Bank Negara and politicians don't mix, says Malaysia’s outgoing central bank governor Zeti Akhtar Aziz

Bank Negara Malaysia governor Zeti Akhtar Aziz, who has nurtured the central bank into a respected institution, will leave in April.
Bank Negara Malaysia governor Zeti Akhtar Aziz, who has nurtured the central bank into a respected institution, will leave in April.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Central bank must be free of political agenda; focused on economy, says outgoing governor

KUALA LUMPUR • Malaysia's outgoing central bank governor, Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz, has said that politicians cannot be heading the institution, as it must be free of political agenda.

After 16 years at the helm, Tan Sri Zeti will end her stint as a respected central banker in April, with one of four prominent men expected to replace her.

Bank Negara Malaysia has been in the spotlight in the past year for its involvement in the investigations into state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

  • In the running

  • These are the four people said to be in the running to become the next Bank Negara chief.

    Deputy Bank Negara governor Muhammad Ibrahim, 56 

    Holds a master's degree from Harvard, an accounting degree from Universiti Malaya and a post-graduate diploma in Islamic banking and finance from International Islamic University Malaysia.

    Minister-in-charge of Economic Planning, Abdul Wahid Omar, 51 

    He was formerly chief executive of Maybank, Malaysia's biggest bank. He is also a fellow of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, Britain, and a chartered member of the Malaysian Institute of Accountants.

    Ambassador to the United States, Awang Adek Hussin, 60 

    He was formerly deputy finance minister, assistant Bank Negara governor and an MP in Kelantan. He holds a PhD in economics from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.

    Finance Ministry's secretary-general Mohd Irwan Serigar Abdullah, 58. 

    He holds a PhD in economics from International Islamic University Malaysia, a Master of Science degree in energy management and policy from the University of Pennsylvania, and Bachelor of Arts (Honours) degree in demography from Universiti Malaya.

    THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

"Every country needs an organisation like the central bank that does not have any political agenda. It should remain focused on ensuring macroeconomic, financial and economic stability," Dr Zeti, 68, said on Wednesday.

She said the central bank had always been treated with respect and she expected this to continue, so that "economic and financial policies would be directed to achieve what is in the best interest of the country".

She said the process to appoint her successor was in place, and there was no request for her to stay on.

"Certainly, the next governor must have the relevant background and ability, especially at a time like this, so that the transition can be managed well. Individuals come and go," she said, adding that she planned to take some time off and then start writing.

Like her, none of her six predecessors was politically active.

An economist by training, Dr Zeti was appointed governor in May 2000, when Malaysia was recovering from its worst-ever economic crisis. In her 16 years as governor, she has nurtured Bank Negara into an institution that is well respected in the international community.

Prime Minister Najib Razak, when asked about her successor, yesterday said that the government will decide on this soon, Bernama news agency reported.

At least four names are being bandied about, including that of Bank Negara deputy governor Muhammad Ibrahim. The others talked about are former Bank Negara assistant governor Awang Adek Hussin, who is now Malaysia's Ambassador to the United States; Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Abdul Wahid Omar; and Ministry of Finance secretary-general Mohd Irwan Serigar Abdullah.

Touching on the central bank as an institution, Dr Zeti, who is Malaysia's longest-serving central bank governor, said it had become a strong and resilient organisation.

"I do believe the central bank has become a solid organisation. It has institutional strength, resilience and is founded on legal legislation."

THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 19, 2016, with the headline ''Bank Negara and politicians don't mix''. Print Edition | Subscribe