Nazri Aziz: The maverick tourism catalyst

Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Aziz Nazri’s emphasis on non-traditional tourism products like eco-tourism, medical tourism and volunteer tourism are beginning to show early results. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Aziz Nazri’s emphasis on non-traditional tourism products like eco-tourism, medical tourism and volunteer tourism are beginning to show early results. — Picture by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 13 — Tourism Minister, Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz is plenty of things, but a stranger to controversy is certainly not among them.

After all, this is the same Barisan politician who was not afraid to  be seen with PKR leaders, even when it was anathema to do so; the same man who called former premier Tun Dr Mahathir a “bloody racist” before his former mentor switched sides (and it became ‘permissible’ to do so) and the same politician who openly had a disagreement with a Royal family even other Royal families are said to avoid crossing paths with.

Political controversies aside, he is known to be a man of singular vision and a people’s leader. This shows in the way he works. Nazri is often seen walking around in collared t-shirt and jeans, even for formal events. He is known to dislike formalities and greets his colleagues more like how you’d expect a school fraternity brother would, rather than a senior member of Cabinet who has served three Prime Ministers.

The results show. Nazri has been credited with both bringing in tourists during economic slumps and simplifying the way the Tourism Ministry conducts its official business.

He has lessened red tape and worked directly with State Governments, tourism associations and hoteliers in introducing innovative tourism products and is unafraid of taking bold steps to that effect. Some industry sources see the shutting down of Tourism Malaysia office as one such example.

He also has a reputation of being fair in his dealings, often to the chagrin of his party colleagues. His counterparts in Penang Umno, for instance, has complained openly that he does not favour them for contracts. Barisan Nasional’s Chinese majority party, MCA, has also grumbled that his close association to the Opposition’s DAP, MCA’s major nemesis, particularly his friendship with DAP leader, Lim Guan Eng, could be misconstrued by the electorate.

On both accounts, he has defended his position, claiming bluntly that he prefers dealing with the DAP because they represent the Chinese vote.

When the Sabah State Barisan State Government did not cooperate with a nationwide levy for hotels, he threatened to cut off funding from the Federal Government, while allocating funds for Selangor and Penang, both Opposition held states.

His clean cut, no nonsense approach has yielded positive fruits. In Selangor, for instance, local tourism has shot up and many historical sites such as Klang Historical Walk and Kuala Selangor and numerous parks that were previously in a state of neglect have been revitalized by joint state-Federal efforts. This has paved the way for many new hotel players to invest in the state.

Nazri’s emphasis on non-traditional tourism products like eco-tourism, medical tourism and volunteer tourism are also beginning to show early results.

Given the current political landscape in the country, it does not look like we have many leaders willing to take risks and disrupt the status quo. Neither do we have leaders willing to cross the political divide for mutually beneficial goals, unable to switch roles effectively between politician and government leader.

To have someone who is willing to do both, is quite the plus point for Barisan Nasional specifically, and Malaysians as a whole.

* This article was originally published by the Kuala Lumpur Post.

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