A less blunt tool for Lim Guan Eng? Really, Mr Mukherjee?

Lim Guan Eng said the Finance Ministry has been bailing out 1MDB’s debt service obligations since April last year. — Picture by Miera Zulyana
Lim Guan Eng said the Finance Ministry has been bailing out 1MDB’s debt service obligations since April last year. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

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KUALA LUMPUR, May 25 — What exactly is a “less blunt tool”?

In a column this news website published yesterday, Bloomberg’s Andy Mukherjee had this to say: “Malaysia’s new finance minister is taking a sledgehammer to 1MDB. A less blunt tool would do the job just as well, probably better.”

In his words, Mukherjee said, “Lim Guan Eng is busy telling the world about the shocking state of affairs at the scandal-ridden state fund. But that won’t sate the Malaysian public’s desire for justice. Investors, meanwhile, are uneasy about things getting out of hand. Already, foreigners have sold out of the nation’s stocks for 13 consecutive days.

“For Lim to declare in his first press conference that government debt has exceeded RM1 trillion because of a sly public bailout of 1MDB gets him full marks for honesty, but not for tact.”

So, what indeed is this less blunt tool? Mukherjee offers no clues.

We can only guess he means Malaysia’s finance minister should hold back on telling the public exactly what went wrong with 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) and the scale of the giant hole in the country’s books.

So, how much should Lim hold back? How much tact should Lim have?

Should Lim hold back long enough for foreign investors to take up positions that would minimise losses and maximise gains, and then let fly?

Oh, maybe foreign investors should have been briefed first ahead of Malaysians who actually pay the salary of the finance minister?

While we are on the subject, what exactly does Mukherjee mean by foreign investors?

Perhaps he should call a spade a spade and just say foreign funds? Let’s not hide behind the catch-all phrase of “foreign investor”. A real foreign investor is an active participant in the Malaysian economy who builds a factory for example and offers up new technology and jobs.

Foreign funds are just like anyone who punts (For punt, read: gamble, as in rolls dice in a casino) on the stock market. They are passive investors hoping to make money off the backs of other people.

There you have it. It’s out of the bag. Anyone, and foreign funds in particular, hate it when there is uncertainty. Why? Because it messes up their plans (and profits). And there is nothing wrong with that. It’s only natural.

But Mukherjee should perhaps not act as a messenger for these funds. The funds have already spoken for themselves by pulling their money out of Malaysia’s stock market.

Mukherjee also took exception to Lim’s press release issued on Tuesday. Lim had said that 1MDB was effectively insolvent, and that the existence of as much as US$2.5 billion of the fund’s overseas assets is in doubt.

But Mukherjee seemed particularly offended by Lim’s characterisation of Arul Kanda Kandasamy, the 1MDB president, as “utterly dishonest and untrustworthy.”

“The colourful language against Kanda is jarring in an official press release. Malaysia isn’t a banana republic, but a sovereign rated A3 by Moody’s Investors Service,” Mukherjee wrote.

Jarring language? Really? Malaysia is facing major problems and the thing a columnist with Bloomberg, one of the world’s most respected financial news services, picked on was Lim’s “jarring” language.

For that, we as Malaysians must apologise. We did not realise fund managers were timid things who cannot handle blunt language. Are they snowflakes? Or shrinking violets? Whatever.

We did not realise “foreign investors” do not like the truth.

Perhaps we should couch it in euphemisms and jargon, instead of making it easier to understand.

But you see this is precisely why a majority of Malaysians got fed up enough to vote in a rag-tag coalition led by a 92-year-old.

Many Malaysians got tired of the fancy bankers and the politicians in their pockets using fancy language that no one understands to sell us stuff we don’t need.

We don’t need to be a financial genius to see money has been stolen from public coffers and the government took up high-interest loans and backed useless bonds for projects that benefit no one but bankers and assorted geniuses and perhaps even ratings agencies.

By the way, Mister Mukherjee, the money that has been lost? That’s my money. Not just mine alone but it belongs to all of us Malaysians.

And we sure as hell want to know what happened. We don’t mind the language.

But sorry if this article offends you.

* Leslie Lau is Managing Editor of Malay Mail, a voter and tax payer living in Kuala Lumpur.

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