Frankly Speaking

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Alliance settlement sheds no lightIt was a very public spat between the Board of Directors (BOD) of the Alliance banking group and its CEO Datuk Bridget Lai over governance issues. Lai had to go on leave, an external auditor was asked to come in to do a special audit and the board subsequently sent Lai a letter demanding that she respond to a long list of questions. The BOD had said that the allegations against Lai centred around property renovation contracts in which there may have been abuses.

Lai had said she had done nothing wrong and would go all out to clear her name.

In a brief statement last Thursday (Feb 25), the bank said: “In view of the differences of opinion between the board of directors of the bank and Datuk Bridget Lai that have risen over the last few months, Datuk Bridget Lai has decided to tender her resignation from the bank with effect from April 1, 2010.”

It added that the decision was a joint one between the bank and Lai, and that “the resignation is not in any way a reflection on Datuk Bridget Lai”.

Now, what are we to make of it?

Is the bank saying that the problem was one of “differences of opinion” and not governance issues as the Board of Directors (BOD) had alluded to?

There is a big difference between “differences of opinion” and lack of governance. Do you investigate someone over differences of opinion?

By saying that the resignation was “not in any way a reflection on” Lai, is the bank saying that she has been cleared of all allegations made against her?

If that is the case, did the BOD err in pursuing her the way it did? Did they hound their own CEO over matters that were unjustified? Is there more to this?

We will probably never know the truth, because both sides appear to have worked out a deal that will prevent them from revealing anything more.  

Blowing hot and coldThe government’s U-turn on its plan to streamline the fuel subsidy system reflects poorly on the consistency of its policy announcements, and gives the impression that it tends to buckle under pressure, rather than implement the right measures, even though resources may be wasted in the process.

Last week, it was reported that the government had shelved a plan to introduce a tiered fuel subsidy system originally scheduled for implementation on May 1.

It is understandable that the proposed system, which requires motorists to produce their MyKad at the petrol station to ascertain whether they are eligible for subsidies, can be complex and unwieldy. Hence, the government is said to be looking at a simpler alternative.

It is not known how much had been invested in the R&D of the system. But for something that was supposed to be launched in just another two months, it could be surmised that preparations were already at quite an advanced stage and the government could possibly be liable to compensate the system’s vendors.

This is not the first time such an incident has happened.

In May last year, the government deferred the foreign workers levy hike, a few months after it said it would be implemented when announcing the second stimulus package in March. The change of mind came after various complaints from employers and  manufacturers associations that the levy would be an additional burden on them.

Also in October 2009, the government unveiled the revised National Automotive Policy that includes a new rule requiring cars 15 years and older to undergo mandatory inspection at Puspakom before they could get their road tax renewed. This was quickly annulled after receiving negative responses from the public.

The perception is that the authorities had not thought the matter through before announcing new measures, and that it lacks the will to carry out its policies.

Building the skills baseLast week, the Education Ministry announced a plan for the transformation of polytechnics that should be recognised for its potential to change the country’s human capital base. The first step was the designation of three vocational colleges as premier institutions which will be upgraded to polytechnic universities in five years.

It bears emphasising that the country cannot get very far in re-engineering its economy if it does not build up a sufficient pool of technically competent workers to populate its value-added industries. So, it is crucial that the plan to upgrade vocational institutions receives close attention and adequate resources, since the sustainability of the economic transformation plan for the nation would be built on this technological base.

Indeed, it may be argued that such a programme should have received much higher priority when the country embarked on its rapid industrialisation drive some two decades ago. Nevertheless, it is important to stay focused on the basic objectives of the plan, which can be expected to encompass the enhancement of Malaysia’s technological talent pool.

It is just as important to draw on the lessons of the country’s human resource development efforts to date so that costly mistakes and misguided priorities do not scupper the new programme. More so because poor implementation of the plan may damage the country’s competitiveness in an increasingly open economic environment.

All said, the vocational institutions must become synonymous with excellence and innovation for the effort to bear fruit.

This article appeared in Corporate page of The Edge Malaysia, Issue 795, Mar 1-7, 2010