Side Views

Will Idris Jala please return the millions? — Gomen man

August 08, 2011

AUG 8 — So the turnaround specialist, or best thing to happen to Malaysia Airlines, did not do such a good job after all.

But Datuk Seri Idris Jala pocketed a few million short of RM20 million when he left Malaysia Airlines to become the Najib administration’s transformation czar.

This money was either a bonus or compensation for his glorious  achievement of “turning things around” at MAS. I am sure major shareholders at MAS — Khazanah Nasional and EPF — will be happy to enlighten Malaysians on this reward scheme.

That is the problem with us Malaysians; we are so quick to praise people and put them on a pedestal. We called Abdullah Ahmad Badawi a reformer early on and look how that turned out. We still didn’t learn.

We swallowed all this 1 Malaysia rubbish and thought that Najib Razak had learnt from Abdullah’s mistakes. It looks like Najib is following Abdullah’s path of self-destruction.

A few years ago, we couldn’t stop gushing about the wonderful job Jala did in turning around MAS. By definition, turn around implies some permanence to an organisation’s change in fortunes. It must entail more than just cutting costs and cleaning up the books.

As blogger Sakmongkol 47 noted in his succinct commentary, it doesn’t take a genius to do asset stripping (selling the buildings, aircraft, etc), showing a clean accounts. But what about making meaningful structural changes to the way MAS operates? How about changes to its business model?

Put it this way, can Idris Jala be considered a success if the “system and personnel” he put in place collapse a couple of years later, and collapse spectacularly.

Would you consider Alex McLeish a success at Birmingham City just because he won the League Cup only to see the club relegated a few months later?

I am sure Jala is a nice chap but his success at MAS was oversold. He just papered over the cracks at the national airline.

Now he is being touted as the man to transform the Malaysian economy. I am sorry but I am not buying the hype because I have seen the evidence of his transformational skills.

He may be the best person in the Malaysian Cabinet but that is not saying much, like the one-eyed man being the king in the land of the blind. My gut feel tells me that, a couple of years down the road, we will find out that Malaysia is still not a high-income economy but pretty much addicted to foreign labour.

Only difference is that we would have a big budget deficit.

* Gomen man reads The Malaysian Insider.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication. The Malaysian Insider does not endorse the view unless specified.