KUALA LUMPUR - A former aide to Malaysia’s Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim has been appointed chairman of two public-listed companies in just over a week, raising concerns over close links between the Pakatan Harapan-led government and well-connected business tycoons.
Mr Farhash Wafa Salvador, Datuk Seri Anwar’s former political secretary who is known as his “blue-eyed boy” within Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), secured the two company chairmanships in a span of eight days, after Mr Anwar became prime minister over a month ago.
Mr Farhash was appointed as chairman of convenience store chain 7-Eleven Malaysia Holdings Berhad on Tuesday.
The chain in Malaysia is 41.8 per cent owned by the politically-connected tycoon Vincent Tan.
Mr Farhash also bagged the position of group executive chairman of stockbroking firm Apex Equity Holdings Berhad on Dec 27.
The former Perak PKR chief does not hold any positions in government, but political analysts view the two chairmanships as signs of concern for reformist leader Anwar, who has pledged good governance in his administration.
Said a political analyst who declined to be named: “Over the past month, Mr Anwar has outperformed expectations, so this is the first sign of trouble even though it was his former political secretary.
“PKR members find it surprising that someone with less experience compared to other senior qualified people can gain such influence.”
When Mr Anwar was deputy prime minister during the 1990s, his ally Kamarudin Jaffar was appointed to top corporate roles, such as in Tan Sri Vincent Tan’s RM10 billion (S$3.05 billion) Kuala Lumpur Linear City mega project.
According to filings with stock exchange Bursa Malaysia, Mr Farhash has a degree in business administration and has “more than a decade’s worth of experience in the field of business, consultancy and advisory”.
“Even with Mr Farhash’s decade of experience, some may argue it would still not merit him into a stockbroker firm like Apex Equity. But given that these are private corporations, they have the prerogative to decide what is suitable for their board members,” said BowerAsiaGroup senior analyst Arinah Najwa.
But critics say the appointments are unethical and point to cronyism within the Anwar administration, which has championed reforms and is against cronyism and corruption.
Facebook user Mohd Nor Helmi said: “People are debating whether it’s a government-linked company (that hired Farhash) or not, while forgetting how people fish for big tenders from the government.”
Conceding that the appointments were made by private companies and not government-linked corporations, Opposition leader Hamzah Zainuddin said the public should wait and see if contracts would eventually be given to companies associated with Mr Anwar’s loyalist.
The Perikatan Nasional secretary-general told The Straits Times: “Right now, the appointments have nothing to do with the government because Mr Farhash has been appointed by a private company.
“The public should watch out and see if the government does something against the law.”
However, Ketereh MP Khlir Mohd Nor, who is from the opposition Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, urged the Prime Minister to explain Mr Farhash’s appointments as they do not reflect good governance, a value often preached by the Pakatan Supreme Council.
“We urge Anwar to break his silence over these appointments and explain to the public how these appointments are consistent with good governance or reform,” he said on Wednesday.
An economist, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that even though the positions are in private companies, business confidence in Malaysia could deteriorate as the government may be influenced to choose tenders from such corporations.
On Wednesday, 7-Eleven’s share price jumped by almost 4 per cent to a high of RM1.84 from its previous close on news that Mr Farhash had replaced Datuk Seri Robin Tan, son of major shareholder Mr Tan, who helmed the position for just over a year.
“Mr Vincent could be trying to buy his way into Mr Anwar’s good books,” said the economist.
Appointing Mr Farhash as chairman was “the easiest access into Mr Anwar’s inner circle... without penetrating ministries’ strict regulations on anti-corruption, anti-monopoly,” the economist added.
“It would not require him to deal with various coalition partners”.
Although it is likely that Mr Anwar has not directly influenced the two appointments of his ally, BowerAsiaGroup’s Ms Arinah reckons that Mr Farhash’s close ties with the Prime Minister could be a key factor of consideration for the companies.
“For senior roles like this, there’s always room for discussion because proximity to powerful people like the Prime Minister can help potentially bring in business for the company and build its credibility as Mr Farhash’s networks would be valuable,” she told The Straits Times.