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Kuok, Not Any Punching Bag

By Fathol Zaman Bukhari
Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz’s recent outburst against Malaysia’s richest man, Robert Kuok, had many Malaysians on their toes. Nazri’s remarks were not only scathing but out rightly crude as offensive words were liberally used. He had called the billionaire a “coward with no balls” and had asked the tycoon to renounce his citizenship.
One other Umno stalwart who was equally critical of Kuok’s success and perceived generosity towards the opposing Democratic Action Party was Datuk Seri Tajuddin Abdul Rahman, the Member of Parliament for Pasir Salak. Tajuddin told Kuok to remember his roots.  
The tirades followed Prime Minister Najib’s remarks about rich Malaysians owing their success to opportunities created via government policies.
“If we look at the list of names of the richest people in Malaysia such as Robert Kuok, who gave him the key to become the rice and sugar king? It was given to him by the government,” said Najib at an event in Selangor on February 24. The Prime Minister admitted that Kuok’s success was through discipline, hard work and diligence but that was not enough. “Everyone needs the key to creating these opportunities,” added the Prime Minister.  And that key, said Najib was given by people in power then.  
The premise that Kuok became super-duper rich simply because he was given a concession, a carte blanche to do business is naïve indeed. No one can become rich by idling around doing nothing and expecting a chest of gold to drop from the sky. The failure of many of the establishment’s favoured sons and cronies is a testament to this flaw – they do nothing but sit and wait for more favours from their benefactor. The list of failures is as long as your arm. 
Well, talking about concession and permit, where do you expect these to come from? Of course, it is from the government. It is the government’s prerogative to pick its nominees – you and I don’t matter because we neither have the money nor the clout like some do. Yet these privileged few failed when and where it matters.
The Malaysian government should be grateful to Robert Kuok for without him the government’s coffers will not be flushed with funds obtained from taxes it imposed. And it was because of these hefty taxes that prompted Kuok to move to Hong Kong in 1974, forming Kerry Holdings Ltd with a capital of HK $10 million.
And, in case we have forgotten, it was Kuok who was instrumental in establishing MISC (Malaysian International Shipping Corporation), Bank Bumiputra and Pernas (National Corporation). However, when MISC and Bank Bumiputra were handed over to others they went belly-up and had to be rescued with a massive injection of the rakyat’s money. This has been the standard practice for years now. Someone forms a company and when company prospers, the owner is told to give it to a crony. The company flips and goes into a tailspin. Government steps in and props it up with public funds. Incidentally, Kuok’s one-time flagship, the Malaysian Sugar Manufacturing, is facing the same problem today.
Kuok began his trading business long before the introduction of the New Economic Policy (NEP), a social and economic re-engineering programme to place bumiputra (sons of the soil) at par with the more enterprising Chinese. He made his fortune in sugar and flour refinery, trading and hotels. When this was happening the government did nothing but stood by and watched and collected taxes at the poor man’s behest. And as Kuok’s business flourished, the then Prime Minister, the late Tun Razak demanded and got free shares – first 20 percent followed by another 20 percent – from Kuok’s MISC. I am not making this up, the facts are available in Robert Kuok’s recently published and hugely popular memoir.
If only Nazri, the Tourism Minister and senior ruling party member, had told Kuok to “surrender” instead of asking the government to “strip” the tycoon’s citizenship, the way ordinary people would have suffered, speaks plenty about Nazri’s resolve. This is what I term a wayang kulit (shadow play), an act deliberately done to hoodwink the audience. And the audience here is ordinary Malaysians like you and I. But, honestly, none of us are fooled.
Robert Kuok is beyond reproach. The nonagenarian has established a very close relationship with Beijing and he is President Xi Jinping’s most trusted man in Malaysia. Prime Minister Najib has been courting the People’s Republic of China of late for one reason or another. I don’t wish to dwell into this for reasons best known to all.
Meanwhile, according to Forbes 2018 Billionaires List, Robert Kuok’s fortune last year was rated at USD14.5 billion (RM56.5 billion). At the current market value he is worth USD15.4 billion. He is the richest Malaysian, and 96th in the world, having doubled his wealth from USD7 billion he had in 2009. Anyone wanting to square-off with this man should take the staggering figure into account before opening his or her big mouth. Period.
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My wife and I bemoan the closure of our favourite eatery in our taman. Its opening mid-last year was like a dream come true. The operator, a Malay family who has been in the food business for almost three decades, cooks the kind of stuff we hanker for – asam pedas ikan pari, masak lemak cili api, fish head curry, mee bandung, laksa sarang telur, to name a few. We were never warned of its impending closure only to learn about it much later from the operator’s son. The reason given was poor response thus keeping the restaurant going was pretty tough for his father. So it’s back to the drawing board for us. We now have to venture out of Taman Botani for lunch and dinner. What luck?
 

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