Umno is not in denial, new information chief says

 Umno is not in denial, new information chief says
Tan Sri Annuar Musa
PHOTO: The Star

Tan Sri Annuar Musa says one of the main challenges for him as the new Umno information chief is to effectively reach out to the young and the better educated and better informed members of the public "without insulting their intelligence and meeting their expectations."

"They expect to know the truth," he says, and "they have options".

"They don't have to turn to the normal ceramah, TV and newspapers to find out what they want to know."

So, one of the first things he is doing is making sure that the 80,000 Umno information chiefs at various branch and division levels who are responsible for disseminating information, get the proper information and speak in one voice.

"They shouldn't be working in silos," he says. For him, it is also important that they have ears on the ground to "feel' and listen to what's on the people's minds.

Annuar believes the attacks and rumblings on the ground against Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak over the RM2.6bil that went into his personal account and the 1MDB issue are attempts to weaken the party.

He says Umno's top leader must be firm and not give in.

Annuar is full of praise over the Prime Minister's decision remove Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin as the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Shafie Apdal as minister and Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir as Kedah Mentri Besar because he says they kept hammering Najib in public.

"I am very happy that Najib now demonstrates the true character of a leader. If any of your appointees are trying to do 'monkey business' with you, out he goes." Umno is not in denial, he says.

For him, what is happening in the party is "nothing abnormal" so there is no need to be too alarmed and press the panic button unnecessarily.


Q: You are back into the limelight as Mara chairman, Kelantan Football Association (KAFA) president and most recently, the new Umno information chief. How do you see your political resurgence?

My appointment as the Umno information chief came as a surprise. No one gave me any indication that I would be appointed but I've always been active irrespective of whatever position is given to me. I have remained Umno chief of my own (Ketereh) division for a very long time. This is my 30th year as division chief. I believe it is my responsibility to contribute in any way I can. When the party president (Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak) made the announcement, it came as a surprise but I take it as a challenge.

Q: What is the main challenge for you as the Umno information chief?

Things have changed a lot compared to when I started some 30 years ago. During those days, the dissemination of information was not what we are facing now. Now we are dealing with young people, with members of the public who are better informed, who are better educated. They expect to know the truth. At the same time, they have alternatives and don't have to turn to the normal ceramah, TV and newspapers. They have options and can always compare news and things they would like to know. The greatest challenge is how to reach them in the most effective manner without insulting their intelligence but meeting their expectations. So methods must change.

And the Umno information chief is no longer someone who just goes around giving talks and things like that.

It is more important to have a proper, organised set up. The information chief at various levels should not be working in silos!

They must be pooled together. We must have a set of good and capable people to make assessments. They should not only disseminate information but they should also collect information.

I always say the role of information chief is also to 'feel' the ground regularly.

If you want to give a good prescription, the diagnosis must be right. We must be willing to listen. We must understand how people on the ground feel, understand the state of mind of the people, what they are thinking and respond accordingly.

It is not a straight forward kind of thing.

To me, it is a challenge to make sure Umno has a proper set up. It does not necessarily have to be something formal but it must be something that is able to handle the current needs.

Q: What kind of set up are you talking about?

If you look at the Umno structure, we have the national information chief. Down the line, there are the state information chiefs, consisting of information chiefs from the various divisions in the state.

There are 191 divisions in Umno and each division has four information chiefs, which is the division's information chief itself, and the information chiefs from the Wanita, Youth and Puteri wings. That alone comes up to about 800 people in the front line.

Are they working in a concerted effort? Are they sharing the same amount of right information and is this being disseminated properly?

Down the line, we have 21,000 branches and each of those have four information chiefs as well. So all in all, Umno has about 80,000 people whose responsibility is to explain directly to the people, disseminate information, handle disinformation and so now.

But are these 80,000 people working for themselves? Are they connected? Are they working together? Maybe half of them are not even capable enough to explain to the people!

We have our Umno branches almost everywhere in the country. Can you imagine if these people given the responsibility to give information do not have access to the information themselves? How do we expect them to perform?

I would like to sort of revisit all this to evaluate the current position, assess the capability to see where they are, who they are and to see to what extent they have been effective all this while.

If I can put all those together, then the next step would be only the mechanism, the support at the various levels to get the right information, analyse the information and create certain things so that we can reach the masses more effectively.

Q: What is the main concern of Malaysians today? If we go to the mamak what would people be talking about?

It depends on current issues. Malaysians are very sensitive and responsive to what they hear.

Sometimes what their concern is might not be what is the most important. If something is much talked about, then the people will demand to know more and more.

For example, with the cost of living, people are very concerned with some of the decisions made by the government.

The opposition is very active now unlike the old days. So we are facing opposition parties that are more capable, more proactive, more aggressive and more organised now compared to before.

I must say Pakatan Harapan have organised themselves very well. They have good strategy, they have people working around them and they know where and when to hit the (Barisan Nasional federal) government.

Under those circumstances, when the opposition says something, people expect the government to give a satisfactory explanation.

For example, the opposition is now harping on the issue of good governance and a lot of people are concerned about good governance, about the economy because of the current economic situation. People want to hear not just about the Malaysian economy but also the global economy.

In the past, the man-in-the-street would never talk about the price of oil or things like the TPPA (The Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement). But these days it is a common topic and everyone talks about it.

