Malaysia

Bank Islam says policy to suspend staff over political comments

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 15 — Bank Islam said today that it is the bank’s current practice to suspend its staff if they engage in political activity or make political comments pending investigations into the matter.

“Based on the current policy of Bank Islam Malaysia Berhad (the Bank), any staff irrespective of their position, including the management level, whom the Bank has reasonable grounds to believe has breached the Bank’s internal policy, will be suspended with full pay, to facilitate investigation,” the bank wrote in a one-paragraph statement dated today.

Bank Islam’s statement was issued in response to a query by The Malaysian Insider over speculation that the bank had suspended its chief economist Azrul Azwar Ahmad Tajudin (picture) over his prediction of the results of Election 2013.

When contacted today, a Bank Islam official said the bank’s “internal policy” bars its employees from participating in political activities.

“We are a commercial entity, we are not allowed to [be involved] in any political activity.”

The official said the bank’s staff do not speak on political matters when they talk to the public.

“We don’t comment on political issues or anything related to it,” the official added.

When contacted by The Malaysian Insider today, Azrul Azwar confirmed speculation that Bank Islam has suspended his services as its chief economist over his prediction of the likely results of Election 2013.

When asked how long the suspension will last, he said: “I’m not sure. Perhaps until further notice.”

Azrul Azwar was last week reported by Singapore’s The Straits Times to have predicted a narrow win in Election 2013 by Pakatan Rakyat (PR) as the most likely out of three possible scenarios.

After news reports that appeared in The Straits Times and The Malaysian Insider last week, Bank Islam moved to distance itself from Azrul Azwar.

In a January 11 statement, Bank Islam managing director Datuk Seri Zukri Samat regretted that a news report on a Singapore forum had associated the bank with Azrul Azwar’s views and forecast.

“For your information, Bank Islam is not a party to the regional forum and is not related or involved in anyway in the event.

“The views expressed by Azrul at the forum are entirely his personal view and should not be linked or attributed to Bank Islam whatsoever,” Zukri wrote in the four-paragraph statement.

The Malaysian Insider had previously reported that the bank’s management was meeting on January 11 over the findings that were part of Azrul Azwar’s presentation at the Regional Outlook Forum in Singapore on January 10.

In a report by The Straits Times, Azrul Azwar’s calculations found that one of the most likely scenarios was that the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition would likely win only between 97 and 107 of the 222 parliamentary seats, which are insufficient to form the next administration.

But the result would also mean that PR will only gain a shaky hold over Parliament, far from the supermajority once enjoyed by its rival.

The two other likely scenarios reportedly presented by Azrul Azwar was that there would be a narrow win for BN and a bigger win for PR.

Azrul Azwar had taken into account factors such as race and demographics.

He had also forecasted that under the most likely scenario of a narrow win by PR, a fallout would result, with the stock market set to respond in a “knee-jerk” fashion as well as an extended period of perceived instability.

He also did not rule out the possibility of “economic sabotage” by businesses and the civil service that are aligned with BN.

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