Najib-Anwar face off in live debate over Sapura woes tonight

PETALING JAYA: After Sapura Energy Bhd announced a loss of RM8.9bil in its latest annual report on Jan 31 this year, the oil and gas company shot into the limelight.

The company is now in need of a bailout by Putrajaya but questions have been asked over whether the public-listed company, whose former CEO was paid nearly RM1.1billion in pay and benefits between 2009 and 2021, should be rescued by the government.

Politicians from both sides have dived into the matter, with vastly different opinions.

And things will come to a head today when two major figures on either side – former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim – face each other in a live debate.

Najib has argued that the government must pump in millions to save Sapura because it is a bumiputra company and its collapse would send major shockwaves to other downstream bumiputra industries.

Anwar, however, has argued that those millions could be put to better use elsewhere.

While the Sapura issue remains an intricate topic, political analysts say the debate should allow Malaysians to comprehend the matter better.

Sapura’s net loss for the financial year ended Jan 31 has widened to a shocking RM8.9bil from the RM160.87mil a year ago, according to a filing with Bursa Malaysia on March 18.

Its earnings dropped to RM450mil from RM1.45bil.

The argument over saving the company started as an social media argument between Najib and PKR’s Rafizi Ramli, with the former premier calling for the bailout and the former Pandan MP being against it.

Setting the stage: Workers getting the spotlights ready for tonight’s debate between Najib and Anwar scheduled for 9pm at Matic in Jalan Ampang,  Kuala Lumpur. — SHAARI CHEMAT/The StarSetting the stage: Workers getting the spotlights ready for tonight’s debate between Najib and Anwar scheduled for 9pm at Matic in Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur. — SHAARI CHEMAT/The Star

Rafizi then challenged Najib to a debate but the Pekan MP retorted that he would debate if it also involved PKR’s number one – Anwar.

Anwar then agreed to the debate, which will be held at 9pm today at the Malaysia Tourism Centre (Matic) in Kuala Lumpur.

The debate will feature three segments, starting with whether Sapura would need a bailout, followed by a debate on the future and direction of Malaysia’s economy, politics and governance.

The final session will be a question and answer session from those at Matic.

Azmi Hassan, a senior fellow at Nusantara Academy for Strategic Research, said that besides educating Malaysians about the Sapura issue, the live debate would also be a useful campaigning tool.

Azmi explained that live debates are different from the conventional physical campaigning methods.

“That (physical campaign) is a one-way street where the leader cannot be contradicted.

“In debates, you have to be very careful because you have an opponent who can contradict you,” said Azmi, who stressed the importance of being factually accurate.

Azmi said live debates would ensure that politicians are held accountable for what they say in public.

“It can force politicians to stop talking rubbish. Instead, they have to focus on facts,” he said.

Azmi, however, was pessimistic about the debate between Anwar and Najib, because neither of them held any positions in government.

“So, don’t expect much from this debate,” he said.

However, Universiti Malaya’s socio-political analyst Dr Awang Azman Awang Pawi said the debate is set to be an interesting affair, as it will involve “political titans”.

“Anwar is known as a great speaker while Najib, who is active in Facebook, has also tried to prove that he can debate in politics.

Awang also said Malaysians are looking forward to a mature debate so they can better understand the Sapura issue.

“The main issue is whether Sapura Energy Bhd should be bailed out by the government or not,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ilham Centre executive director Hisomuddin Bakar said the Sapura issue should not have been debated at a national level, as there are many ongoing issues faced by the people.

“The people are now struggling to survive with the economic situation and rising prices of goods but this debate is more geared towards politicians pushing their position,” he said .

National Professors Council (MPN) president Prof Datuk Dr Raduan Che Rose, however, said the high profile debate between Najib and Anwar would inculcate a healthy learning discourse, based on the nature of exchanging ideas and views on a certain current issues.

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