So the economy, politics, good governance are some of the topics that concerns the public. And it is important for Umno, especially being in the government, that we must be able to explain to the people what we do.

The government is trying its best but sometimes people misinterpret things because we don't explain it properly. We can't expect people to know everything. When we do something, we must explain the reason why we do it. Sometimes, even before we implement something, we have to condition the minds of the people so that they are in a position to understand things in the proper perspective.

Sometimes, we run too fast and do too many things at the same time and then the whole thing becomes one big basket of problems which will be tougher to handle.

Right now we have political problems and economic problems to handle. At the same time there are certain other things. For example, like the amendments to certain Acts which we need, which have to do with security, which have to do with secrecy of government information and things like that.

If we do too many things all the same time but don't have the capacity to explain to the people correctly, then the problem will be compounded.


Q: How do you read the mood on the ground with regards to Umno? Members seem quite divided and confused over issues like 1MDB and the RM2.6 bil political funding?

I wouldn't know what terminology to use but I wouldn't say 'confused'. They want to know the truth. They want to know more facts that can really convince them but sometimes we are slow in terms of giving explanation.

As I have mentioned to you earlier if the party mechanism is working in silos, that makes things worse.

And because things keep changing at a very fast rate and new issues come up almost every other day, we must be fast and prompt.

At the same time you must remember it is the strategy of the opposition to create confusion and doubt in the minds of the people so they keep giving disinformation and distorting the information and spreading half truths.

If they continue to harp on half-truths then people tend to believe in it. So we must feel the ground correctly and address the issues while we still have time. But we should not to be too alarmed.

I still remember during Tun Dr Mahathir's time (as Prime Minister) when I was in cabinet there was a similar situation and members were so concerned.

Umno (which is the backbone of the Barisan Nasional Federal Government) decided to amend the Federal Constitution (in 1983 to curtail the powers of the royalty to prevent the blocking of bills passed in parliament from becoming law).

At the same time Umno was having problems internally after Tengku Razaleigh (Hamzah) fought Dr Mahathir in 1986 -1987. And in 1988 we had a big crisis (with the judiciary). Within that span of two to three years, there were so many issues that the party had to handle but we managed to sail through.

Of course we took some beating during the general election but generally the party remained intact. So this is not something new for us.

Being a political party and in a position of power as the government, we will continue to face these things from time to time. So we do not have to press the panic button unnecessarily. We just have to manage it.

There will be no end to this as long as we are government and as long as we practice democracy and allow the freedom of speech, freedom of press and people to form political parties and for NGOs to be involved in non-government matters. We have to handle all those things.

Q: But the rumblings are also coming from very senior Umno leaders. And it is not just Tun Dr Mahathir (Mohamad) but also people like Tun Musa Hitam who voiced concerns about what is happening within Umno. We have heard concerns from Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah and more recently Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz. Comment?

Do you think this is something abnormal? In the 80s when Umno had problems internally especially when Tengku Razaleigh challenged Dr Mahathir, there were senior leaders outside the party who were not holding positions who continued to make their views known.

Like (former Selangor Mentri Besar) Datuk Harun Idris , Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Hussein Onn, they continued to speak (against Dr Mahathir).

So to me, this is not something new. People like to go back to those who have retired from politics and ask their opinion. Now with the new media, their views are better known. They have better access to people to express their views. This will go on. Dr Mahathir has friends around him. They were his former cabinet ministers for example. Those people are no longer holding any position in the party or the government and they still have the liberty to say something about the government.

I think that is something very, very normal.

During Dr Mahathir's time, we didn't have the new media. It was very limited access. Even if you speak, what you say will not spread so fast and reach so many people, unlike what we are experiencing today. That is the only difference.

As for senior party leaders who continue to give views, they may give views not necessarily in support of the government. This is something that has been going on for many, many years.

Q: But does Umno not tolerate dissent anymore because when these senior leaders give dissenting views, the present Umno leaders within Datuk Seri Najib's inner circle will whack these leaders?

No! I have been under Dr Mahathir, under Pak Lah (Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi) and now I am under Najib. If you compare now with the time under Dr Mahathir, for me Najib is more liberal. And it is not only Umno.

Look at DAP. They recently suspended their members because of certain disciplinary matters.

In Umno, Dr Mahathir has been a thorn in the flesh for a long time starting from Pak Lah's time but nobody took action. I think Umno has been very tolerant as far as Dr Mahathir is concerned.

When Dr Mahathir attended the (Nothing2Hide) function which was supposed to be attended by the Prime Minister (Najib), I was there. (Najib didn't show up). I listened directly to what was uttered by Dr Mahathir and it was very damaging to the party and far from the truth but we just tolerated it.

(At that function, Dr Mahathir spoke for only six minutes before he was told to stop and his microphone was switched off.)

To say the party does not accept dissenting voice is not true. You can say anything but of course there must be limits.

Q: But Umno has removed three senior leaders for having dissenting views ie Muhyiddin, (Datuk Seri ) Shafie (Apdal) and (Kedah MB Datuk Seri) Mukhriz (Mahathir)?

They should be removed! In fact, I think they should have been removed earlier! They know that! When some of the supreme council members wanted Pak Lah to be replaced by Najib (after the 2008 general election), I was the one against it right until the very last supreme council meeting. One of those who was very strong in propagating this change of guard was Muhyiddin himself.

