Rebel with a cause

  • Nation
  • Sunday, 09 Nov 2014

At 48, Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed believes he has achieved the highest he can go politically but he hopes his role as PAC chairman can help to spur reforms in his political party. 

POLITICALLY, Pulai MP Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed feels that as a professional, he has reached the highest position he can go in Umno and he is now “just another brick in the wall.”

The son of former Umno secretary-general and Information Minister the late Tan Sri Mohamed Rahmat laments that Umno is stuck with its old ways, seems to have given up the fight to win back urban folks and is content with winning rural seats.

He thinks Umno should move out of its “cubicle” of speaking up only when it comes to issues affecting royalty, Islam and Malays but admits that it is a “lonely battle” to try and change the Umno mindset.

Nur Jazlan is the first Malaysian to be elected into the global Association of Chartered Certified Accountants committee. On the local front, he is chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

As an accountant, he wants to steer government departments into improving their accountability, accounting practices and financial discipline by establishing a system of institutional memory, audit trail and a fear of being audited.

The 48-year-old hopes this in turn will help reform Umno’s style of “dependency politics”.

“Age doesn’t allow me to dream anymore about achieving political position. That is best left to the younger people. So I will play this role as the PAC ‘evangelist’,” he says.

> You have been MP for three terms now. What have you learnt about politics?

That politics can be a stepping stone and you don’t necessarily have to be someone who is professionally qualified. When I entered politics, I thought being a professional, I would improve politics. But once you are in politics, you become just one of the bricks in the wall.

> You had other political ambitions because in 2008 you did try to contest the Umno deputy presidency (before withdrawing later)?

I was so fed up with the lack of re-generation of young talent in Umno. I only wanted to make a bold statement but this also killed my (political) career in a way because I was challenging the number two in the party and therefore the deputy PM.

What I was trying to do was to raise the issue of rejuvenation and regeneration of young talent in Umno. Today, six years down the line, it is still being hampered.

> But Umno now looks like a party that is old and doesn’t have the energy to excite, inspire and attract the young.

That’s why the Umno general assembly is becoming boring every year, because they talk about the same things. They put themselves into the same cubicle of race, religion and royalty issue when it comes to refining the Umno agenda.

For example, instead of looking at the Sedition Act as a whole and how it affects other religions and races, Umno wants the act to only protect royalty, Malay rights and Islam. If others criticise this, they will kena. But if Umno members condemn others, that is okay!

It is this kind of old way of thinking that makes the majority of the population upset with Umno, and they perceive us as being “old”. It is not just the Umno supreme council members sitting on the stage and delegates who are old, but the thinking too is old!

> How would you like to see the party rejuvenated?

Change the people! Look at DAP. They have young people like (Kluang MP) Liew Chin Tong, (PJ Utara MP) Tony Pua, and (Serdang MP) Dr Ong Kian Ming. They are generating new people every election and these people are going to win elections again and they are going to establish themselves as an alternative. Ong Kian Ming is 32, Chin Tong is 34, (Bukit Bendera) Zairil Khir Johari too is young and now they are generating Dyana Sofya (the 24-year-old who stood in the Teluk Intan by-election).

Meanwhile, on the Umno side, although I’ll be 49 next year and not young anymore, in Umno I am still considered young.

Even on the PKR side, they have (Pandan MP) Rafizi Ramli, coming out from nowhere, who is making a lot of noise. Then there’s also Nik Nazmi (Seri Setia assemblyman) who is next in line (in PKR) to take over in Selangor (as MB after Azmin Ali). They’ve already got the young blood in. Once you change the people, the culture changes because they become role models for a generation of people who want to follow them.

> Wouldn’t it make sense for a person like you to quit Umno and join the opposition because you seem to fit in better with their philosophy?

I can’t because I carry Mohamed Rahmat’s name. I can’t defect. I can’t do a Zairil Khir Johari. Actually, Zairil wanted to join Umno but he got fed up. Then he joined DAP and they gave him the chance to be an MP. I had to go up the ranks from 20 years ago to become the Umno (Pulai) division chief.

