What's in a name? If it's premier, honour it at all cost

Book Review

What’s In A Name?

By Nazir Razak

MOST of us are born into ordinary families but we have been taught from a young age that we have to protect the family name. It does not matter if we are rich or poor.

Upholding the family honour involves worthiness, respectability, trust and social standing.

In the case of Datuk Seri Nazir Razak, this is even more crucial.

There were two prime ministers in his family. His father was the late Tun Abdul Razak and his eldest brother, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, was prime minister too.

Razak’s brother-in-law was the late Tun Hussein Onn, who succeeded him (Razak) as prime minister.

Nazir was not born into an ordinary lineage, unlike the rest of us, so it goes beyond the name, it is a legacy.

Razak rebuilt the nation after the tragic racial riot of May 1969, formulated the New Economic Policy to reassure the bumiputras of their future and correcting the ethnic imbalance in the economy.

A man of great foresight, he set on establishing diplomatic relations with China in 1974, in the midst of the Cold War, making Malaysia the first Asean country to do so.

When Razak died two years later, at the age of 53, Nazir was only nine years old. Najib stepped into his father’s shoes, replacing him in the parliamentary seat of Pekan, in Pahang. He was then 23.

He went on to become Malaysia’s youngest Mentri Besar at 29 and eventually our sixth PM in 2009.

In Nazir’s words in his book: “Najib hit the ground running, offering wholesale transformation of the way the government and economy worked.

Yet, he also came into office caught in the horns of a painful dilemma.

“He sat at the top of a political party stuck in its ways, consuming vast amounts of cash to fund its system of patronage.”

Cash is king, Najib would say, but cash had to come from somewhere. The source of it is always the issue.

By 2013, the politics of money and patronage got worse when the 1MDB issue and now fugitive financier, Jho Low, entered.

With it, as more dirty details surfaced, monies allegedly originating from 1MDB arrived in Najib’s account before the 2013 elections.

The question if the money really came from Arab royalty or whichever donors has remained a matter of dispute.

While the book is about the Razak family, their values, legacy, bank career of Nazir, success of CIMB under his leadership, there is no doubt the gripping account of the 1MDB episode garnered the most interest, in particular the strained relationship of Nazir and Razak as the scandal worsened.

As Nazir began to ask questions about the scam, “Najib would have less and less patience with my questions. After a while, 1MDB became almost a taboo subject for us. I couldn’t get through to him and a couple of times, he even quipped that I must be jealous or just have a personal dislike of Jho Low.”

“The fact that 1MDB became a huge financial scam was probably the most blatant testament of a failing system. At the heart of that failure was the fact that the PM was simply too powerful; his actions easily avoided the scrutiny of his peers or public.”

People were just too afraid of the PM and his power, as Nazir wrote. This includes the people around him and those who used Najib’s name, for real or otherwise.

Not to forget the instruments of power such as the enforcement agencies and even the Inland Revenue Department, which are at the disposal of the PM and allegedly used to shut up critics.

At one point, the Razak brothers marched into Najib’s office at the Parliament building and demanded to know what was happening as “something fishy was going on” and “if it wasn’t dealt with, it could tarnish the family name and even bring down the government.”

It didn’t end there, as brotherly ties worsened, as Nazir revealed how he had to face a sudden torrent of fake news and innuendo in social media, where his children were subjected to vitriolic online abuse.

It was retribution from Najib’s camp, alleged Nazir, for an article he wrote, entitled “Remembering My Father” to mark Razak’s 38th death anniversary, which Nazir used to remind “everyone of the high standards my father demanded of himself when in public office, and to which we were expected to live with.”

Nazir also wrote about his relationship with his sister-in-law, Rosmah Mansor, which started well when the former was a student in Bristol, but “unfortunately the warm feelings didn’t last long. I soon began to worry that Najib’s power was intoxicating for her.”

“For Rosmah, life was very simple: you were either with them or against them. There was no middle ground. Criticism was tantamount to betrayal.

“Now at the Ramadan party, she grabbed Najib’s hand and looking straight at me said, loudly: “Don’t talk to him! He’s working against you and trying to topple you.’

“People turned to look. Najib tried to calm her down, and defend me. She was having none of it. Nor was she finished. She added, with more than a hint of venom; ‘I know what you’re up to. I have eyes. You had better watch out’.”

Caught off guard by the outburst, Nazir texted Najib to tell him “that would be the last event at this house I would attend since his wife was so openly hostile to me.

“To be fair, she was not entirely wrong, although my objective was to get to the bottom of what was going on at 1MDB, not to hurt Najib.”

In fact, Nazir, accompanied by Datuk Tong Kooi Onn, the owner of The Edge, met Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in London, telling him that they believed “billions of dollars had gone missing from 1MDB.”

After an hour, Dr Mahathir looked at the two and asked: “Why is it me that has to do something about it? I’m retired.

“Well, sir,’ Nazir replied. “You have to do something because you made him Prime Minister.”

There was another clash following a news report about Jho Low’s property shopping spree in New York as well as Rosmah’s lavish spending.

The PM’s Office issued a statement that the purchases were not unusual “for a person of the prime minister’s position, responsibility and legacy family assets.”

It irked the brothers, as it implied the money came from family assets, and soon the brothers responded by issuing a response, to defend the family reputation.

But Najib didn’t take it well and called Nazir, saying: “How could you guys do this to me, embarrass me in public” and subject him “to a barrage of angry invective.”

The reality is that 1MDB has hurt the entire nation. Umno continues to be injured. The Razak family is torn and the legacy of Razak has been badly mauled, if not destroyed.

This writer finished reading the 350-over page book in five days as Nazir has given us a personal account of what has affected the family, especially the 1MDB issue, and a drama of family loyalty, and what happens when loyalty comes into conflict with deeply held principles.

It must have been enormously difficult and heart wrenching for Nazir to write this book, and to share these impactful, and embarrassing details involving Najib but it’s clear that Nazir wants to protect the family name, at all costs, even if it involves his eldest brother.

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