I am sure those people understand that during Tun Mahathir's time, he removed so many people just because those under him were not in support of his leadership. Datuk Harun Idris criticised Dr Mahathir's leadership and after Umno was deregistered (in Feb 1988), we set up Umno Baru. We said Umno (Baru) belongs to all the Malays and opened it for new registration of members.

But I still remember one night when we had a supreme council meeting and went through the application of some of the senior leaders (who were from Team B and backing Tengku Razaleigh against Dr Mahathir), Dr Mahathir made it very clear that he did not want Datuk Harun as a member.

Those are the situations which I have gone through, meaning that Dr Mahathir cannot tolerate certain people simply because to him those people are indisciplined.

Q: But Tengku Razaleigh (from Team B) went on to form Parti Melayu Semangat 46 (which contested against Umno) and a few years later, you see Dr Mahathir accepting Tengku Razaleigh and Semangat 46 members back into Umno and Semangat 46 was disbanded. And you also have PBS which stabbed Barisan Nasional in the back during the 1990 general election but Dr Mahathir also accepted them back into Barisan fold later?

All those people were sacked or outside the party.

But (now) some of these people (leaders) were only removed from their position in government. Muhyiddin is still deputy (Umno) president. He was (only) removed from being DPM.

I think the rules are very simple. Those positions, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Mentri Besar , Chief Minister are appointed positions. They serve at the pleasure of those who appointed them so there must be a certain degree of discipline. What do you expect if the Deputy Prime Minister or Mentri Besar starts going around and hammering the leadership in public?

I think Najib has been too tolerant. You must not allow such things to happen not just before but even in the future!

I would like to see the leadership be more firm when it comes to discipline. If you want to accept position, you must know the things that go with it. If you accept the trust given by a leader, you are expected to accept certain decorum. When Muhyiddin criticised Datuk Najib several times, senior leaders in Umno had a discussion about it and we decided to tolerate it.

Even about two weeks before he was removed as DPM, there were voices saying that action should be taken against him during the Umno supreme council, but through consensus we at the supreme council decided to tolerate him.

We even disagreed that he should face disciplinary action, knowing very well that what he did had breached the party discipline.

With junior party members, we would take action swiftly. But with the deputy party president, we spared him! We gave him the benefit of doubt. But when he continued to do that, it is not fair for the president to have a deputy who is not helping him.

Q: But would the party be better off without a president who has the RM2.6bil scandal hanging over his head?

It is not a scandal. To some people, to the detractors, it is a scandal. But to party members, we have given chance for the PM and the president to explain.

The very first day when the news came out about the RM2.6 bil in the Prime Minister's personal account, I called up a few friends within the supreme council members and we decided to go to the PM's residence to get an explanation directly from him. 32 of us went to Seri Perdana.

We listened to him and allowed him to explain and we were happy with the explanation. We understand his position. It is not possible for him to explain everything at one go.

Of course, there must be certain strategies to handle the issue, knowing very well out there, there would be people trying to take advantage of the situation. But we have to go through the process. We have three million members. We need to explain to the supreme council members, to the division and state level members and to the branches and to the (Umno) Annual General Assembly so that takes time.

Of course at the same time he has to face members of the public. He is the Prime Minister. So a series of explanation and engagement was conducted and the ultimate was the Umno general assembly where we endorsed and accepted the explanation. We are happy with what the Prime Minister and Umno president explained to us. So it's a scandal maybe to some like the opposition. But that doesn't matter (to us).

Q: Wouldn't Umno be stronger without Datuk Najib?

No! No! No! No! This is something I have heard so many times. In the early 80s when people want to remove Dr Mahathir as president, they would say without Dr Mahathir, the party would be stronger. I was with Tengku Razaleigh when he decided to challenge Dr Mahathir and Tengku Razaleigh believed (back) in 1986 that if Dr Mahathir wasn't around, then Malaysia and the economy would be better and the country would be better.

This is something I have heard time and time again.

One thing's for sure. Whoever becomes the president of Umno, there will be people within the party who want to take over his position and outside the party who want to pull him down.

I still remember Dr Mahathir saying 'The reason why people attack me is because I am the president of Umno'. And that 'If I am not the president of Umno, they will become very friendly with me and they will attack my successor or whoever is in the seat of the president of Umno'.

That's one reason why whenever my party president is under attack, I for one choose to defend because I believe it is team work.

People wanted to remove Dr Mahathir because he was the president of Umno. Later on, I was one of the first to ask Dr Mahathir to step aside so that Pak Lah can take over. During one meeting during Ramadan I told him it is time for him to step aside so that Pak Lah can take over.

Why? Because we found that Dr Mahathir is already an injured horse. It is not because of him but it is the failure of the party to defend him. He likes to take the bull by its horn all the time. That is why he got injured. I defended Dr Mahathir through a series of crisis. This is not something which I (just) claim (to have done). You can look back at the history of Umno (to see that this is true).

When Tengku Razaleigh fought against Dr Mahathir and the Kelantan delegates were very angry with Dr Mahathir, I was among a few Kelantanese who stood up openly to support him during that crisis.

When Dr Mahathir decided to amend the Federal Constitution to remove the immunity of the Sultans, I defended him. When there was a direct crisis between Dr Mahathir and the Sultan of Kelantan when the Lamborghini cars was driven away from the Customs, we defended him.

