With 35 years experience under his belt in the public service, Dr Ammar Abdul Ghapar was one of Malaysia’s 1.7 million lucky bloated civil servants. Untouchable due to his skin colour, he was promoted as the new director general of Tourism Malaysia on April 12, 2023. But he mistook his promotion as recognition of his talent and brilliance. The little Napoleon soon became big-headed.

When the Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture – Tiong King Sing – suddenly terminated his service in a letter dated February 22, 2024, removing him effective February 26, he was shocked, angry and humiliated. Never in the history of the Malaysian Tourism Promotion Board had its director-general been removed in such a fashion. How dare Tiong removed him, supposedly an untouchable Malay?

Backing Ammar was Sri Ganesh Michiel, the clueless secretary-general of the Malaysian Tourism Federation (MTF) who demanded an explanation for the termination. Sri Ganesh argued that Ammar was a highly experienced industry professional with 36-year experience. Ammar shed crocodile tears, pretended to be lost about his termination, leading to rumours that he had been fired.

The termination letter went viral on social media, sparking another round of racist issue in a country that has seen the rise of extremism and racism. Opposition Perikatan Nasional, banking on Malay nationalism and Islamic radicalization for votes, appears to suggest that the fiasco was due to the major group Malay being bullied by the minority ethnic Chinese.

But Mr Tiong did not care about his subordinate’s skin colour. In fact, the minister was well prepared to spill the beans. As it turned out, director-general of Tourism Malaysia was not sacked, but merely demoted. And the reason he was demoted to deputy director-general (planning division) was due to his underperformance. The best part was Tiong managed to spare some time insulting Ammar’s qualifications.

The Minister of Tourism told media – “Since he couldn’t perform well, I decided that whoever is capable should take on the role, and if someone is incapable, step down to give others an opportunity. I don’t know if he lacked ideas or was unsure how to implement them. But if one cannot deliver results, a change is necessary. I didn’t terminate his employment; I simply reassigned him.”

Insulting Ammar’s over-rated qualification, Tiong said – “When the former director-general retired (Zainuddin Abdul Wahab), Ammar was not the ministry’s top suggestion. Still, I gave him an opportunity due to his PhD in tourism. Unfortunately, his performance did not reflect the qualifications of a PhD. This has nothing to do with race or religion. Let’s not play around with issues of race and religion.”

Graduated with a Doctorate of Philosophy in Hotel and Tourism Management and a Master of Business Administration from Universiti Teknologi MARA, Dr Ammar should be ashamed that he has given a bad name to his alma mater. Like it or not, it also speaks volumes about the quality of the university, which ranked #555 in QS World University Rankings 2024.

To justify how he had lost hope in the director-general, Tiong said that both he and his deputy, Khairul Firdaus Akhbar Khan, provided extensive advice to Ammar and sought input from him. However, like most civil servants infamous for inefficiency, low productivity, yet arrogant, the chief of Tourism Malaysia ignored all the advice and instruction as he thought he knew best.

Ammar’s defiance and lack of engagement with respective stakeholders to aggressively boost tourism was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. Tiong said – “Thailand can get 10 million tourists annually from China alone. We only receive 2 million Chinese tourists at most. I set a target of 5 million Chinese tourists, but he deemed it impractical and proposed lowering the target to 3 million.”

However, only 1.5 million Chinese visitors were recorded last year, meeting just half of the newly demoted Tourism Malaysia director-general’s own target. As a result, Tiong King Sing could not wait till Ammar’s retirement in March 2025 to terminate him. If indeed the tourism minister had wrongly or discriminately cut short his service, Ammar should have sued Tiong.

Instead, Ammar said – “I have no intention of going against any directive or instructions given to me, but I feel very frustrated and sad. I think that after serving for 36 years, I should not be treated this way”. Clearly, he believes that he should be allowed to keep his cushy job till his retirement as traditionally practiced by the incompetent Malaysian government, even though it means wasting taxpayers’ money on non-performing officials.

