Rafidah, did you benefit illegally from the sale of APs?

“Mahathir made arrangements for the transfer of RM20 million to Clare Rewcastle Brown ahead of the upcoming general election (GE14). Intelligence sources have since disclosed that the money is to facilitate the publication of two ‘bombshell’ articles – one by Sarawak Report, and the other, by New York Times – the night Parliament is dissolved. Now, can anyone guess if the articles have anything to do with the soon to expire franchise AP system?”

THE THIRD FORCE

On the 28th of October 2009, the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) announced revisions to the National Automotive Policy (NAP) with the stated intent of invigorating the automotive sector. The newly minted administration of Dato’ Seri Najib Tun Razak was determined to liberalise the national economy by doing away with the crony-centric safeguards Dr Mahathir Mohamad introduced back in the eighties.

Najib knew that the safeguards Mahathir introduced were loopholes through which the former premier’s cronies were benefitting illegally from. It is for this reason, above all, that the Prime Minister committed to phasing out the Approved Permit (AP) system that the Government of Malaysia (GoM) introduced back in 1983. But he wasn’t rash about the whole affair.

On the contrary, he agreed to extend the system for 10 years with hopes that the Bumiputera segment would get its act together before the protectionist barrier was demolished. Najib knew that the demolition of the barrier would trigger a considerable drop in showroom prices as more and more players partook in the import of cars. On the whole, the reforms held the promise of safeguarding consumer interests while presenting manufacturers with the opportunity for expansion and growth.

But not everyone was pleased.

One of those who probably foamed in the mouth was Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz, the former Minister of International Trade and Industry. Having led the ministry for 21 years, this lady was given a free hand to push the yes and no buttons in ways that benefitted the staunchest of her proponents in more ways than one. What bothered ministry insiders most was the lackadaisical attitude she displayed when it was brought to her attention that AP holders were trading permits under the counter in cash terms and through the solicitation of business favours.

And we’re talking 156 out of 254 companies that, throughout her tenure, lost their permits due to abuse in the system. The abuse added thousands upon thousands of dollars – not ringgit – to the retail cost of imported cars, meaning, Malaysians were paying a helluva lot of money for the average Mercedes and Volvo due to the exorbitant rates with which APs were being sold.

Needless to say, someone somewhere chalked up millions upon millions a year through ‘commissions’ he (or she) was not supposed to earn. Now, chuck all of this information into the truth cauldron, and throw a pinch or two of some common sense – can you already smell the fish curry simmering?

On the one hand, Rafidah wants you to believe that Najib is lax in matters of enforcement where it concerns billionaire Low Taek Jho (Jho Low). On the other hand, she led a ministry that pumped thousands upon thousands of dollars into the already inflated costs of imported cars by turning a blind eye to abuses in the AP system. Yet, not once has she established the need for the GoM to concern itself with Jho Low, let alone the yacht he may have owned or the underwear he wears.

But I can tell you with a hundred percent certainty that she is among the reasons Malaysians were made to pay exorbitant prices for imported cars between the years 1987 and 2008, prices that were leaps and bounds higher than what they should have been. Question is, did she allow all this to happen for free, or are the AP holders greasing her palms to this day?

For the sake of discussion, let’s go with the latter – let’s assume that she’s making millions a year in commissions from the import of luxury cars. Under the circumstances, is it not obvious that the money her cronies are paying her is going to run out this coming 31st of December 2020?

If you’re wondering why, that is the day Najib will pull the brakes on the franchise AP system, a remnant of the system Mahathir introduced in 1983. Rafidah may already have felt the pinch back on the 31st of December 2015 when the open AP system was abolished. A set of documents that surfaced in 2005 revealed that she turned the system into a “lucrative middle-man cash cow operation” by granting APs to four of her cronies. The “AP Kings” went on to earn billions of dollars by selling the permits at ridiculously inflated prices and some billions more by using their own APs to import luxury cars.

I’m not sure.

What I’m sure though, is that Mahathir made arrangements for the transfer of RM20 million to Clare Rewcastle Brown ahead of the upcoming general election (GE14). Intelligence sources have since disclosed that the money is to facilitate the publication of two ‘bombshell’ articles – one by Sarawak Report, and the other, by New York Times – the night Parliament is dissolved. Now, can anyone guess if the articles have anything to do with the soon to expire franchise AP system?

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