(In 1992 Sultan Ismail Petra of Kelantan refused to pay more than RM2.1 mil in import tax to the federal government for a Lamborghini Diablo sports car that he had imported causing a clash between the government and the Kelantan Palace.) When Dr Mahathir decided to remove the deputy president (Datuk Seri) Anwar Ibrahim (as Deputy Prime Minister) (in 1998) he never explained the reason to us (at first). It is only after he removed Anwar (as DPM) that he started to give the explanation and we decided to defend him (Dr Mahathir) all the way.

There are so many things I can mention to you that I hold to, which Dr Mahathir preached. He taught us to be loyal to the party. He taught us that the institution of the president is very important and that people want to remove one person not because of that particular person but because they want to weaken the entire party.

The same rule applies when Pak Lah took over.

Pak Lah was very successful in the 2004 election but the same Pak Lah two years later began to have problems. Why? Maybe because the first four year, the guns, the ammunition, the swords did not injure him. But after some time, he became more and more vulnerable. If the party does not have the strength and courage to defend the leader, then nobody will survive.

The same Pak Lah who created history by winning the most number of seats in 2004, two years later he became so vulnerable that even our own party members wanted him to be replaced by Najib.

Compared to Pak Lah, Datuk Najib is younger, more aggressive and more experienced.

And Najib did not become the Prime Minister overnight. He is one of those who has gone through fire. From the age of 21 or 22, he was holding position (after the death of his father Prime Minister Tun Razak) and over the years, he served in several ministries. He has gone through the rank and file from division head to the supreme council, deputy youth chief, youth chief, vice president, deputy president and president.

Not many in Umno have that kind of leadership background. With that kind of personality - just like Dr Mahathir and Pak Lah - he (Najib) too has become vulnerable. Party members must look at what is happening from the bigger perspective. This will go on and on and on. When we removed Pak Lah, we thought when we put Najib there, the problem will be solved .

And now people say the party will be stronger if we don't have Najib ? To me that is just a trick.

By doing that, Umno will be weaker and wiped out from Malaysian politics. Umno members must not fall into that trap. To me, because the president of Umno is under attack, we will close ranks. In fact now, because of those threats, Umno becomes stronger.

The majority of the Umno division chiefs have decided to stand through thick and thin with the Prime Minister. This is because we understand out there, there are people who are not happy with Datuk Seri Najib, some because of personal reasons, some because of their political strategy. There is some element of truth in what they say but there is more falsehood than truth. We must be on the alert and be willing to work as a team and be responsible.

Q: Isn't Datuk Najib an 'injured horse' for Umno?

Actually I think he is becoming stronger now. Najib doesn't have the experience of direct confrontation with people. If you look at his history, he is someone who is very diplomatic . He doesn't like to take the bull by its horns.

He likes to do things his own way - the Najib way. Everyone knows that. But now when he is in the position of being No 1, being the Prime Minister and Umno president, he cannot avoid the battle.

I told Najib that all Umno presidents will face a big crisis before they reach the seventh year.

Datuk Onn Jaafar set up Umno and after a few years he was tested and decided to step back. Tunku Abdul Rahman brought independence to Malaysia but after six to seven years he was tested and he became unpopular after that and he was replaced by Tun Razak. Only Tun Razak didn't face a big crisis because he was in office for a very short time.

Tun Hussein Onn also was facing tough times after his fourth year in office. Then came Dr Mahathir. He came in as somebody very dynamic, very intellectual, somebody very popular, somebody really down to earth and a very popular Umno figure. He came in 1981 and within just five years, Tengku Razaleigh challenged him for the presidency and he was almost beaten. He won by only a difference of 43 votes.

At that time, I went around with Tengku Razaleigh and more than 50 per cent of Umno members on the ground were against him (Dr Mahathir) after only five years he was in office.

With Pak Lah too it was the same thing. In 2004, he did very well but then in the fifth year he started having problems. If you throw mud on the wall a thousand times, some of it is bound to stick. You keep attacking and attacking certain people, they will get injured.

But injury doesn't mean you lose the battle. To me what Datuk Najib is facing is nothing new. What Dr Mahathir, Pak Lah were facing before - Najib is facing it now. He is in the seventh year of being the PM. He must face whatever challenge is coming.

Q: Is Umno in denial about the seriousness of the situation?

If we are in denial, then we would just sit back and not do anything. The fact that we want to reorganise, we have to weed out some of those leaders who are not working as a team.

We strengthened the divisions and the supreme council. And those who are in government but who are not working in tandem with the leadership, let them step aside. And we'll move forward.

What does this mean? It means that we recognise that we have work to do. We have to face tougher challenges. We must work with a team that is working together. That alone is a signal that we will move forward and we will continue to fight.

Q: Are we seeing the end of Umno and Barisan Nasional?

Insya Allah, Umno will be getting stronger.

As I mentioned to you, Umno must not take it lightly. If you know the situation has changed around you, it is important for you make adjustments. Why Umno has been here for so long is because Umno practices pragmatism.

If you are rigid, then you become irrelevant in no time, so Umno must be responsive. There are things we must listen to the people. We must know what the people expect out of us. As long as we fight for the people, when it comes to the elections the people will be with you. This is very important. Because when it comes to the election, people will ask 'What is the better alternative?'

