Posted by SM Maulana
Wednesday, 18 June 2008
By Reme Ahmad, The Straits Times
WHEN Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim stepped down from the corporate world in 2003, his plan was to take things easy.
But the 61-year-old was soon persuaded by his close friend Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to be the treasurer of the opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR).
Just weeks after that, Mr Khalid was fielded as a candidate in the Ijok by-election in Selangor last year.
A year later, he is the Selangor Menteri Besar and one of four men whose performance could elevate or destroy the image of the three-party opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat (PR).
The other three are the chief minister of Penang and the menteris besar of Perak and Kedah, all PR-controlled states.
Mr Khalid is quickly adapting to his new role in Selangor, the country’s most industrialised state, which is key to Malaysia’s economic health.
Selangor contributes about a third of Malaysia’s economic output. Last year, it pulled in nearly a fifth of all domestic and foreign manufacturing projects in Malaysia, or RM1.2 billion (S$492 million).
‘At the moment, we are still in struggling mode,’ Mr Khalid said of his government, which was cobbled together from the multiracial PKR, Chinese-based Democratic Action Party and Islamist Parti Islam SeMalaysia.
Still, the new state government has not done too badly.
It has fulfilled its promise of giving every household free 20 cu m of water a month, and pronounced that it will help residents based on needs, not race.
He has put an end to negotiated contracts, where businessmen close to top politicians are often given government projects without tenders.
The state also was also applauded for making it easier for all religions to enlarge prayer houses, and for its staunch support of angry residents in the Cheras neighbourhood in a recent stand-off with a toll-road company.
He must now learn to play politics better. ‘In business, you can project things, but in politics, (issues) can just continue on and on,’ he told reporters in an interview on his 100 days in office.
He said the basic issue of governing has been settled, and he must work on making residents happy. ‘Not only do they want an efficient government, they want it to be translated into security, cleanliness, being environment-friendly,’ Mr Khalid said.
He knows he needs to tap into his experience that made him an eminent bumiputera poster boy.
He grew up in a small Selangor village before rising to become chief executive of Malaysia’s state equity fund Permodalan Nasional for 16 years. He later led plantations and property giant Kumpulan Guthrie for nine years.
Asked whether foreign investors are nervous about working with a state government run by the PR, he said: ‘They do not care whether it is Pakatan or not, as their bottom line is quite clear.’
The Menteri Besar was in Dubai recently to persuade Middle East investors to put together US$10 billion (S$13.7 billion) in funds to invest in Selangor, other Malaysian states and also some Asean countries.