I am trying to remove the old thinking in Umno. I do not want to succumb to the Umno style of politicking and become old at the same time. I am going to continue to fight this lonely battle to change the mindset in Umno. Like when I said the Attorney-General should re-consider the charge on Ibrahim Ali, nobody supported me except (Umno Youth chief) Khairy (Jamaluddin).

No one in Umno wants to say (Ibrahim Ali) ‘You are wrong’. And this affects us negatively because by not saying anything, it is as if we are admitting that Umno sanctions Perkasa and Ibrahim Ali!

> But don’t people already look at Perkasa as being an “arm” of Umno?

Why should Umno subcontract our fight for Malays to Perkasa? I want to signal to non-Malays that in Umno, there are people who find Ibrahim Ali wrong too. But I am disappointed that nobody else in the party agreed except for Khairy who is also another “outcast”.

> What do you think of the slew of using the Sedition Act against people including a journalist and (law lecturer) Azmi Sharom?

I support the Sedition Act. It is a deterrent and should be used to educate and prevent people from behaving in a way that disturbs the harmony of the country.

But now people see it as being a “weapon” to silence people. That’s why it is important to use the Sedition Act to nip all things in the bud irrespective of whether it is against Islam, Christianity or the Hindus. The authorities should be fair to all. When the government side starts using the act as a “weapon”, it is wrong. We must have clear guidelines on what is seditious because the existing guidelines are too general.

The government spent decades to neutralise fiery student leaders of the 1970s and you don’t see the next echelon anymore. But the minute you catch people like Azmi Sharom and use the Sedition Act against him, he will become the role model to university kids. And this will create a new generation who will rise up.

> What do you think of the ban on PPS? Why are Rela and Rukun Tetangga allowed to help fight crime but not PPS? It looks like the authorities just don’t want Penang to shine as a model opposition state.

There’s a Rela Act and a Rukun Tetangga Act which are backed by law. But PPS is not. The other thing is, Rela has its own insurance policy and PPS doesn’t. So, if any harm comes to PPS, they have to bear this themselves. What Penang should try to do is to make PPS legal.

We should also ask ourselves why there are more security guards in the country now. Many places have become gated communities (because of crime). Are you admitting that people have taken the issue of their own security into their own hands by hiring security guards? If people think the security apparatus (police) is not doing well, then they will create their own. Once you do that, you dilute the government’s security efforts.

The police always talk about numbers and equipment but never about intelligence. But the fact that the Sulu gunmen could just land in Sabah shows a failure of intelligence. For years, it was never a problem because there was good intelligence. And the police prevented a lot of things from happening but the public don’t know all this. When they do good, people don’t know and take it for granted. But when something goes wrong, no matter how small, it becomes big news. The opposition is good too at blowing it up. This gets us (Barisan Nasional) into a frenzy because we want to fight back and counter what they are saying.

So we start changing “this and that” and dismantling the whole system bit by bit when those fundamentals may actually have been sound. In the end, it becomes less effective when all we should have done is to keep improving it.

> How has race relations evolved in the country?

It is more about urbanisation. In cities, there is urbanisation, Westernisation and mixed marriages. These are the ones getting good access to education, good jobs, good money and becoming the elite. They get married, have children and this group is what is going to drive Malaysia. They will be the ones who will continue to prosper through generations and become the highly-educated society who get to lead the country and run the economy. But not everyone in the city is well-off.

Then there is the other side of the country, people who live in the rural areas who get a decent education but are still a big jump away from becoming the elite.

People tend to marry people from their own area. This is the issue that Umno still doesn’t get. When the elite in the urban area and the not-so-rich people in the city area combine, they can take over.

But Umno is still going back to the rural areas where social mobility is still very slow and who needs the government to keep funding them. And the government keeps saying “Okay, we will fund you”, “We will fund your kids to go to university”, “We will give you BR1M!” That will not make them the new elite or the new rich or move up socially.

So here you have a situation where Umno is protecting these (rural) people while the city elite is combining and growing bigger through marriage, education and (networking) in the companies they work for. Their bosses influence them, they have broadband access and they are ganging up and want to change the current political structure and social structure! The ones in the city are financially independent and sitting everywhere, like on the boards of companies and GLCs.

Meanwhile, Umno is still going for the rural area which is becoming smaller. Malaysia is developing and soon rural areas will be turned into city areas. But we (Umno) are going after a smaller “market” and have given up on the bigger “market” (city folks)!

> As an accountant, what do you think of BR1M?

It was a stop-gap measure to get the support of the people. But there is no way we can finance it indefinitely. We should consider stopping it. It should just have been ad hoc. When it becomes a policy, it means “sacrificing” some other expenditure just to pay BR1M. The annual BR1M payments should be discontinued. The danger is, when it becomes a policy, people would be asking for more. Then one day, when we really can’t afford it anymore, are we going to stop it abruptly? People will get angry if we do this.

> Are politicians to blame for using the religious card?

Of course! Both Umno and PAS. DAP is smart. They never say Islam or the Malays are bad. They say bad things about Umno, the political party. But DAP is not guilty of fanning anti-Malay or anti-Islam feelings because they only always attack Umno and not the race or religion.

Perkasa and PAS, however, attack religions and race. They would say things like “Christians are like this or that” or that “The Chinese are like that”.

When Perkasa says Christians can’t use the Bible in Malay or that they want to burn the Bible, how do you apply the Sedition Act? The application of the law gives me problems.

> You are chairman of PAC, which is seen as a body with no clout and always the “same old same old”.

But the difference is, there is a professional accountant as chairman for the first time, one who understands how the PAC can be utilised to do three things.

First, we have to ensure that the Government improves the system so that there is an “institutional memory”, that even if people are changed, there is a record of what was done. You do this through IT, a database and having the SOP in place.

Then we can create the second thing, which is an “audit trail”. This means a chain of evidence of what the department has been doing, and this trail can last a month, six months, a year, three years. So if there is any wrongdoing, with the audit trail, it is easy to trace who was in charge during that time. Every two or three years, civil servants get changed, so the trick is that when something is found out, they will say the “files are missing” or “I wasn’t there at that time”. When you create a system of audit trails, the people responsible can be identified and you can still charge them even though they are not holding that position anymore.

The third thing is to instil a fear of being audited because the evidence is there and the responsibility can be allocated to you so you won’t want to do anything wrong.

These three steps will ensure continuity in the financial management of government. Government departments will not have a lax accounting policy and would have to close the loopholes because they have to account for every transaction.

> PAC recently called on the authorities including MACC to take action on the wrongdoings in Felcra. How significant is this?

This is a test on whether the government wants to take PAC seriously. The evidence is clear. The Felcra board applied to the Finance Ministry (MOF) in 2008 for the directors to get bonuses but MOF said “no”. But they went ahead and paid themselves bonuses for 2010, 2011 and 2012. Procedurally, they need to get the shareholders’ approval for the bonuses. Felcra is a statutory body and they said they thought the board could decide on its own since the company is doing very well and the directors felt they deserve the payments. But we said procedures are procedures.

The odd thing is there is even an MOF representative who sits in their board and he is the Felcra audit committee chairman! So we are telling the government to take action. It can be under Criminal Breach of Trust because it is a breach of the company law. Or it can be MACC acting on it because it is abuse of power as the directors decided on their own.

Another thing we have is the PAC report on KLIA2 which will be out in two weeks. Although it is outside our scope, we invoked the “public interest” clause to hear it. The issue is about safety and runways. Sometimes things get clouded by the amount people receive. The report is going to be interesting. People will now have a real document they can read to see the issue.

> What is the one thing that surprised you most in chairing PAC?

A lot of government departments wait until the Auditor-General comes in before they start thinking about improving internal processes. When financial discipline is installed in government, Umno’s style of dependency politics will also have to reform.

An Umno guy can still tender for a project but he would need the capability and not be a two-Ringgit company. He has to have the share capital, expertise, and enough people to do the job. There are many Malays now who are not Umno members and who do not want to get things or projects through Umno because they want to get the job on merit.

> Aren’t you going to face pressure from Umno?

They don’t like me anyway! I lost when I contested for a seat in the supreme council. They see me as someone who doesn’t want to preserve the old ways. I have already reached the maximum position in Umno. For professionals like me, this is the highest I can go. You need to be a special breed to go any higher in the party.

And age doesn’t allow me to dream anymore about achieving political position. That is best left to the younger people so I will play this role as the PAC “evangelist”.

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Government , nur jazlan , umno


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