Are they sure Pakatan Harapan is a better alternative? And that Anwar Ibrahim is a better alternative? Are they sure (PKR"s) Rafizi (Ramli) or (PAS) (Datuk Seri) Haji Hadi (Awang) is a better alternative?

People are intelligent. When they criticise government we must not take it in the negative manner. Let the people voice their views. We must listen. We must lend our ears all the time.

We cannot assume that top down is always right and bottom up is always wrong. We must listen to the people.Umno and Barisan must be willing to listen to the people and respond accordingly.

Of course, responding takes time in terms of making adjustment to policies. Responding in terms of giving solution to some of the people's problems too takes time. But to be a critic takes only a few seconds. You type a few words then just blast it - that's it 'Job done'.

For us in the government when we have issues we have to sit down, we have to deliberate, we have to think, then we have to do something.

Sometimes we have to go to Parliament and things like that (to make the change). We must not over-react to those people (critics). They have their own way. The opposition and government critics.

We in the government have our own way of doing things. Of course to criticise is easier.

What is important for Umno is that we must listen. Don't simply brush aside people's opinion. Keep your eyes wide open, lend your ears to people and listen and then analyse those situation and make the correction.

If we need to make adjustments, then we must make adjustments. People will not have confidence if Najib is seen to be a leader who is following Mahathir's words or a leader who is too scared to remove his deputy!

I think (if he did that) very soon, he'll become a very weak leader. I am very happy that now Najib demonstrates the true character of a leader. If any of your appointees are trying to do monkey business with you, out you go.

Mahathir did that! Probably Pak Lah didn't do it because he was there for a very short time.

I think Datuk Najib is learning from what he has learnt from Dr Mahathir. People would like to see quality in good leadership.

You must be very firm, you must be very brave, and be ready to act.

Q: Malaysia' s reputation internationally has taken quite a beating . You have Hong Kong, Switzerland and Singapore authorities all carrying out investigations on the 1MDB?

Things are not as simple as that. We know what is happening around us. It is not coming from overseas. It originates from here. We know this modus operandi because we were part of them before. Sometimes if they fail and cannot have their way in the country, they will use certain contacts outside and try to do something. Let the process go on because we are borderless.

It doesn't matter to me. If you say that the country's image is tarnished, that is subjective.

There are countries in this world that some people might not like what they are doing but 'it is business as usual' for them. But we must continue to make assessment.

Public image is important and our image in the international arena is very important.

Just because of one or two issue, you can't draw a conclusion saying that the Malaysian image is bad.

You can always see whether people come and invest in the country and whether people like to spend their holiday and money here or whether the diplomatic relations between our country and other countries is good.

Governments always make their assessment based on so many things. It's mere exaggeration when people say that Malaysia's image is very bad in the international arena.

I have followed the Prime Minister to some countries and I feel very happy to see how leaders from other countries receive our PM.

Our ministers and those representing the government too still enjoy high respect in the international community. People cannot deny that.

When people go outside with certain local issues, this is not something that people outside the country really bother about.

Sometimes we try to make it into something like very, very big. But if you look at it in the international perspective, it is just one of the domestic issues that people (overseas) believe we should be able to handle on our own.

This is not something of concern to the international community or something that affects the international community in any way. People may spin what I am saying, if they take it in a bad taste.

I am not saying this is not important. Whatever happens in this country is, of course, is being observed by other countries. But to say that the Malaysia's image is tarnished because of the one or two domestic issues I think that is an exaggeration.

Q: How is it okay for the Prime Minister to accept a donation of RM2.6 bil into his personal account without even his deputy knowing about it?

It is very simple. You must have rules in place. That is the benchmark for the dos and the don'ts. It is the law that decides. If you don't have a law then where is the benchmark? RM2.6bil to face one general election is not big!

I am sure the opposition handles vast amounts of funds and probably they have their own way of doing things. I do not want to say from where but we know some of those parties and people and the source of funding for the opposition, but it is not important for me to talk about how and where they get their money.

What I am trying to say is that let's have a law then you set a very clear benchmark of the do's and the don'ts. There are things which I cannot explain to you in this interview with regards to what we were facing during the past few general elections. Some of the questions I am not prepared to share with you.

Q: What about the ethical question about money being deposited into the PM's personal account. Is it ethical?

Ethics is based on rules. It is very unethical for the Prime Minister, for the (Umno) party president if the party doesn't have enough money to face the general election! It's as simple as that!

You must have enough money. Within the Umno system, the funding comes only from the president. We never question.

The party machinery and everyone will ask money from the party president, whoever the party president is.

But this is something we have to refrain from discussing in public. I can say something about how Dr Mahathir handled elections. I saw some of the things with my own eyes. But if we continue to discuss this, we fall into the trap of the opposition (so I won't).

Q: The problem is there is a deficit of trust with the government...

(cuts in) I disagree that there is a deficit of trust. Let's wait for the next general election. As far as the party is concerned, we are giving full confidence in the party president so the deficit of trust is maybe from those who are inclined towards the opposition.

Q: Don't you think the story keeps changing ? At one time it's political donation, then it's investment and then it's from the Saudi king, then it's...

(cuts in) I don't know. I base it on what I hear during the official meeting, during the personal meeting with the PM and I am not going to entertain what appears in the news.


