Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, Member of Parliament for Serdang, on the 27th of March, 2017
How much did Pemandu Associates Sdn Bhd earn from organizing the Global Transformation Forum 2017?
Tony Robbins is a household name among those who follow management trends and self-help coaches. He has been a life coach to movie stars such as Hugh Jackman and world class athletes including Andre Agassi. For US$650, you can get nosebleed seats to a 3 day “Unleash the Power Within” Tony Robbins seminar in New York later this year. For US$2995, you can have a seat on the floor and access to the Premier Lounge.
If Tony Robbins were to come to Malaysia, the private company which has to pay his appearance fee would have to charge very high ticket fees in order to cover their costs and to make a decent profit. It would be hard to imagine this private company getting any funding from the Malaysian government to organize such an event. Perhaps some private corporations may be inclined to sponsor such an event so that some of their management can have special access to the man himself. But the risks and the rewards of organizing such an event would be in private hands, with little or no government involvement.
Malaysia now has its equivalent of a Tony Robbins ‘make yourself feel good session’ in the form of the Global Transformation Forum (GTF). The first forum was held in 2015 and the headliners to this forum included Arnold ‘the Terminator’ Schwarzenegger and former Olympians Carl Lewis and Sebastian Coe. Fast forward to 2017 and this year’s headliners include businessman and philanthropist Richard Branson and 8-time Olympic champion Usain Bolt.
For GTF 2015, ticket prices started at RM427 for a university student and went up to a maximum of RM1424 for a regular delegate (Figure 1). For GTF 2017, ticket prices were jacked up to a starting price of RM4,000 and went up to a maximum of RM10,000 (Figure 2).
If this were a purely private event organized by a private company, this Member of Parliament would have no beef with the ticket prices nor with the hosting of the event itself. But this is not a purely private event. Nor was it funded purely by ticket sales to individuals and the private sector.
Figure 1: Ticket prices for the Global Transformation Forum 2015
Figure 2: Ticket prices for the Global Transformation Forum 2017
The first issue I have with this event is that it involves taxpayers’ funds. The first GTF in 2015 was organized with a government subsidy of RM10 million (Figure 3). Despite the higher ticket prices in 2017, the government subsidy was increased to RM15 million (Figure 4).
Figure 3: Parliamentary Reply on the cost to the taxpayer for organizing GTF 2015
Figure 4: Parliamentary Reply on the cost to the taxpayer for organizing GTF 2017
Since this event is mostly accessible to those who are affluent, because of the high ticket prices, it does not make sense for the government to pour in millions of Ringgit to subsidize this event organized by the rich, for the rich and of the rich. It makes even less sense that the government subsidy increased by 50% from RM10 million in 2015 to RM15 million in 2017 when ticket prices in 2017 have been raised significant and there are no discounts for students and the less affluent.
The second issue I have with this event is that the revenue for GTF 2017 goes directly to a private company. GTF 2015 was organized by BFR Institute, a company which is 100% owned by PEMANDU Corp, which is a company limited by guarantee under the control of the Ministry of Finance Incorporated. GTF 2017 is organized by PEMANDU Associates Sdn Bhd which is a private company that is co-owned by its CEO and President Dato Seri Idris Jala (Figure 5).
Figure 5: Ownership of PEMANDU Associates Sdn Bhd (downloaded from the Companies Commission of Malaysia / Suruhanjaya Syarikat Malaysia website on the 26th of March, 2017)
Since the GTF is no longer organized by BFR Institute, which is a government owned and government controlled company, but by a private company, namely PEMANDU Associates Sdn Bhd, how much of the sponsorship of this event, including the RM15 million set aside by the Government of Malaysia, which is going into the pockets of this private company that is co-owned by Idris Jala?
The third issue I have with the GTF is that a private company, PEMANDU Associates, is using this publicly subsidized event to increase its own public profile, perhaps in the hope of selling its consultancy services to the government, Government Linked Companies (GLCs) and other companies.
PEMANDU Associates was set up on the 16th of December 2016 as part of the transition for PEMANDU Corp to hand over its responsibilities back to the civil service. According to PEMANDU’s website, “all staff in PEMANDU and BFR Institute will move to PEMANDU Associates Sdn Bhd, a private consultancy firm newly established by PEMANDU management and staff”. In addition, “under our agreement with the Government on 5th January 2017, PEMANDU Associates will be deploying 45 people to the National Transformation Program (NTP) work under the supervision of the Civil Service Delivery Unit in 2017. This number will reduce to 30 in 2018. The current employees not deployed to the NTP work will be doing business development work, as well as to provide consultancy services to public sectors abroad and business turnaround”.
In other words, PEMANDU Associates will be paid by the Government of Malaysia in 2017 and 2018 for its consultancy services. This means that PEMANDU Associates will have access to the inner workings of various government ministries and agencies. As far as I know, Idris Jala, who was appointed as the Chairman of Heineken Malaysia as of the 1st of January, 2017, has not officially resigned from his position as CEO of PEMANDU Corporation or as chairman of the BFR Institute. What assurance is there that PEMANDU Associates will not abuse its position and knowledge of the civil service in order to sell its consultancy services to other government departments or private companies who want to have access to the civil service? The fact that Idris Jala has not clarified his position and role as the CEO and President of PEMANDU Associates Sdn Bhd, the CEO of PEMANDU Corporation, the Chairman of BFR Institute and the Chairman of Heineken Malaysia does not give any public assurance that conflicts of interest arising from the holding of these various positions will not arise.
Dr. Ong Kian Ming
Member of Parliament for Serdang
 One of Usain Bolt’s relay gold medals was recently taken away because of a positive drug test for one of the relay runners (not Bolt).