Pressing time for Shahrizat the star 2 feb 2012 analysis
By Joceline Tan
EARLIER this week, text messages went out to the ladies in Wanita Umno to be at the KLIA to welcome home Datuk Seri Shahrizat Jalil from Mecca. They were also told to bring along their telekung so that they could proceed to the nearby mosque for prayers. But Shahrizat apparently did not want the fuss and the plan now is for the ladies to convene at her Damansara Heights residence on Friday night. Shahrizat has been seeking spiritual solace since the National Feedlot Centre (NFC) issue erupted and this has been her second umrah in two months. Her life has turned upside down and her political career is in tatters. She and her family are under investigation, the assets of the family-owned NFC have been frozen and a top-level team led by Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has been tasked with finding a solution to the cattle rearing project.
She returns to work next week and is expected to attend the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday. But the insider talk is that she may be asked to extend her leave for another three weeks or perhaps even indefinitely while the authorities investigate. The Women, Family and Community Development Minister is at the lowest point in her life and it is a good thing that many of her Wanita Umno ladies are standing by her because of her track record as the Wanita Umno chief. But public opinion is against her and many in her own party are critical of what has happened. They are worried that the issue is dragging the party down but they have closed ranks and are keeping their opinions to themselves.
To date, the only person who has attempted to defend her has been Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin and even he clamped up after it was revealed that the NFC had used the Government loan to invest in a pair of luxurious condominiums. The exposé on the condominiums was a tipping point for the issue; that was the point when what was essentially a poorly managed project became a full-blown scandal. Those in Umno understand that projects do not always run according to plan especially when it involves live animals. But they drew a line when it came to using a soft loan to invest in high end property. It coloured public perception about the project, her husband and NFC executive chairman Datuk Salleh Ismail and their three children who are on the NFC payroll.
Her family’s role in the NFC has been under the magnifying glass the last two months. The family has been unsuccessful in countering the allegations from Pakatan Rakyat politicians. They were slow to respond to the issues raised and they have allowed their detractors to set the agenda and control the conversation. When they did respond, the explanation was always somewhat incomplete and less than convincing. Worse, each new explanation raised fresh questions. For instance, a rather flamboyant businessman called Datuk Shamsulbahrin Ismail was recently charged with cheating Salleh of RM1.7mil in fraudulent consultancy fees but Shamsulbahrin has retaliated by accusing Salleh of hiring him to bribe those investigating the issue.
Salleh’s explanation was that he had hired Shamsulbahrin to handle media relations after the issue broke last year but Shamsulbahrin did not deliver and kept asking for more payment. People simply did not know who and what to believe. On the one hand, Shamsulbahrin is an alleged conman who has been charged with cheating two other people; on the other, RM1.7mil is an awful lot of money to pay a so-called media consultant upfront. The family’s poor handling of the crisis has baffled many of their friends. They are well-educated, super-polite and have always come across as a picture-perfect family. But they seem completely unprepared for the treacherous waters they are wading through now. Their inexperience has made it easy for their detractors to veer into exaggeration and distortion.
That was apparently why Shahrizat filed a libel suit against PKR strategy chief Rafizi Ramli and Wanita chief Zuraidah Kamaruddin. They had gone to town on the issue and Rafizi has even become some sort of a breakout star in his party. Shahrizat’s aim was to stop them from making further wild allegations. Shahrizat has put up a brave front. She appeared at a number of Wanita Umno events in Pahang, Malacca and Johor wearing sunny smiles and she is due in Kota Baru on Monday. She is determined not to let the issue distract her from her Wanita Umno duties. Her hosts in each state have been very respectful of her feelings. But it is a given that she will not contest the next general election. The Umno fraternity does not mind her remaining as Wanita Umno leader until the next party election since she was elected to that post. But there is widespread opinion that she should let go of her Cabinet position.
This is the dilemma she is wrestling with. Would resigning as minister be seen as the right thing to do under the circumstances or would it cast aspersions on her claim that she is not in the wrong? The pressure is building. Shortly before she went on leave, a minister had asked her to her face when she was quitting. When she replied that the Prime Minister had not said anything, the minister told her there was no need to wait till the Prime Minister tells her to go. Politics is a cruel business and to be fair to Shahrizat, she had sought an appointment with the Prime Minister shortly after the issue erupted in November and offered to resign all her posts. The Prime Minister had apparently told her to keep cool and hold on. But, said an insider, few had imagined it would escalate into something so big and complicated.
Things are still spiralling downhill and the scary part is that the issue may not have hit rock-bottom yet. The concern in Umno circles is that the issue is hurting the party big time and they want it to stop. It looks like people want blood and they will not be satisfied until heads roll. Excerpts from Star Columnist, Joceline Tan, as appeared on 2 February 2012.
Political leaders nust always assume they have a duty to serve the people and serve they will at whatever cost. The question to everyone’s mind is how on earth does someone get itself involved in “things” other than cattle rearing, which triggered the NFC so-called “scandal”. Shouldn’t this someone concentrate on cattle-rearing, and nothing else. Promminent family in Malaysian politics, I mean anybody must stick to the original mission. In the case of NFC get more beef for local demand and not relying on foreign import