Q: You come from Kelantan and you would know the Attorney General (who is from Kelantan) very well . What do you think of the recent proposal of amending the OSA to jail journalists for life and cane them for refusing to revealing their sources?

If people believe in freedom of speech, let anybody suggest anything. Maybe from the AG's perspective, he is facing problems of people getting information in the wrong manner and using information in the wrong manner . That probably triggered this. It is just a suggestion. In this country, the AG cannot make laws. He just interprets the law.

And please remember that the AG is a citizen (too) so if he makes a suggestion, it is not a big deal for me. It is up to us to discuss and see if it has any merit or not. Why must people run him down?

If such a suggestion came from the opposition why is it that people can say 'okay' or 'yes' to it? That's not fair.

Just because he is the AG and he is serving the government, people are trying to run him down. Give him the benefit of doubt. We can still discuss.

MPs can still say their piece. Not everybody - even within Umno - agrees to the idea. But people should not run down the AG just because he is making some suggestion. His word is not law. I can see people are biased. They are not happy because the AG is firm and he seems to be making some decisions in favour of the PM.

They are not comfortable. Some people will be (only) comfortable with those who is willing to stand up and hit out at the PM. The same Dr Mahathir was hated by people before. I still remember how in those (Reformasi) days people hated Tun Dr Mahathir. They used to say he is Firaun (a Pharaoh), a dictator, a one-man decision. They say he is very 'zalim' (cruel) they say he is cruel against the media.

This is the same Mahathir who never changed but today he is liked by 'some' people. Dr Mahathir is very smart. When you are outside the government, to be popular, you hit at the government.

Q: As an MP, are you in favour of the AG 's suggestion?

I have to study it in detail. It is not for me to hear one or two words then suddenly jump to conclusion. As far as I am concerned, the suggestion remains a suggestion. But there's one thing for sure. We must not allow certain things to happen that will jeopardise public interest.

Take one example. Some people spin that Tabung Haji is bankrupt. What is the implication? The people in the kampung who deposited money with Tabung Haji will lose confidence and the entire Tabung Haji that we have built over the years will lose business.

Even 1MDB for that matter, when you make 1MDB injured, it is difficult for 1MDB to do business and later on probably for Mara.

People claim all sorts of things about Mara. I have been Mara chairman. I know some of those claims are false. There is no such thing as complete freedom in this world. There must be some limitation, some decorum, some ethics.

If people continue to get information and use it in the wrong manner, there must be certain rules to control it.

This does not apply to only to the question of the information. If we feel certain things need to be put under control and regulated, then we must formulate the law. We must not deny that the AG must have some knowledge about certain incidents, certain things that happen which relates to misuse of information and the stealing of information and all that.

There must be reason for him to say those things. Let us sit down and study further. It is not a question of he makes a suggestion and a 'Yes' or 'No' is the answer. Running the government is not like that. It's not that when you make a suggestion. We have to look at it in detail , Maybe part of the suggestion is relevant and part of it not so relevant. It depends on how you look at it.


Q: You were at the Red Shirt rally on Sept 16. Shortly after that, your Mara chairmanship tenure was renewed and recently you were appointed Umno information chief. Is this a reward for supporting the Umno president?

If you are the president, are you going to take someone who is working for you or against you? If you are the president, the leader, the penghulu (village head) are you going to take someone who stabs you in the back? Or do you take someone who shares the same vision? It's as simple as that.

The Mara thing is not quite correct.

I was the chairman of Mara and before my term ended, I went to see the Prime Minister. I told him 'Thank you sir. My term is ending in two weeks time and I am going on leave. If you have other candidates who have not been given a platform in the government they can have my position (in Mara)'.

I would never ask for position and I am not one who eyes for position. That has always been my stand. But Datuk Najib told me that he wanted me to continue (as the Mara chairman). So there was no question of uncertainty. I knew but I didn't disclose this to people.

After Hari Raya, I went on leave. When I was in London, Datuk Shafie was removed (as Rural and Regional Development Minister). And the Mara chairman must be appointed by the minister, so there was no minister at that time until (Datuk Seri) Ismail Sabri was appointed as the new minister (replacing Shafie) then he made the appointment.

It was a straightforward thing. It had nothing to do with the Red Shirt rally. The PM had informed me much earlier and the rally came later.

As for the Red Shirt rally, we came in because we noticed that some people tried to drag the rally into something not healthy.

I went to see the PM and told him that for Aug 31, we must not portray any kind of image contrary to Umno and Barisan's struggle. When some people wanted to organise a rally in a very racial manner, we stepped in.

I suggested there must be an official organiser. I was the one who suggested that (Pesaka 's Datuk Seri) Ali Rustam (Mohd Ali) to be the (Red Shirt rally) chairman because he was not holding any government post or any senior party position. He was overseas at that time and I gave him a call and asked him to come back and told him let's take this responsibility (organising it), otherwise there will be people who will do in their own way.

And we reported to the PM what was happening because he was not directly involved. It was like an NGO kind of thing, My being an Umno supreme council member, I reported to Datuk Najib.

And he advised me not to do things which are contrary to the spirit of Barisan Nasional and Hari Malaysia.

I was the one in fact who pushed through the resolution (for the Red Shirt rally). I wrote the resolution myself and I personally read it out during the rally. Why? Because I wanted to make sure that the objectives are spelt out in writing. Because there are thousands in the crowd and they can do all sorts of things.

