Malaysia

Najib’s pick for Tabung Haji boss draws flak

By Amin Iskandar, News Editor
July 08, 2013

He should be celebrating his appointment as the chairman of one of Malaysia’s most respected institutions but instead Datuk Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim (pic) has been on the receiving end of the 2 Rs: ridicule and rejection.

And most of the vitriol against the head of Umno’s Putera club and the MP for Baling is coming from his own party.

In the eyes of Umno politicians, the choice by Prime Minister Najib Razak for chairman of Tabung Haji lacks the experience, wisdom, qualifications and does not have the standing to head an organisation which sits on a fund totaling RM35 billion.

And those are the more charitable comments for the 47-year-old grassroots politician who has a secondary school certificate and little by way of blue ribbon pedigree.

The more biting criticisms link his appointment to his cozy relationship with the First Family and as a payback for his ability to make embarrassing issues for the rich and powerful disappear.

In fact, his was the only name forwarded by the PM to Datuk Jamil Khir, the minister-in-charge of Islamic Affairs, to replace Tan Sri Abi Musa Mohamed.

Sources told The Malaysian Insider that among the names bandied about for the chairman’s post was that of Tan Sri Ismail Omar, the recently retired Inspector-General of Police.

Azeez is aware of the groundswell against him and that he is not a popular choice. But he believes that he deserves a chance.

“I appeal to everyone to give me the opportunity to serve as the chairman of Tabung Haji before passing judgement. My focus will be to handle the welfare of the pilgrims,” he told The Malaysian Insider.

He has also heard the sniping that he does not have the corporate background but is quick to point out that there are other directors on the board of Tabung Haji who are experienced in business.

“I believe that the direction Tabung Haji is taking in business is already well set.

“We have many high-calibre directors such as Datuk Othman Mahmood, who used to be the deputy secretary-general in the PM’s Department. So in terms of business, I don’t have to be too concerned,” said Azeez.

“There are many complaints that people are waiting too long to perform their haj. I will look into this matter," said the politician, who has made a name for himself as an executor of outreach programmes, including sending aid to Palestinians in Gaza.

Najib’s supporters defend Azeez’s appointment, arguing that he has proven himself to be an effective leader on the ground, and that he has served as a director on the board of Tabung Haji.

The PM himself has stayed silent on the matter, knowing that the current mood in Umno is one of restlessness and unhappiness and that sentiment is rooted more in BN’s performance in the elections and the less-than-stellar performance of the government since the May 5 elections.

The flak against Azeez’s appointment is also an indication that the days of Najib getting a pass from his own party are over.

In the past 48 hours alone, Umno MP for Kinabatangan Bung Mokhtar Radin has openly threatened the PM that he will quit if his constituency does not get more money and Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has disagreed with the government’s decision to abolish the Sedition Act.

Pakatan Rakyat politicians have also weighed in on the new chairman of Tabung Haji.

Nurul Izzah Anwar, the MP for Lembah Pantai, urged Najib to revisit the appointment of Azeez saying that the chairman should be capable, credible and not partisan.

"Let us not politicise everything in the country and I note that the PM is going over the top in rewarding certain politicians with appointments,” she said.

"Tabung Haji is a very important institution and whoever appointed must have the expertise to ensure that this treasury, which belongs to the Muslims, must be safeguarded.’’

The PAS member for Pokok Sena, Datuk Mahfuz Omar was concerned that Azeez was appointed for the wrong reasons.

"When filling in a position, the consideration should not be to compensate a politician who has not been given a Cabinet position or help him with a better income," said the PAS vice-president.

The Malaysian Insider reported last week that Najib was likely to reward Umno politicians and warlords with positions in government-linked companies including Tabung Haji, Telekom Malaysia and Mara.

The decision to reward politicians with these positions is to head off any unhappiness and restlessness on the ground before it gathers momentum and becomes a more serious challenge for the incumbent in Putrajaya.

Still, the fallout from Azeez appointment as the Tabung Haji chairman shows that this is not a fool-proof strategy.  – July 8, 2013.