By TAY TIAN YAN
Translated by SOONG PHUI JEE
Sin Chew Daily
Former Sime Darby Bhd president and group chief executive officer Datuk Seri Ahmad Zubair Murshid was recently charged with criminal breach of trust (CBT) and cheating. As far as I can remember, he was among the few persons in charge of government-linked companies (GLC) in the country, and might even the most senior officer being charged.
At least it conveys a positive message, namely management of the GLCs must be very alert. They must not be only professional and responsible, but have to be highly professional and responsible.
They manage government-owned companies. In other words, assets of the public. The people are watching them and thus, they must stay alert all the time.
The GLCs are not snug dens and they must not be turned into heavily polluted snug dens.
If Ahmad Zubair, who once held great power, can be charged, other people should not expect for any special treatments.
For Ahmad Zubair, all opinions at the current stage must comply with the principle of "presumption of innocence" before he is proven guilty. Just let the courts give him a fair trial.
However, those who have concern about Sime Darby and the dismissal of Ahmad Zubair might be surprised by the charges.
Ahmad Zubair was charged with the CBT and cheating in relation to the acquisition of native customary rights (NCR) land in Sarikei, Kapit and Julau under the Sarawak Upstream Expansion Plan.
Obviously, it is the responsible of its Plantation division to acquire these lands for large-scale oil palm cultivation.
It is puzzling that Ahmad Zubair had been asked to take a leave of absence prior to the expiry of his contract on November 26, 2010 following concerns over massive cost overruns to the tune of RM2.1 billion in its energy and utilities (E&U) division.
The Sime Darby's Bakun Hydroelectric Project incurred a massive cost overrun, while its investment in three other projects, namely the Qatar Petroleum (QP), the Maersk Oil Qatar and a marine project also suffered a substantial loss.
The 2010 account showed that it suffered a total loss of up to RM1.7 billion.
The loss resulted in an investigation and the Board found that Ahmad Zubair was involved in mismanagement and he was then asked to take leave, a dismissal in a different form.
Those who knew the inside story said that in addition to the loss, it actually involved also the group's infighting. The loss in its energy business had provided an excellent opportunity to beat Ahmad Zubair.
Suing Ahmad Zubair should be related to the major loss brought by the Bakun Hydroelectric Project and the Qatar oil and gas projects. Possible drawbacks must be identified while other persons involved must also be ferreted out.
They have, however, avoided the Bakun Hydroelectric Project and the Qatar oil and gas projects today and point the finger of blame to the group's plantation business, shifting the focus. It is even more puzzling as the plantation business had been the best performing division during the leadership of Ahmad Zubair.
The Bakun Hydroelectric Project and the Qatar oil and gas projects were launched and driven by the government and started before Ahmad Zubair took the office. If they really want to investigate, it is afraid that more businessmen and politicians might be involved.
Of course, after the focus is shifted, it has at the same time killed an opportunity to discover the truth.