Three days before the rally, we called the police and some of the senior members and told the police 'This is what we want and to please arrest anyone who goes against it (and breaks the law or breaches the rules of rally's permit)'.

I co-chaired the meeting with the NGOs and told the police we will obey your instruction 100 per cent. And the police told us what we could and could not do . Even the route was changed by the police. We had wanted to walk from the Umno HQ through Jalan Raja Laut and Chow Kit road but the police said 'No you walk through the highway so that there are no buildings and no people'. We followed everything. And we told the police if anyone goes against what was agreed they should not to tolerate it and they should arrest them. But people don't talk about all this.

People say the Red Shirt rally is something racial. They do not know how difficult it was trying to pacify the whole assembly to become something very peaceful.

If we had allowed people to retaliate against the Yellow Shirts (Bersih) it would have been a bloodbath. We saved the situation! We said we are not going to dance to the tune of the Yellow Shirts.

We merely wanted to get together to express our views. Then came the resolution which I drafted myself which includes the rights to respect all the races in Malaysia as per the (Federal) Constitution.

Q: The Bersih 4.0 rally ended peaceful - except for that one kurang ajar (disrespectful) incident of a few individuals stepping on the photos of the Malay leader (Najib and PAS' Hadi Awang) - but while the Red Shirt rally was generally peaceful, it was still a race-based rally. Comment?

For every action, there will be equal reaction. The Yellow Shirts had their rally how many times? Did we react? No.

Bersih 4 became very racial. To the Malays, we are very sensitive. (PAS') Haji Hadi is my political enemy but he is elder person.

If another Malay steps on his face, the impact is not so bad but if it is another race, the impact is different already.

Bersih 4 was very racial because it was attended by almost all Chinese. So there was a spontaneous reaction (from the Red Shirts). You must remember this is something natural. For us leaders, it is a question of how to contain it. Just like when water is coming in a very strong wave against you, you cannot stop it . You have to just divert it.

To me, the Red Shirt rally is a kind of diversion that we managed to do successfully. Because if you base it on the original thing (plan) it was very bad.

They (Red Shirts initially) simply wanted to gather in the hearts of Kuala Lumpur and march through the Chinese areas.

Those are all emotions. So we must find ways how to divert and pacify those in our own way. But many people didn't see it from that angle.

I am not saying that there was no racial sentiment. There was. In fact, earlier we wanted it to be a multi racial gathering but when we sat down with some of our counterparts from other political parties including PAS, they were not prepared to join because of the bad publicity made by some of the personalities. They got confused. They thought this was organised by so and so but I said no.

You are the first to interview me about the Red Shirt rally. Today is the first time I disclose the behind the scene things that we did.

Q: Even so, the Red Shirt rally was marred by the incident at Petaling Street where a group tried to barge in?

The rally was already over by then. At 5pm, I had already called off the rally (at Padang Merbok) because we had already achieved our objective. People had released their tension.

At 5.30pm I said we don't have to prolong the speeches as we have achieved the objectives.

But at 5.45pm a small group walked to Petaling Street. Why? Because we disallowed them to do it earlier. They still wanted to do it. That has nothing to do with the Red Shirt Rally.

Q: When individuals stepped on the photos of the Malays leaders during Bersih 4.0, the whole Bersih gets the blame; so how is it that the Red Shirt Rally doesn't get the blame when individuals in their group tried to barge into Petaling Street?

We told the police to take action. Of course we don't sanction what they did. Not only do we not sanction their action but we want action to be taken against those who did that.


Q: Moving on to something a bit lighter. As (Kelantan Football Association) Kafa president, do you find it not so 'macho' painting the Kota Baru football stadium pink?

Let me put it this way. Kelantanese are passionate about football and they want to participate in football just like any other state.

And actually Kelantan is not in the position to participate because the state government is not willing to finance or sponsor or assist in any way.

All other football teams are funded by their respective states.

Initially when I took over as Kafa president, things weren't very demanding. If you can raise RM1 to RM 2mil it is enough for you to run the team.

But as the competition became stiffer and we are allowed to bring in more foreign players, the players salaries went up and the cost of managing a football team has become very, very big exceeding RM10 mil a year in order to remain competitive.

The situation is that Kelantan is actually not in the position to compete because it is not possible to raise that kind of money.

In Kelantan, we don't have big companies, big corporations and normally national companies will not sponsor a state team because of their policies. That is the situation.

So I threw this idea to Pamoga Qu Puteh (Datuk Seri Hasmiza Othman aka Datuk Vida) for the last three years. She is a personal friend so we discussed this but she was not ready to get involved in football until recently.

When I sat down with her over dinner and I explained to her how she can make use of the commercial aspect of the business in terms of marketing. Football is a very strong marketing tool. I have some experience with some of the telcos which came to Kelantan.

They were having problems trying to capture enough market share . They were struggling before, until they came on board and we worked together and we found it a very effective marketing tool.

And I told her the real value of the media exposure of the football following and football is something that we play throughout the year and not a one off or for one season.

So somehow she got attracted to it and we talked and finally she agreed to sponsor. But of course she has her own way of doing things.

I need money for football and this is something I do on voluntary basis. I love to see Kelantanese get together irrespective of political parties and football is one way where I can mingle with the young people .

