreme council position post for the past 10 years. Why do I want to come back now? These people say that if I want to retain my ministerial position, I must contest. Firstly, they are not the Prime Minister. Secondly, Cabinet appointments are not made based on whether or not you are an elected supreme council member. I first contested for the supreme council in 1990 when I was 36 years old and I won despite being a nobody. To me, after 2008 what’s important is you win the general election, not who gets what party position. I have no ambition to go higher and I am happy as I am.
After 35 years in politics, how can I still be thin-skinned? I’ve gone through my share of facing the press, being criticised. You cannot please everybody. At the end of the day, as a minister you have to make decisions regardless of what people say about you. Don’t dilly-dally. Say it as it is.
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