Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Another piece which I like

Oh, my god! Are the 'fourth floor boys' back?

Shah A Dadameah
Tuesday, 30 June 2009 04:00

KUALA LUMPUR - When Najib Abdul Razak moved into the fifth floor of the Prime Minister’s office on April 3 this year, he came with his big picture of “One Malaysia” to drive home the point that this land belongs to every son of the soil, native and citizen of the country.

abdullah-badawi-2.pngIf the idea had come during the tenure of his predecessor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, you would hear that it was the result of some clever brainstorming by a band of young intellectuals on the floor below.

Blue Ocean strategy

Najib is known to be an ardent follower of the Blue Ocean strategy, which dictates there is ample opportunity for growth that is both profitable and rapid in a market where competition is irrelevant.

With more than 30 years in politics and administrative affairs, he has lately taken the Blue Ocean stance of creating rather than fighting over opportunities.
Thus, it is said, he has given more room for people, albeit selective, to advise and counsel him over key functions and issues in his administration.
Has the spectre of the “fourth floor” resurfaced?

In Abdullah’s brief era, the so-called “fourth floor boys” were relatively young officers of sound knowledge on current affairs, with good business acumen and networking skills as well as very media savvy.

Former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who gave them the label, had accused them of using their talents and close links with Abdullah to influence decisions and policies in Umno and the administration.

They were said to be very authoritative in their ways, to the extent that anyone who wants to meet the prime minister has to first be screened by them. In other words, if the ‘fourth floor boys’ were not convinced about the nature of the planned meeting, the visitor would not get to go to the upper floor.

In contrast, when Dr Mahathir was at the helm everything centered on the fifth floor of the Prime Minister’s office in Putrajaya and every decision had his personal intervention. His critics may say he was a dictator but they acknowledged that for every failed ‘Plan A’ he has ‘Plan B’ to bank on.

Critics of Abdullah were less kind to him. They say he has no plan.

Mahathir's impatience, Abdullah's sad exit

Mahathir’s impatience with Abdullah reached a crescendo when his grand design of a scenic bridge across part of the Tebrau straits to replace the causeway was shredded by the Cabinet of his successor.

mahathir-2.pngSeveral unhappy events followed, leading to Mahathir quitting from Umno. He returned to the party only when Najib took over the office as the country’s sixth prime minister.

Abdullah’s exit, in a sense, was sad. He was harassed to resign following the Barisan’s dismal performance at the 12th general election. He was criticised by both foes and those he thought were friends. He had introduced a string of economic corridors across the country but his critics only want to blame him for the country being at very low economic ebb.

Enter Najib, with his One Malaysia theme. He made a flamboyant start with a magnanimous decision to release 13 Internal Security Act detainees and withdrawing the suspensions of political papers Harakah and Suara Keadilan.

In an attempt seen as redeeming lost pride over the Johor bridge issue, he proposed a third link between the state and Singapore. But he probably pushed his luck too far for the Sultan was not impressed.

State assemblymen on both sides of the political divide were also not keen on the bridge, reasoning that the people of Johor were not consulted on the matter and, furthermore, the project would only bring more benefits to the republic.

What Mahathir feared was happening during Abdullah’s term appears to have returned and decisions made by Najib are suspiciously being maneuvered by remote control from elsewhere.

This time around the power broking may not necessarily come from the space below the fifth floor office. While working in similar fashion as the ousted “fourth floor boys” of Abdullah’s time, the currently-invisible new kids could be operating from any other block.

It is, according to some careless whispers, the new batch of “fourth floor boys” who had come out with the One Malaysia concept; an idea conceived from outside the boardrooms of Umno.

Najib's own 'fourth floor boys'

And, because the party was allegedly not consulted on the matter, those who were caught by surprise when Najib announced the concept immediately said there would be dire implications and repercussions that would further distance them from the leadership.

Word has it that his own “fourth floor boys” report back to Najib on those who disagree with the concept.

najib razak.jpgAmong other key decisions that have allegedly not gone down well among his own party members are the abolishment of the Ministry of Entrepreneurial and Co-operatives Development and the scrapping of the 30% bumiputra quota in the civil service.

Najib, of course, has his reasons to revise policies deemed inconsistent with his One Malaysia nation and, perhaps, as Finance Minister, he has to think as well in terms of being prudent and optimising talents.

To be fair to Najib, he has only been at the helm for three months and he does need all the help he can to carry out his premier duties and make an impact as the “people’s prime minister”.

Some people choose to think that Najib came to Putrajaya carrying some “excess baggage’ that was not declared when he took the prime minister’s job.

While he has repeatedly denied he ever knew murdered Mongolian beauty Altantuya Shaaribu - with wife Rosmah Mansor solidly standing by her man - he continues to be taunted by his opponents over his link with the woman’s alleged lover, political analyst Abdul Razak Baginda.

Having cronies around is not a new phenomena in Malaysian politics. But what has become phobic for many people is the haunting return of “the fourth floor” syndrome in Umno and the country’s administrative capital.

Worse, it could demoralise Putajaya officials whose role in the administration could be gradually usurped by this ghostly band of advisers and opportunists – if they actually exist.


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