I spend at least twice a week at the stadium with the young people. I have my Facebook and try to engage with the young people to share their feelings and all that. I want Kelantan to continue to participate but we need the money.

Then when she mentioned certain terms including changing the stadium colour and she wants her corporate colour and company image to be prominent and things like that . So I told her it is very simple . There are certain things that you cannot change and certain things that you can change.

You can't change our name, our logo and whatever we have registered our intellectual property rights. But other than that, we are flexible and it is negotiable, provided you are willing to sponsor 50 per cent or more of our annual budget. She came back and agreed to sponsor 50 per cent of our RM16mil budget which comes to RM8mil (a year) but with so many conditions.

To me, I have to make it flexible . I explained to her that some of the conditions come directly within our jurisdiction, but some relate to the state government, some to FAM and others to do with FIFA. Since she is not someone who is familiar with football, we took a little bit of time to explain all this to her and slowly she understands things.

She wanted to be on the bench. I said to be on the bench, you must be accredited. If you are not accredited, then it is wrong for you to be on the bench. If she still wants to be on the bench, then we have to apply to FAM (for accreditation) .

Then there are some other things like the jersey. Our colour remains red but if you want to make additional colours it is something we can discuss.

Q: Kelantan will be facing Perak the next match. What colour jersey will they be wearing that day?

Most likely pink and black. When they play away (from home ground) the colour is pink and black and for home matches it is pink and white plus red. They will be wearing their pink jerseys.

Q: How is the team taking to wearing pink because some might think that wearing pink is not a macho colour?

Is it because pink is a Puteri colour? (laughs) Well, Barcelona is wearing pink. Ronaldo is wearing pink. In fact when I was in Thailand recently, there was a football team there also wearing pink so we are not the first to wear pink! Pink is not exclusively feminine. I was shown the jersey and I think it's quite a nice design.

Q: She gave a whole list of conditions , Were the other conditions okay?

Some were okay. She (Datuk Vida) wants the jersey, the training attire, the merchandising rights and her own Wisma Qu Puteh in Kota Baru to be used by players.

Most of these are small things which we can agree to. But those that we cannot, we will explain why we can't For example, if you want the whistle to be pink that is not for Kafa to decide. The referee (and the whistle) comes under FAM. There are a few things. But I always believe in the policy of sitting down and discussing things and explaining.

I have to accept the fact that she does not have the knowledge of football management.

Football is very complex. They have their own set of rules which is complex. The ordinary people may not be well versed about it. Because her sponsorship is substantial, I don't want people to make accusations, so I made it a point to open a separate account for her and the Fan Club to manage. I will not lay my hands on the sponsorship. We have our treasurer to be represented in there and we even have one of the PAS state exco to be in it as one of the signatories.

My greatest worry is that she has been given so much publicity lately and sometimes there is a tendency that she encroaches into something that is not her territory.

For example, a few days ago she said to change the tactical. She gave her opinion that the coach must change the tactical aspect of the game. Even I dare not say such a thing! Because my policy I will not interfere in the technical side of the pitch. But she's very enthusiastic about it. And the media likes to cover her more than they do the (Kafa) president.

If she continues to be enthusiastic and passionate about football I think she should be the next candidate for the Kafa president.

I have been trying to step back to allow people to take over but there is nobody so far who is willing to take the responsibility, But I think she can be one of those. Seriously. I think there must be somebody from Kelantan who loves football who has the resources, who has the money, but most important who has the patience.

Q: But was she watching football before?

Yes, yes I met her several times in the stadium before, She even entered into the pitch. Two years ago when we played in Ipoh I remember she came onto the field after the match. That was the first time I met her. That means she has been following the Kelantan team.

Q: But the Kelantan team hasn't been doing well in football?

We were the runner up for the FA Cup last year. We were in the finals but we lost to Singapore. We didn't do well in the League.

I think the team wasn't probably managed. I was so busy with parliament last year. Normally I am so hands on with managing the team but last year I didn't give much time for football . Last year it was very strange. We were the finalist for the FA Cup. We beat all the best teams like JDT and Selangor but we lost to the weaker teams. So there must be something 'very funny'.

I must also accept the fact that last year, we failed to pay salaries.

The team performance was bad because the cash flow relies very much on gate collection. When the team didn't do well, then of course the gate collection is very bad. As early as May last year, we were already short of cash flow. We were two months short of salaries last year. So we still owe the entire team money.

This year, we've restructured and we can pay them bit by bit over the next 12 months what we owe them. We must pay them. Not paying salaries on time probably affected the players.

One month's salary for the team comes up to RM1 mil, so if we are two months short, that is RM2mil.

The salary of foreign players alone is about half a million a month. We pay them in US dollars. If it's US$20,000, with the current exchange rate, that's about RM100,000 excluding the apartment, the car and the other facilities.

(Kelantan has four foreign players, three whom they have just signed on and one whom they have maintained.)

As for the local players, they earn about RM40 to RM50k a month now. Most of the Kelantan players earn nothing less than RM30,0000 a month.

So all in all, salaries come up to about RM1 mil a month. If we are two months short this means RM2mil short. And we can't pay RM2mil at one go. We not only 'hutang' (owe) the players. We also have arrears to pay to EPF, and income tax deductions to pay. It is a lot of things.

And now when we have sponsorship like what we have with Qu Puteh, our cash flow should be very healthy. So for this year we are in a much better position.

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