Is Malaysia ready for more Ameer Ali Mydins?

In a country where most businessmen tend to be “diplomatic” when it comes to expressing their views, Datuk Ameer Ali Mydin is the exact opposite.

He has come out and openly spoken about the nation’s state of affairs, including the rampant corruption. He has also been critical about certain government policies, regardless of who is in charge.

Ameer, who is Mydin Mohamed Holding Bhd (Mydin) managing director has continued to make headlines in recent weeks, including when he asked Putrajaya to explain how businesses will benefit from the increase in minimum wage, calling the government’s rationale “rhetorical”.

Last week, he asked the government to abolish all subsidies and instead, offer cash aid to the public directly. A bold move by a businessman, especially when considering that his operating licence is issued by the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry.

What is also interesting is how the 65-year-old Ameer, who is also Bumiputera Retailers Association president, had mastered social media. His TikTok videos have garnered over two million likes since April 2020.

Through a cleverly planned campaign strategy and simple but impactful storytelling, Ameer has essentially positioned himself as a force to be reckoned with.

With Malaysia and its economy being at a crossroads, is the time right for the rest of corporate Malaysia and captains of industry to come out of their “corporate caves” to speak out for the greater interest of the nation?

Will such a move augur well for their businesses in the long run?

Will the real Corporate Malaysia stand up?

In general, very few corporate players in the country talk about the need to reform the nation.

This is because corporate tycoons and those who helm government-linked companies (GLCs) have a cosy relationship with the government.

“Their position is very much tied to who is in power. They do not talk about issues that are related to the public, such as reforms, food security, or corruption, as they are more concerned about their bottom line,” says Associate Professor Dr Azeem Fazwan Ahmad Farouk.

Azeem, who is director of Universiti Sains Malaysia’s Centre for Policy Research and International Studies, said corporate figures were neither here nor there when it came to reform, or advocating policies that could impact the nation.

“While (former chairman of CIMB Group Datuk Seri) Nazir Razak talks about nation-building and promoting good governance, you don’t hear much from the rest in the scene.”

He said corporate leaders should speak out on issues, such as making Malaysian workers more competitive, and championing labour policies so that the country would not be heavily reliant on foreign workers.

“But this is not happening, as these captains of industries are forcing the government to bring in more foreign workers,” said Azeem.

In March this year, property tycoon Tan Sri Lee Kim Yew openly campaigned with former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad during the Johor state election, urging voters to vote for Pejuang.

He had also taken a swipe at former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak when he urged Chinese voters in Johor to not mix with those who had been convicted by the court.

Time for a paradigm shift

The corporate world must do more to engage, not just with their stakeholders, but with society at large.

And this, according to Azeem, can be done through “stakeholder capitalism” – something that was raised at the World Economic Forum recently.

Stakeholder capitalism is a form of capitalism where companies seek long-term value creation by taking into account the needs of all their stakeholders, and society, at large.

“It’s time to take a paradigm shift. The time is right for those in the corporate world to look at what they are doing and think of new ways of engaging with the public. They need to be more involved in matters concerning public interest, such as the wellbeing of the society.

“Business leaders must be ready to take the leap. Malaysia is at a crossroads and there is a need to reform the economy, or risk being stuck as a middle-income nation.”

Can Malaysia rely on Corporate Malaysia?

Azeem opined that the corporate world, including its tycoons, will however, not subscribe to stakeholder capitalism, as they are more interested in looking at the amount of money they need to set aside for wages.

“Corporate personalities too, would not want to contradict the government of the day, as they would lose out.

“Now, after the government abolished the approved permit (AP) on the import of food, it’s more or less an open market.”

He added corporate figures would also not want to contradict the government of the day as they are involved in “rent seeking” – where the state controls what they can, or cannot do.

Azeem said due to the lack of free enterprise, businesses are essentially tied to the state.

The situation is the same in other countries, including Japan, and South Korea.

“Mydin is in a precarious position. It obtains its licence from the government. He (Ameer) can make certain statements, but it is okay, as long as it is not too provocative or controversial.”

“In essence, no tycoon is truly independent. If they were, they should be able to speak out.”

Tagged with: