Pemandu's pricey Global Transformation Forum raises questions

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MP SPEAKS How much did Pemandu Associates Sdn Bhd earn from organising 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 (RM2,874), you can get nosebleed seats to a three-day “Unleash the Power Within” Tony Robbins seminar in New York later this year. For US$2,995 (RM13,245), 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 its costs and to make a decent profit. It would be hard to imagine this private company getting any funding from the Malaysian government to organise 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 organising 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 eight-time Olympic champion Usain Bolt. (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.)

For GTF 2015, ticket prices started at RM427 for a university student and went up to a maximum of RM1,424 for a regular delegate. For the recently-concluded GTF 2017, ticket prices were jacked up to a starting price of RM4,000 and went up to a maximum of RM10,000 (see Figure below).

If this were a purely private event organised by a private company, I 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.

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 organised with a government subsidy of RM10 million (see below). Despite the higher ticket prices in 2017, the government subsidy was increased to RM15 million (see below).

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 subsidise this event organised by the rich, for the rich and of the rich. It makes even less sense that the government subsidy increased by 50 percent from RM10 million in 2015 to RM15 million in 2017 when ticket prices in 2017 have been raised significantly 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 organised by BFR Institute, a company which is 100 percent owned by Pemandu Corp, which is a company limited by guarantee under the control of the Ministry of Finance Incorporated. GTF 2017 is organised by Pemandu Associates Sdn Bhd, which is a private company that is co-owned by its CEO and president, Idris Jala.

Since the GTF is no longer organised 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, 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 private company Pemandu Associates is using this publicly subsidised 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 Dec 16, 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 it states, “under our agreement with the government on 5th January 2017, Pemandu Associates will be deploying 45 people to the National Transformation Programme (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 chairperson of Heineken Malaysia as of the Jan 1, 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 that 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, chairperson of BFR Institute and the chairperson of Heineken Malaysia does not give any public assurance that conflicts of interest arising from the holding of these various positions will not arise.

ONG KIAN MING is Serdang MP.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.


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