Najib calls out ‘pro-Pakatan’ Chinese tycoon for telling military personnel to work the farms

Syed Jaymal Zahiid
IJM and Gamuda Berhad founder Koon Yew Yin reportedly blogged that Armed Forces personnel should replace migrant workers in Felda plantations as part of measures to curb a bloated civil service. ― Picture by Miera Zulyana

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 14 — Datuk Seri Najib Razak has hit out at a tycoon who suggested the government cut the number of Armed Forces personnel and send them to replace migrant workers in the Federal Land Development Agency (Felda) plantations.

The former prime minister described the suggestions by IJM and Gamuda Berhad founder Koon Yew Yin as “extreme” and a serious insult to the Armed Forces, and linked the businessman to the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government — which drew anger from the largely Malay users on Facebook who saw the Chinese Malaysian’s statement as racist.

“I know this Koon Yew Yin person is a close friend of PH leaders,” Najib wrote.

“I also understand that he is one of their political funders. But this sort of statement is extreme and is a serious insult to our entire security forces,” he added, in response to Koon’s blog post last Monday.

In the controversial post, Koon vented about the size of the civil service, saying he felt cheated as a taxpayer to see “so much of our tax money going towards salaries for a bloated and consequently low-productivity civil service”.

He argued this leaves much less for development and investments in education and skills training.

He then urged the government to trim the military of “redundant” staff whom he claimed are “doing nothing except eating and sleeping” and send some of them to work in state-owned plantations.

The tycoon also suggested that the government employ more non-Malays if it wants to be more efficient.

It is unclear as to what this assertion meant, but several Facebook users suggested Koon saw the predominantly Malay civil service as lazy, and that only by inserting Chinese labour would it improve.

Koon’s posting comes on the back of several other issues that have strained interracial and interfaith ties in the past few weeks, namely the introduction of khat to vernacular primary schools, Mumbai-born Islamic preacher Dr Zakir Naik’s remarks targeting his non-Muslim critics, and a fatal road rage incident between an ethnic Chinese and a Malay.

However, Deputy Defence Minister Liew Chin Tong has called Koon’s statement “regretful” and “misguided”.

In a separate statement, the DAP senator asserted that the armed forces are not redundant as claimed as it is the first line of defence if Malaysia ever finds itself at war.

“This is a misconception that needs to be corrected,” Liew said in his statement last night.

Separately, a group of ex-servicemen calling itself Patriot echoed Liew’s remarks and called Koon’s post regretful and one that is formed by sheer ignorance.

“This is the second time in less than two months someone viewed military personnel as cheap labour,” Brigadier-General Datuk Mohamed Arshad Raji (Rtd) said in a statement.

He said the first time was when former Sabah chief minister Tan Sri Harris Salleh suggested redirecting excess military personnel to “assist the government to uplift and stabilise the rural village community”, including sending them to work as security guards while the women personnel help clean houses and conduct courses for housewives.

“Suggestions from both men are ridiculous and show their sheer ignorance of the role of the armed forces,” Arshad said.

Malaysia has among the highest number of civil servants in the world, at 1.6 million, despite having a population of only 33 million. However, this figure includes the armed forces personnel as well, which are sometimes excluded in the civil workforce of other countries.

Political parties from both sides of the divide have been reluctant to respond to calls on an excess fat cutting exercise of its public sector, even as some admitted that sustaining such a large workforce is straining government finances.

Up to 80 per cent of government budgets often go to expenditures alone, a large chunk of it being salaries and emolument.

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