Frankly Speaking: 9 Feb 2009

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If you foul up, own upPeople foul up, even presidents. True, we know that after eight years of the Bush administration, but what is refreshing is that the new American president is willing to admit a mistake openly. Two weeks into the job and Barack Obama publicly admitted he erred in pushing ahead Tom Daschle's nomination as US Secretary of Health and Human Services.Former Senate majority leader Daschle withdrew his nomination over his failure to pay US$140,000 (RM504,000) in federal taxes and interest on time. Controversy over nominations of the Obama Cabinet members has overshadowed the urgency of the US president's US$920 billion economic stimulus package.Earlier, Nancy Killefer who was nominated as the first chief performance officer, also stepped aside over personal tax issues. Tim Geithner, the new Treasury Secretary, is also mired in tax problems of his own."I screwed up," Obama said on television last Tuesday, following Daschle's withdrawal. "I don't want my administration to be sending a message that there are two sets of rules: one for prominent people and one for ordinary folks who have to pay their taxes every day," he commented on Daschle's admission of not settling his taxes.There are lots of management gems Malaysian political and corporate leaders can learn from Obama's admission. While we do not expect leaders to constantly make mistakes, they are not expected to be infallible either, but we do expect them to be accountable and responsible for mistakes made. If you messed up, you clean up. That is what we tell our children, but unfortunately we seldom see that from those in positions of leadership.We can all learn from our mistakes but when there is no accountability, we will just continue making the same mistakes because sometimes, some people get away with it.

Short-term view Much as we hate to admit it, we could learn a thing or two from our neighbour across the causeway, the island republic of Singapore. The lion state always seems to be one step ahead of us, to our great chagrin.Last week, the little nation's investment arm Temasek Holdings appointed Charles (Chip) W Goodyear as its new CEO. Goodyear, 51, an American, will assume the position of CEO-designate on March 1 and take over entirely in October.As it stands, this seems to be a good move, since Chip seems to have the credentials, having run a behemoth such as BHP Billiton. Thus, Temasek now has a fresh face at the helm, and fresh ideas in the current trying economic climate.Here in Malaysia, hiring a foreigner to run a government-linked company (GLC), let alone our own investment arm Khazanah Nasional Bhd, is unthinkable. In fact, such appointments are possibly not even open to all Malaysians.While there is much deliberation by politicians and business leaders alike on the New Economic Policy (NEP), the fact is there has not really been any firm steps taken towards reforming it. An affirmative action policy can be considered successful if it progressively becomes redundant as the target group comes into its own over time. If we could only look beyond the political benefits of perpetuating a narrow view of the NEP, the country could have got on the fast track to the top range of economies in the world, given our plentiful resources.What Temasek is doing is commendable as it is taking the big picture into view. Hiring a capable individual, irrespective of country of origin or class or creed, will ensure that the best interests of the country and its people are served above all else. While some of the appointments to helm our GLCs are good, some are, frankly speaking, disappointing.The talk about globalisation and the need to be competitive is well and good, but the truth of the matter is, we need to sort out our in-house issues first.

No political drama, pleaseAlthough the political drama in Perak last week was spell-binding, it is a turn-off for investors.Such hi-jinks, investment analysts say, is a distraction to the government when it should be focusing on reviving the domestic economy with "well-thought-out stimulus measures and execution", not elaborate political manoeuvres.The Perak incident shows that the country's political opera is still playing, and even more intensely, even though the 2008 general election had passed almost a year ago.Though the Barisan Nasional (BN) has won in Perak by quickly forming a new state government, instead of facing the uncertainly of a snap election against rival Pakatan Rakyat (PR), this will hardly be the end of the story.Investors want economic transformation, not heightened political tension that will certainly create more instability in the country. At the moment, the perception is that there will be no end to defections, counter-defections, by-elections and so on, until the next general election that is three years from now.Of course, the blame does not lie only with the BN government but also on the PR coalition as well, for trying to take over more seats in order to form the Federal government.It is sad that politicians — whether they are from BN or PR — have failed to realise that voters want them to do the right thing, and do the right things right, especially when the country is facing the brunt of the global economic turmoil.The last thing that investors want is another round of a political battle that would consume government resources and divert attention away from the urgent economic agenda.