Despite the opposition’s attempt to politicise the issue using racial and religious cards, Chief Secretary to the Government Mohd Zuki Ali admits that the Minister of Tourism has the power and authority to hire and fire because the Malaysian Tourism Promotion Board is just another division under the ministry. Even Ammar’s colleagues on the board of directors of Tourism Malaysia supported his termination.

Despicable Dr Ammar Abdul Ghapar should be grateful that his boss did not sack him. Unlike Chinese ministers from Malaya (West Malaysia), who would think thrice about criticising useless and clueless senior government servants (more than 95% are Malays), let alone terminating their service, Tiong King Sing is from Borneo Sarawak (East Malaysia).

Arguably, Tiong is the only minister of Chinese ethnicity who dares to call a spade a spade. A member of GPS (Gabungan Parti Sarawak), the largest ruling party in Sarawak that holds the trump card in Anwar-led Unity Government, he does not need to appease anyone. Extremely rich, the 62-year-old politician and businessman is a classic example of a competent lawmaker desperately needed in the country.

To be effective and efficient, he shows Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, whose bloated cabinet has been expanded to 60 ministers and deputies after a reshuffle in December 2023, how the civil servants should be dealt with if they do not perform. Instead of pussyfooting and rewarding everyone just to become popular, including dead wood, the prime minister should learn from Mr Tiong.

The termination of Mr Ammar reflects a Chinese proverb – kill one to warn a hundred – that basically means to punish an individual as an example to others. Like the jailing of crooked former Prime Minister Najib Razak, the demotion of the director-general of Tourism Malaysia will set an example to the civil service that they are not untouchable, and can be punished if they sleep on the job.

Not only the speed of the job termination, which caught the little Napoleon with his pants down, is both admirable and inspiring, the decisiveness of the minister is precisely what investors – both foreign and domestic – have been looking for in the Anwar administration. The PM should decisively do what is necessary to reform the ailing country from decades-old structural problems.

Accountability and meritocracy are some of the missing pieces in the government and civil service, which led to widespread corruption and inferior standard. Instead of being held ransom by the underperforming civil servants, the government should terminate anyone who refuses to work together and promote those who can contribute to the country. Obviously, Ammar isn’t the only director-general who was paid without doing work.

Tiong King Sing is the same badass minister who rushed to the KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport) in June 2023 in an attempt to help a traveller from China. Initially, he was reportedly barged into the restricted zone without a permit to free a Chinese national – a personal assistant of a senior official of a Chinese government-owned TV station who had arrived in Malaysia to pursue her PhD at a local university.

As it turned out, not only all Cabinet members have security passes which allow them to enter restricted areas at the KLIA, but the pro-active action of the tourism minister had exposed how the notorious immigration department solicited bribery in broad daylight. It was not true that he had breached security protocols, let alone bullied the immigration into freeing the Chinese traveller.

It was a standard modus operandi by the corrupt Immigration Department to solicit money from foreign travellers. In order to gain entry, a “three-star” ranking immigration officer demanded RM3,000 bribes from the Chinese woman. Stunningly, the female tourist was also asked an additional RM3,000 if she wanted to return to the country of origin or re-enter Malaysia using a “special lane”, and RM12,000 for visa-processing fees.

She needs to pay a whopping RM18,000 to gain entry into Malaysia as well as to return to China, without which she could be detained indefinitely – an intimidation and bullying tactic. Not only corruption had been committed, the cellphones of the women were seized by the immigration officers. Hilariously, after caught with its pants down, the immigration officers told Minister Tiong that the matter was a misunderstanding due to language barrier.

Rather than keeping quiet in order not to spook Malay voters, PM Anwar should decisively capitalize on the demotion of Ammar to promote accountability, efficiency, meritocracy and competency among the civil servants.

Source : Finance Twitter

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